African-American Authors


As part of Kentridge High School's celebration of African-American History Month, the Kentridge Library Online is featuring four African-American authors born in the month of February: W.E.B. DuBois (1868), Langston Hughes (1902), Toni Morrison (1931), and Alice Walker (1944).

W.E.B. DuBois

Editor, historian, sociologist, political activist, author. Born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. A Massachusetts native, DuBois was shocked and profoundly affected by the racial segregation in the South which he experienced firsthand while attending Fisk University from 1885-88. After receiving a Ph.D. from Harvard in 1895, he studied black life in the Philadelphia ghetto and wrote The Philadelphia Negro(1899). DuBois served as a professor of economics, history, and economics at Atlanta University from 1898-1910, during which time he published his collection of essays The Soul of Black Folk(1903), which called for the African-American middle class to mobilize against bigoted racial policies. In 1905, he founded the Niagara Movement and ran its official magazine, Horizon: A Journal of the Color Line from 1907-10. DuBois resigned from teaching in 1910 to become the director of publications and research for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. During the Great Depression, he angered NAACP leadership by arguing that African-Americans should segregate themselves to organize economically so he resigned in 1934.

From 1934 to 1944, he again served as a sociology professor at Atlanta University where he completed his autobiography, Dusk of Dawn, in 1940. After being forced to retire at age 76, he returned to the NAACP as director of special research in 1944 until his Marxist politics caused him to split with the agency again in 1948. He became chairman of the Peace Information Center, an antinuclear weapons group, which precipitated his indictment(although he was acquitted) as a foreign agent in 1951. DuBois joined the Communist Party in 1961 and became a naturalized citizen of Ghana just before his death in 1963. Source: biography.com

Langston Hughes

Poet, writer, playwright, librettist; born in Joplin, Mo. After publishing his first poem, The Negro Speaks of Rivers (1921), he attended Columbia University fir one year (1921), but left, working on a freighter to travel to Africa, living in Paris and Rome, and supporting himself with odd jobs. After his poetry was promoted by Vachel Linday, he attended Lincoln University (1925-29); while there his first book of poems, The Weary Blues (1926), launched his career as a writer. As one of the founders of the cultural movement known as the Harlem Renaissance which he practically defined in his essay, The Negro Artist and the Radical Mountain (1926) he was innovative in his use of jazz rhythms and dialect to depict the life of urban blacks in his poetry, stories and plays. Having provided the lyrics for the musical Street Scene (1947) and the play that inspired the opera Troubled Island (1949), in the 1960s he returned to the stage with works that drew on black gospel music, such as Black Nativity (1961). A prolific writer for four decades in his later years he completed a two-volume autobiography and edited anthologies and pictorial volumes he abandoned the Marxism of his youth but never gave up protesting the injustices committed against his fellow African-Americans. Among his most popular creations was Jesse B. Semple, better known as Simple, a black Everyman featured in the syndicated column he began in 1942 for the Chicago Defender. Because he often employed humor and seldom portrayed or endorsed violent confrontation, he was for some years disregarded as a model for black writers; but by the 1980s he was being reappraised and was newly appreciated as a significant voice of African-Americans. Source: biography.com

Toni Morrison

Writer, editor; born in Lorain, Ohio. She studied at Howard University (B.A. 1953) and Cornell (M.A. 1955). She taught English at Texas Southern University (1955--57) and at Howard (1957--64); later she would teach at the State University of New York: Purchase (1971--72) and Albany (1984--89), and at Princeton (1989). She married Harold Morrison (1958) and was divorced in 1964. In 1965 she became a senior editor for Random House in New York City. Her novels, which capture the deep passions and rhythms of African-American life, include Sula (1973), Song of Solomon (1977), Beloved (1987), and Paradise (1997). Recognized as a major American novelist, respected by critics and readers alike, she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in1988 and the Nobel Prize in literature in 1993. Source: biography.com

Alice Walker

Writer, poet; born in Eatonville, Ga. She studied at Spelman College (1961--63) and Sarah Lawrence (B.A. 1965). She worked in Georgia registering voters, with the Head Start program in Mississippi, and the welfare department in New York City. She settled in San Francisco but taught at many institutions. She won wide acclaim for her poetry and fiction, notably The Color Purple (1982), a novel that explores the experience of American black women. This work won the Pulitzer Prize (1983) and was made into a successful movie (1985). Much of her later writing revolves around racial and femanist concerns. Source: biography.com


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This page created by S. Marques on Feb 3, 1999. Copyright 1999 Kentridge High School. Image Sources: The image on the KLO opening page & the Features page came from the Black Voices web site.

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