An African-American legacy
Published: May 28, 2004
|African Americans have a long, rich literary history that grew out of a storytelling tradition, but only in the past few years have publishers realized the market potential of books by black writers.|
According to Publishers Weekly, African-American readers spend an estimated $300 million on books annually and are looking for fresh stories from the perspectives of black authors. As a result, major publishers have launched imprints focusing on this large audience, writes Andrea King Collier in her illuminating article about this growing market (page 24).
The popularity of writers such as Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Bebe Moore Campbell and Terry McMillan has helped revive interest in their literary forerunners, such as Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960) and Margaret Walker Alexander (1915-1998). Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) and Alexander's Jubilee (1966) are classics that now are taught in college literature classes.
The attention is good news for cultural historians who are documenting the contributions of African Americans to literature. Alferdteen Harrison, a Jackson State University history professor whom I met at the Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration, is among the many who are working to put this legacy in the limelight. She heads the Margaret Walker Alexander National Research Center for the Study of the 20th Century African American (www.jsums.edu/maw.htm).
Harrison and others like her have brought attention to writers such as Alexander, whose Jubilee is a family saga of the daughter of a slave and a plantation owner.
The vast diversity of writers' voices available to us today is due, in part, to those like Harrison, who never doubted there was an audience for African-American books.