The Oxford Companion to African American Literature

Front Cover
William L. Andrews, Frances Smith Foster, Trudier Harris
Oxford University Press, 1997 - Literary Criticism - 866 pages
1 Review
The Souls of Black Folks, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Invisible Man, Notes of a Native Son, 'Letter from Birmingham Jail', I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, The Piano Lesson, Beloved - the work of African American writers has been a vital part of our nation's literary heritage for over two hundred and fifty years. Now, 'The Oxford Companion to African American Literature' provides the first comprehensive one-volume reference work devoted to this rich tradition, surveying the length and breadth of black literary history, focusing in particular on the lives and careers of more than 400 writers. Here indeed is the pantheon of African American writers - Phillis Wheatley and Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass and W. E. B. Du Bois, Gwendolyn Brooks and Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen, James Baldwin and Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison and Alice Walker, John Edgar Wideman and August Wilson, Jamaica Kincaid and Gloria Naylor, Stanley Crouch and Cornel West, and hundreds more. Moreover, the Companion includes entries on 150 major works of African American literature (including synopses of novels), from Harriet Jacobs's Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Richard Wright's Native Son, to Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun; on literary characters, ranging from Bigger Thomas, to Coffin Ed Johnson, Kunta Kinte, Sula Peace; on character types, such as Aunt Jemima, Brer Rabbit, John Henry, Stackolee, and the trickster; and on such icons of black culture as Muhammad Ali, John Coltrane, Marcus Garvey, Jackie Robinson, John Brown, and Harriet Tubman. Here, too, are general articles on the traditional literary genres, such as poetry, fiction, and drama; on genres of special import in African American letters, such as autobiography, slave narratives, Sunday School literature, and oratory; and on a wide spectrum of related topics, including journalism, the black periodical press, major libraries and research centers, religion, literary societies, women's clubs, and various publishing enterprises. There are also entries on customs (such as conjuring, signifying), cultural expression (such as dance, blues, and dress), and on unique aspects of black experience (such as the Middle Passage, passing, and blue vein societies). Finally, the five-part, 15-page essay, Literary History, captures the full sweep of African American writing in the US, from the colonial and early national eras right up to the present day. The Companion also features a comprehensive subject index; extensive cross-referencing; and bibliographies after almost every article. With contributions by more than 300 scholars - including such noted authorities as Gerald Early, Nell Irvin Painter, Arnold Rampersad, Claudia Tate, and Craig Werner - who offer criticism that is historically informed, thoughtfully researched, and fair-minded, this superb volume presents a goldmine of information to the student and the scholar, to the seeker of particular information and the browser intent on opening up her or his intellectual horizons.

From inside the book

What people are saying - Write a review

The Oxford companion to African American literature

User Review  - Not Available - Book Verdict

The focus of previous reference works on African American literature has been narrow: the Harlem Renaissance, biography, women writers, etc. Editor Andrews (Classic Fiction of the Harlem Renaissance ... Read full review

User Review - Flag as inappropriate

I am glad to have this book as part of my library. A very useful tool for writers of all ages and abilities. A perfect reference for learning about the genre's history, traditions and writers.

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

About the author (1997)

About the Editors: William L. Andrews is E. Maynard Adams Professor of English at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Frances Smith Foster is Charles Howard Candler Professor of English and Women's Studies at Emory University. Trudier Harris is J. Carlyle Sitterson Professor of English at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Bibliographic information