A new Black Renaissance is dawning right now. Our literature is stronger than ever. Those great, great writers who came before us all have their heirs. For James Baldwin, read Ta-Nehisi Coates. For Ralph Ellison, read Colson Whitehead. For Zora Neale Hurston, read Toni Morrison. They aren’t like-for-like, but our modern black writers are hugely gifted and they’re getting the attention they deserve. As Black History Month draws to a close, let me shout about some of these writers you already know and a few you maybe don’t.
Black poets are among the edgiest stylists around. A few names to reckon with: Claudia Rankine, who wrote the brilliant Citizen: An American Lyric, Gregory Pardlo, Tracy K Smith, Safiya Sinclair, and Sjohnna Macray, whose collection Rapture I reviewed here. Their poetry spans everything that is vital about the culture – identity, sexuality, violence, oppression – and they’re doing it in radical new ways. My own favorite among them all is Terrance Hayes, a freestyling lyricist of the first order, whose How to Be Drawn I reviewed here.
Among the many black novelists and short story writers causing a stir, besides Whitehead, there’s Paul Beatty, whose The Sellout won the Man Booker Prize. There are other familiar names, all with new work out this year or last: the multi-genre super-talent Teju Cole, Jacqueline Woodson, Helen Oyeyemi, Roxane Gay, and Edwidge Danticat. Then there are some debut novelists you may not know, including the astonishing Natashia Deón, attorney, law professor, mother, and author of Grace; the Zimbabwean Petina Gappah, who wrote The Book of Memory; the twenty-something Ghanaian-American Yaa Gyasi, whose Homegoing is getting sensational reviews; and two gifted Nigerian Americans with a Nebraska connection: Chigozie Obioma and Julie Iromuanya.
In non-fiction, besides Coates, several writers are seizing on these times and creating works that examine the issues from the inside. I reviewed Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor‘s terrific From Black Lives Matter to Black Liberation here. She is standing on the shoulders of Michelle Alexander, who wrote The New Jim Crow, and Angela Y Davies, whose Freedom is a Constant Struggle I reviewed here. Gary Younge also has a new book out this year, Another Day in the Death of America: A Chronicle of Ten Short Lives, which promises to be harrowing and razor sharp in its analysis. A new-ish name is Ibram X Kendi, a young scholar-writer whose Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America won the 2016 National Book Award for Nonfiction.
Have I missed anyone out? Oh, hundreds. Keep the words rolling, people. These are great times to be a black writer. Why? Because we made them so.