African-American Writers and Artists

Writers and artists have won many prizes.
Writers and artists have won many prizes.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

How powerful are words? Great civilizations were built upon them. Wars have been prevented and people have fallen in love because of words. The words of African-American authors have made a major contribution to American and world literature. These authors have written history books, plays, poems, music, movie scripts, and more.  

In the beginning, much of their work was about slavery and the hardships they faced in America, but they also wrote a great deal about religion, music, family, and the dreams that belong to every human being. This is important because these are the things that have put a smile on many faces in good times and bad.

Many African-American writers have won prestigious awards for their powerful work. They will always be loved for the sometimes emotional but always magical journey we take every time we read their words.

Phillis Wheatley was born in 1753 in Africa. At age seven, she became the slave of a wealthy Boston family.

The family taught Wheatley how to read and write English, and even though she never went to school, she also learned Greek and Latin. Wheatley was a great writer, and there were two things she wrote about most -- the experience of being a black woman in America, and Christianity.

One of her most famous pieces was a letter to the students at the University of Cambridge in England. Wheatley was the first African-American writer in America to gain recognition for her work, and her life was an inspiration to future generations.

Zora Neale Hurston was born in 1891 in Notusulga, Alabama, but she claimed Eatonville, Florida, as the place of her birth. She wrote stories, novels, and folklore in addition to an autobiography. Hurston was more than a writer, though. Some considered her to be a scientist and an anthropologist as well.

Her most loved book is Their Eyes Were Watching God. This novel is about Janie Crawford, a woman who decides to live and love as she sees fit, even though her small town does not agree with her choices. Zora Neale Hurston died in 1960, but her work gets more popular and her legacy shines brighter as time goes by.

Poets Paul Lawrence Dunbar and Langston Hughes.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

The writer Paul Laurence Dunbar was born June 27, 1872, in Dayton, Ohio. His mother was a former slave who told him of her struggles in the South. These stories later appeared in his poems. Dunbar wrote as often as possible.

His first book of poems was called Oak and Ivy, and his second, Majors and Minors, won the favor of critics across the country. That is when Paul Laurence Dunbar really became famous. He also was a teacher and wrote fiction, short stories, and four novels in addition to his poems.

Langston Hughes, who is sometimes called "the poet laureate of the negro race," was born in Joplin, Missouri, on February 1, 1902. In 1921, Hughes left the Midwest to go to school in New York. The year before, he published "The Negro Speaks of Rivers," one of his most famous poems.

Hughes' writing talent developed further during the Harlem Renaissance, a time when African-American artists of every type made their mark on America. In a 1943 column of the Chicago Defender newspaper, Hughes introduced Jesse B. Semple, or "Simple," one of the most beloved creations of his career.

Keep reading on the next page to learn about more African-American writers and artists.

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