By Johanna Dickson, Digital Publicist
February is Black History Month, the annual celebration of the contributions of people in the African diaspora. The event started as a week-long observance in 1926 and was founded by historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. It was expanded by the leaders of the Black United Students at Kent University in 1969 and then officially recognized on a federal level by President Gerald Ford in 1976 as part of the Bicentennial. The month is now recognized in Canada and the United Kingdom.
It honors the past and present contributions African-Americans have and continue to make to our daily lives and culture, from Garrett Morgan, who created the first traffic signal and the gas mask, to George Washington Carver, who created peanut butter and 400 other plant products, to Lewis Latimer, who created the carbon filament.
In honor of Black History Month, here are six notable African-American writers and authors to read this February.
Toni Morrison is a novelist, editor and professor and the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, the Nobel Prize in Literature, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Her novels are known for their epic themes, vivid dialogue, and richly detailed characters. Morrison’s notable works include The Bluest Eye, Sula, Song of Solomon and Beloved. She played a pivotal role in bringing black literature to the mainstream, editing the works of Henry Dumas,Toni Cade Bambara, Angela Davis, and Gayl Jones. Morrison also wrote children’s books with her son Slade before his death in 2010.
Zora Neal Hurston was a folklorist, anthropologist, and author. She authored four novels and more than 50 short stories, plays, and essays. She began her literary career after arriving in New York during the height of the Harlem Renaissance. Hurston’s most well-known work is the 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God a coming of age tale told via flashbacks. During the late 1920s and early 1930s she spent extensive time in the Caribbean and the American South as part of her anthropological work. In 1937 she received a Guggenheim fellowship to conduct ethnographic research in Jamaica and Haiti. It was during her time in Haiti that she wrote Their Eyes Were Watching God. Other notable works include Jonah’s Gourd Vine, The Great Day, and Moses, Man of the Mountain.
James Baldwin was a novelist, essayist, playwright, poet and social critic. His essays on racial, sexual, and class distinctions in Western societies were collected in the 1955 book Notes of a Native Son. Other book-length essays include The Fire Next Time, No Name in the Street, and The Devil Finds Work. In addition to exploring issues of race, his works are notable for exploring gay and bisexual characters. Baldwin’s first novel, Go Tell it on the Mountain, is considered his best-known work. His other notable works include Giovanni’s Room, Just Above My Head, The Devil Finds Work, and Going to Meet the Man. He also collaborated with Richard Avedon, Margaret Mead, and Sol Stein on photography and non-fiction works.
Maya Angelou was an author, poet, dancer, actress, and singer whose career spanned over 50 years. She published seven autobiographies, three books of essays, and several books of poetry as well as play, television, and film credits. One of her most famous works, her first autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, tells the story of her life up to the age of 17. Her books center on themes such as racism, identity, family, and travel. Angelou became a poet and writer after previous jobs as a fry cook, nightclub dancer and performer, a coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and journalist in Egypt and Ghana during the decolonization of Africa. Her other notable works include Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘fore I Diiie, Gather Together in My Name, On the Pulse of Morning, two cookbooks, three collections of personal essays, and seven children’s books. Angelou was also the first African-American woman to direct a major motion picture, Down in the Delta, in 1998.
Richard Wright was an author of novels, short stories, poems and non-fiction. His works concern racial themes especially those of African-Americans in the late 19th and mid-20th centuries. Some of the works he authored include Uncle Tom’s Children, Native Son, Black Boy, and The Outsider. Uncle Tom’s Children is a collection of four short stories about lynchings in the Deep South. The collection won him a Guggenheim Fellowship which allowed him to complete Native Son. Black Boy was an instant bestseller upon its publication in 1945. Literary critics credit his works for helping to change race relations in the United States in the mid-20th century.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. –The civil rights leader and Nobel Peace Prize recipient was also a noted published author. Strength To Love was published in 1963 just before the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964. That book, along with several others, are a collection of his letters, essays, and sermons primarily on the topic of racial segregation with some emphasis on religious values. Strength To Love, along with many other collections of King’s writings, are taught across the country in many schools and universities today, and stand as a testament to the power of his movement and contributions to society.
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