A short take on the History of Black Writing's expansive collection of novels.
Written by Howard Rambsy II
Read by Kassandra Timm
How many novels by black authors are you aware of? 100? 500? 1,000?
In 1983, scholar Maryemma Graham created a project concentrating on the analysis of black literature. In 1991, Professor Graham’s creation became known as the Project on the History of Black Writing or H.B.W. Over the decades, a wide range of scholars, artists, graduate students, undergraduates, and interested citizens contributed to HBW’s array of projects focusing on African American literature.
And without a doubt, one of HBW’s most ambitious…distinguishing goals was to identify and catalog as many African American novels as possible.
You’re listening to Remarkable Receptions – a podcast about popular and critical responses to African American novels.
So, how many novels by black authors are you aware of? 100? 500? 1,000?
Well, between 1983 and 2022, HBW amassed a collection of approximately 6,100 African American novels. Six Thousand. One Hundred Novels. The HBW collection includes novels published in every decade from the 1850s to the 2020s.
Major, critically acclaimed novelists such as Toni Morison, Richard Wright, Zora Neale Hurston, Ralph Ellison, and James Baldwin are included, and so are hundreds of authors who are far less well known.
The collection contains novels in a variety of genres: Science fiction. Detective fiction. Coming of age novels. Neo-slave narratives. Romance novels. Thrillers. Religious novels.
The novels are set in rural and urban locales. The stories take place all across the United States—in the South, the North, the Midwest, and the West. Other stories take place in Europe and Africa.
The protagonists in the novels are children, teenagers, middle-aged adults, and senior citizens. The main characters deal with countless issues, desires, and philosophical pursuits. They go on incredible journeys. They struggle against racism.
Scholars have studied creative works by black authors for many decades, but for some reason, there was no major project dedicated to acquiring and cataloging thousands of African American novels. In this regard, Maryemma Graham’s work fills an important void.
The efforts on behalf of HBW to document thousands of African American novels are truly remarkable.
This episode was written by Howard Rambsy. The episode was edited by Elizabeth Cali.
This podcast, Remarkable Receptions, is part of the Black Literature Network, a joint project from African American literary studies at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and the History of Black Writing at the University of Kansas. The project was made possible by the generous support of the Mellon Foundation. For more information, visit blacklitnetwork.org.