BY TINA CHARISMA
In a period of ongoing global conversations on anti-racism and representation, debates centred on diversity in publishing are key. The contributions that Black authors have had in literature is an area that has long been part of hidden history, only now is there is a sense of ongoing constructive changes aimed at bridging the existing gaps.
The contributions of Black authors cannot be underestimated, from their creation of spaces, to their critical take on socio-political issues, culture and science. Black writers have helped carve out trails of the Black experience historically, while also changing mindsets and perceptions. Think of James Baldwin who shone a light on LGBTQ+ issues through the tragic Giovanni’s Room, or Maya Angelou whose truthful storytelling enlightened so many about racism and sexism. Even more recently, Chimamanda N’gozi Adichie has changed the way readers of her books think about race and also contemporary feminism. She’s so prolific that even Beyoncé was inspired to use one of her talks in her hit song, Flawless.
But, well before the current crop of phenomenal Black writers, there were those that paved the way—some risking their lives in the process. Nevertheless, they continued to put pen to paper, establishing a legacy that has influenced so many already and even more to come. Some you may have heard of, others might be unfamiliar. Regardless, the below five choices offer a treasure of literary greatness.1Gayl Jones
Most famous works: Corregidora (1975)
Gayl’s work, which was hailed by James Baldwin and Toni Morrison, profoundly speaks to the experience of African-American women. Born to a modest family in Lexington, Kentucky, Gayl studied at Brown University where she earned a post-doctorate and learnt to speak six languages. Her debut novel, Corregidora, tells the story of women whom have descended from a Brazilian-Portuguese slaveholder, and received instant acclaim. It deftly explored the psychological legacy of slavery and sexual ownership, as told through the life of a Kentucky blues singer.
Most famous works: So Long A Letter (1979)
Such is the popularity of feminist Senegalese author Mariama Bâ that her books have been translated into more than a dozen languages. She is famed for her ground-breaking voice on the experience of African women, for which she has received widespread critical acclaim, even receiving the inaugural Noma Literary Prize for Publishing in Africa. Her semi-autobiographical novel, So Long a Letter, is written in the form of a letter from a widow to a her friend following the death of her husband.3Octavia Butler
Most famous works: Kindred (1979)
Paving the way for black people in science-fiction, Octavia Butler is praised for her uncanny predictions about the direction that US politics would take, as well as her early challenging of traditional gender identity and concerns over climate change. Her work has been influential in the science fiction genre and she is now recognised as one of America’s best-selling authors to date.ADVERTISEMENT – CONTINUE READING BELOWhttps://c4d95f3b7b3a4dd755c5fa389d24fae3.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html4Wole Soyinka
Genre: Fiction, plays, and poetry
Most famous works: The Interpreters (1965), Death and the King’s Horseman (1973) and Poems from Prison (1969).
In 1967, literary mastermind Wole Soyinka was arrested after writing an article that called for a ceasefire in the Nigerian civil war. He was consequently imprisoned and put in solitary confinement for two years, smuggling his poems out of prison on toilet paper. After his release in 1994, he went into exile and was later sentenced him to death in absentia. He became the first African to win the Nobel prize for literature in 1986. He is best known as a poetical playwright, and is soon to publish his first book in almost 50 years, Chronicles of the Happiest People on Earth, which he wrote during lockdown.5Buchi Emecheta