Twentieth Century Literary Giants

Photo Essay

Zora Neale Hurston, photographed by Carl Van Vechten in 1938.

The twentieth century witnessed such an explosion of creativity among the black community that today many Americans take for granted the great number of African American poets, playwrights, essayists, and novelists whose works are bought by the millions and praised around the world. Yet although many African Americans in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries wrote about the experience of slavery and other topics, it was only in the twentieth century that black writers began to receive widespread popular recognition as artists and social critics. Black literature, once limited to a few restrictive genres or curtailed by racist public opinion, has grown into a serious and compelling representation of the emotions and experiences that affect all people, whether black or white. From the creative effervescence of the Harlem Renaissance to the international acclaim regularly received today by artists such as Toni Morrison, African American writers have truly come into their own as highly valued contributors to American and world literature.

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The following articles have been selected to help guide readers who want to learn more about the modern African American literary tradition and the many writers who have helped shape black literature from the beginning of the twentieth century to the present day. (Access to the following articles is available only to subscribers.)

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