Thursday, June 14, 2012

1970: A defining year in black writing

 I was mentioning Toni Cade Bambara's anthology The Black Woman with folks last week and remembered how important the year 1970 was in African American literary history.  That was the year of that Toni Morrison's first novel The Bluest Eye, Alice Walker's first novel The Third Life of Grange Copeland, and Bambara's anthology were published.

A friend passed along a more recent preface to Bambara's anthology where Eleanor Traylor mentions additional publications by black women that appeared in 1970, including Prophets for a New Day by Margaret Walker, We a Baddddd People by Sonia Sanchez, Cables to Rage by Audre Lorde, and I am a Black Woman by Mari Evans. In 1970, Amiri Baraka also published his volume It's Nation Time.

Several anthologies appeared in 1970 as well. Some of the titles from that year included 3000 Years of Black Poetry edited by Alan Lomax and Raoul Abdul, Dices or Black Bones: Black Voices of the Seventies edited by David Adam Miller, Black American Literature: Essays, Poetry, Fiction, Drama edited by Darwin Turner, Soulscript edited by June Jordan, and Black Out Loud: An Anthology of Modern Poems by Americans edited by Arnold Adoff.

I've heard some passing observers refer to the black arts era as male dominated. I sometimes wonder about that characterization, especially when it's asserted with no qualifications. There were some men and masculine ideas that received considerable attention, but it's difficult to overlook the centrality of a number of black women's artistic voices and involvement.

Part of what makes 1970 so significant, in retrospect, pertains to the year serving as a key starting point for Morrison. Walker had previously published poetry, but The Third Life of Grange Copeland was her first novel. Subsequent years would give rise to more works by these and other writers, and we can now look back and see 1970 as a notable moment in black literary history.

A Timeline of African American Poetry
A Notebook on the Black Arts Era

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