Friday, January 4, 2019

Discovering the Big 7: Black short story writers and publishing history

By Kenton Rambsy

One of my most fascinating discoveries during my research over the years on short stories has been the identification of seven black writers whose works appeared more than many others. Short stories by Charles Chesnutt, Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, Toni Cade Bambara, and Alice Walker, or as I began calling them, “the Big 7,” have been favored selections. Since 1925, anthology editors reprinted over 300 black short story writers, and the Big 7 were the ones they selected most often.

Dozens of editors facilitated the recurring placements of stories by writers. The sheer numbers of anthologized literary works make it difficult to fully grasp the extensive nature of circulation histories. I identified and examined 100 anthologies that include African American literature and discovered that those collection include about 630 unique short stories.

A closer look and data analysis revealed to me that Chesnutt, Hurston, Wright, Ellison, Baldwin, Bambara, and Walker were appearing over and over, outpacing all the other writers. All together, the stories by those seven writers have been republished 354 times across 100 anthologies. These days, when editors organize collections that included African-American short fiction, it was they likely include stories by most, if not all, of those seven writers.

This dataset helps clarify the phrase “widely anthologized” by quantifying the specific amount of times a particular writer and story circulate across 100 anthologies. We are also able to observe what authors and stories became preferred selections for anthologists over several decades. Ultimately, this dataset offers multiple opportunities for researchers to perform comparative analyses regarding the circulation histories of black short fiction.

Visualizing the Big 7 – Data Driven Humanities
A Dataset on Black Short Stories
The Big 7 Tableau Public Visualization
African American Short Fiction & Data Driven Humanities (MLA)

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