Five African-American Male Writers to Remember

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Jupiter Hammon

Jupiter Hammon. Public Domain

 Jupiter Hammon is considered one of the founders of the African-American literary tradition. Hammon was a poet who would be the  first African-American to publish his work in the United States.

 In 1760, Hammon published his first poem, “An Evening Thought: Salvation by Christ with Penitential Crienes.”  Throughout Hammon's life, he published several poems and sermons.

Hammon never gained his own freedom but believed in the freedom of others. During the Revolutionary War, Hammon was a member of organizations such as the African Society of New York City. In 1786, Hammon even presented “Address to the Negroes of the State of New York.” In his address, Hammon said, “If we should ever get to Heaven we shall find nobody to reproach us for being black, or for being slaves.” Hammon’s address was printed several times by abolitionist  groups such as the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery. 

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William Wells Brown


Abolitionist and writer William Wells Brown is best remembered for Narrative William W. Brown, a Fugitive Slave, Written by Himself which was published in 1947. 

As a result of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, Brown fled the United States and lived abroad. Brown continued write and speak on the abolitionist circuit. In 1853, he published his first novel, Clotel, or, The President's Daughter: A Narrative of Slave Life in the United States. Clotel, which followed the life of a mixed-raced slave working in the home of Thomas Jefferson, is considered the first novel published by an African-American.

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Paul Laurence Dunbar: Poet Laureate of the Negro Race

1897 Sketch of Paul Laurence Dunbar. Public Domain

Considered the first African-American poet to "feel the Negro life aesthetically and express it lyrically," Paul Laurence Dunbar is the most influential African-American writer before the Harlem Renaissance. 

Using lyrical poems and vernacular, Dunbar wrote poems about  romance, the plight of African-Americans, humor and even racial upliftment.

His most famous poem, "We Wear the Mask" and "Malindy Sings" are widely read in schools today. 

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Countee Cullen


 Using poetic styles developed by John Keats and William Wordsworth, Countee Cullen wrote lyrical poetry and explored themes such as alienation, racial pride and self identity.

In 1925 the Harlem Renaissance was in full swing. Cullen was a young poet who had published his first collection of poetry entitled, Color. Considered a success, Alain Leroy Locke proclaimed that Cullen was "A genius!" and that his poetry collection "transcends all of the limiting qualifications that might be brought forward if it were merely a work of talent."

Cullen continued to publish his writing through the Harlem Renaissance.  Another collection of poetry, The Black Christ and Other Poems was published in 1929. Cullen's only novel, One Way to Heaven was released in 1932. The Medea and Some Poems was published in 1935 and was Cullen's last collection of poetry.

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James Baldwin


 In 1953, James Baldwin published his first novel, Go Tell it On the Mountain while living in Switzerland. 

Two years later, Baldwin published a collection of essays entitled, Notes of a Native Son. The collection analyzes race relations in the United States and Europe. In 1964, Baldwin published the first of two controversial novels--Another Country. The following year, Giovanni's Room was published in 1965. 

Baldwin continued to work as an essayist and fiction writer including collections of essays such asThe Devil Finds Work in 1976, The Evidence of Things Not Seen and The Price of the Ticket both published in 1985 as well as novels, Just Above My Head, 1979 and Harlem Quartet, 1987; and a collection of poems, Jimmy's Blues in 1983.