Choosing my "favorite" literary work by an African American author is an impossibility. I liken it to choosing my favorite letter in the alphabet: A single letter in isolation can not perform its function. Other letters are required for words, for sentences – for ideas to take shape. The ideas, the observations, the firsthand retelling of experiences are what make each work so necessary and precious. Books written by African Americans have been vital in our struggle to survive in this nation. Often written and read at great peril, in defiance of laws, books have played a critical role in our quest for truth, freedom and dignity.
The first books that came to mind when I read the blog topic and momentarily considered trying to select one work as my favorite were The Mis-education of the Negro (Carter G. Woodson), From Slavery to Freedom (John Hope Franklin), From "Superman" to Man (J.A. Rogers), They Came Before Columbus: The African Presence in Ancient America (Ivan Van Sertima), The Autobiography of An Ex-Colored Man (James Weldon Johnson) The Souls of Black Folks (W.E. B. DuBois), My Bondage and My Freedom (Frederick Douglass), Up From Slavery (Booker T. Washington), anything by Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Walter Moseley, Colson Whitehead, Ishmael Reed, Donald Bogle, Wil Haygood, August Wilson and on and on and on. And then I thought about the women – Harriet Jacobs, Maya Angelou, Paula Giddings, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Zora Neale Hurston, Zadie Smith, Patrice Gaines, Marita Golden, Paule Marshall. . . But for the past two days my mind kept going back to David Walker's Appeal (To the COLOURED CITIZENS OF THE WORLD, but in particular, and very expressly, to those of THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA). Self-published in September 1829, the "inappropriate and incendiary" anti-slavery book is credited with being the singular event that may have "triggered the Negro revolt." A day earlier, I'd read an interesting article that linked the revolt in Egypt to a comic book about Martin Luther King Jr.
No, I can't pick one favorite out of the tens of thousands printed. (The figure is arbitrary. How many are there in print? Out of print? Unpublished manuscripts?) Of the hundreds (thousands?) of books I've read, written by authors of African descent, in my lifetime I can't pick just one. It's like trying to choose a favorite brush stoke in a masterpiece.
To learn more about the significance of Black History Month, click the link to James Weldon Johnson's Lift Every Voice and Sing. The images are stunning.