by Lorenzo Thomas
University of Alabama Press, 2000
Paper: 978-0-8173-1015-8 | Cloth: 978-0-8173-1014-1
Library of Congress Classification PS310.N4T48 2000
Dewey Decimal Classification 811.509896073

This broad overview by an established poet and cultural critic reveals the rich tapestry of African American poetry as it has emerged over the past century.

From early 20th-century writings to present-day poetry slams, African American poetry exhibits an impressive range of style and substance. Lorenzo Thomas has written an important new history of the genre that offers a critical reassessment of its development in the 20th century within the contexts of modernism and the troubled racial history of the United States.

Basing his study on literary history, cultural criticism, and close readings, Thomas revives and appraises the writings of a number of this century's most important African American poets, including Margaret Walker, Amiri Baraka, Askia M. Toure, Harryette Mullen, and Kalamu ya Salaam. Thomas analyzes the work of Fenton Johnson within the context of emerging race consciousness in Chicago, contributes to critical appraisals of William Stanley Braithwaite and Melvin B. Tolson, and examines the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Throughout the book, Thomas demonstrates the continuity within the Afrocentric tradition while acknowledging the wide range of stylistic approaches and ideological stances that the tradition embraces.

By reassessing the African American poetry tradition, Thomas effectively reassesses the history of all 20th-century American literature by exploring avenues of debate that have not yet received sufficient attention. Written with intelligence and humor, his book is itself an extraordinary measure that reflects years of scholarship and opens up African American poetry to a wider audience.