Since the heyday of Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Terry McMillan, Angela Davis, Gloria Naylor and Sonia Sanchez, Black women writers have secured a special niche in the American literary canon.
Recently, three more young ladies with lances for pens have arrived and are earning all the kudos they deserve. Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns, is a book that examines the Black migration through the prism of three protagonists who stand as examples of those adventurous trekkers, those migrant blues people in flight from pests, pestilence and the demons of the South.
Many of you may remember her articles in the New York Times about fifteen years ago before she took a hiatus and began interviewing hundreds of people and capturing their stories with the same verve, bravura intelligence, insight and substance she did for the Times.
Michelle Alexander is not as well-known as Wilkerson but her research and prose that shivers with integrity in her book The New Jim Crow should give her an instant and longstanding recognition. Some of the facts she discloses will stun you, for example, that more black men are currently under correctional control, you know, behind bars, on probation or parole, than were in bondage in the 1850s.
Harlem is Nowhere is Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts’ tour de force and though a comparative newcomer on the literary front, she makes a stunning entry with her quest for the mythical, always illusive mecca of Black America. While her take on the historic community may not bear the historical heft of other tomes in the past, i.e. James Weldon Johnson’s Black Manhattan or Claude McKay’s Home to Harlem, she is more than conversant with a host of luminaries of the Harlem Renaissance, particularly Nella Larsen, Jessie Fauset, Wallace Thurman, Langston Hughes, and Zora Neale Hurston.
The works of James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Richard Wright and Ann Petry are also grist for her mill, and they provide the balance and ballast to her wide-ranging narrative that is replete with a cadre of Harlem’s little known denizens.
There were a plethora of emerging young women writers at a recent Black Studies conference at the Schomburg Center, and several of them—Robyn Spencer, Donna Murch, Imani Kai Johnson, and Emerald Crawford—have already acquired their academic credentials and may soon strike out on literary terrain beyond their dissertations.
It is indeed an encouraging sight to witness such a flowering of young, gifted and black female writers, and I have a sneaky suspicion that I’ve only scratched the surface of that growing fertility.