6 Classic African-American Women Authors You Should Know More About
Lorraine Hansberry (1930 – 1965) grew up in an environment that set the stage, so to speak, for her best-known work A Raisin in the Sun, the first play to be written by an African American woman that was brought to Broadway. She also wrote political essays and worked for the African American magazine Freedom. Hansberry was a part of and wrote for the Daughters of Bilitis’ magazine The Ladder, mostly articles on social issues of race and gender.
Gwendolyn Brooks (1917 – 2000) was an American poet whose works included sonnets and ballads as well as blues rhythm in free verse. She also created lyrical poems reflecting African-American life. Her output encompassed more than twenty books in her lifetime, including children’s books.
Zora Neale Hurston (1891 – 1959), with her determined intelligence and humor, quickly became a big name in the NYC’s Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s. She had a dual career as a writer (producing novels, short stories, plays, and essays) and as an anthropologist. She traveled the world doing fieldwork in places like Jamaica and Haiti, studying African rituals and voodoo. Anthropology, folkloric, and ethnographic studies played a part in her writings, which led to both praise and criticism.
Nella Larsen (1891 – 1964) may not have produced a large body of writing, but is considered one of the most influential voices of the Harlem Renaissance. She went on to be the first black woman to graduate from library school and to receive the Guggenheim Fellowship for creative writing. When not writing, she worked as a nurse (at the Tuskegee Institute) and a children’s librarian.
Dorothy West (1907 – 1998) started writing as a child and began receiving accolades and awards while still in her teens. She found community in the city, West became part of the Harlem Renaissance and was known by her contemporaries as “The Kid.” Her writing is admired for the details and examinations of the African American community, in areas such as gender, class and social matter.
Ann Petry (1908 – 1997) was the first African-American woman to produce a book (The Street) whose sales topped one million (ultimately it would sell a million and a half copies).Though none of her subsequent works sold in the sheer volume of The Street, nor achieved its notoriety, Ann Petry remained a respected voice in literature.