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Black American Literature and Humanism

Black American Literature and Humanism

Copyright Date: 1981
Pages: 128
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  • Book Info
    Black American Literature and Humanism
    Book Description:

    For Black writers, what is tradition? What does it mean to them that Western humanism has excluded Black culture? Seven noted Black writers and critics take up these and other questions in this collection of original essays, attempting to redefine humanism from a Black perspective, to free it from ethnocentrism, and to enlarge its cultural base.

    Contributors: Richard K. Barksdale, Alice Childress, Chester J. Fontenot, Michael S. Harper, Trudier Harris, George E. Kent, R. Baxter Miller

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5866-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-7)

    How does one relate Afro-American literature to humanism? The reader must realize, first, that the term humanism is complex historically; second, that the oppositions set against it are largely contrived;¹ third, that the New Humanists of the 1930s distorted the high purpose of the philosophy into a conservatism which indirectly encouraged bigotry; and fourth, that the essays collected here suggest the possibility of freeing scholarship from Western culture’s self-imposed restrictions. In the reopened range of human effort, Black literature has dignity and meaning.

    Where does humanism begin? Hadas, like many scholars, traces the idea to Greece in the fifth century...

  5. Knowing the Human Condition
    (pp. 8-10)

    Many playwrights today extend efforts into mass media where they reach a greater audience, but the freedom of topic and treatment becomes more restricted. A flood of television tape and motion picture film washes forth subjects ignored in the past, such as drug addiction, sadomasochism, and mental illness, but all too often the result becomes an unfortunate and relentless attempt to make sex and violence the most popular themes. We are commercially deluged with community and national disasters which capitalize on fright, horror, and superstition, even though no ghost creates the evils haunting us individually and socially. Neither a werewolf,...

  6. Langston Hughes: His Times and His Humanistic Techniques
    (pp. 11-26)

    In one of his critical essays, “Tradition and Individual Talent,” T. S. Eliot suggested that there is a necessary creative tension between a given tradition and most writers who choose to write in that tradition. The tradition defines an approach and a set of guidelines that tend to restrict the creativity of the individual writer, and the writer in reaction seeks to assert his independence and modify the tradition.¹ So tradition speaks to writer and writer speaks to tradition. At times, a writer affects a given tradition little or not at all. For instance, a nineteenth-century romantic poet like Philip...

  7. My Poetic Technique and the Humanization of the American Audience
    (pp. 27-32)

    The geographical division of the country into political districts and regions with complementary agricultural and economic systems underlies much of Afro-American poetic symbolism. That the star points north is not important because of some abstract, or mystical or religious conception, but because it brought into conjunction Biblical references, concrete social conditions and the human will to survive — including the fact that if you got safely across certain socio-geographical boundaries you were in freedom. Writers have made much of the North Star but they forget that a hell of a lot of slaves were running away to the West, ‘going to...

  8. Angelic Dance or Tug of War? The Humanistic Implications of Cultural Formalism
    (pp. 33-49)

    Humanism enjoys high prestige among modern intellectual movements; it is connected with a great number of philosophical ideas and has become vacuous. The term formalism, on the other hand, provokes its fair share of opponents among contemporary literary theorists. Formalism, for them, implies intellectual hypocrisy, esoteric aestheticism, scientific criticism, mundane pedagogical devices, and racism. To imply that the techniques of formalism apply to cultural criticism which has humanistic implications is to invite an angelic dance which inevitably degenerates into a tug of war.

    To avoid such a battle — an arena stacked with antiformalists convinced that I am trying to revive...

  9. Three Black Women Writers and Humanism: A Folk Perspective
    (pp. 50-74)

    Christianity is usually assumed to be one of the major influences on Blacks in the United States; it is considered the force that shapes behavior and establishes guidelines for conduct. While this may be true on a large scale, it is not universally true, either in history or in literature which portrays the Black experience. While Black writers frequently have shown that Christianity influences the behavior of their characters, they have recognized other influences as well. Humanism may often be a more satisfying philosophy than Christianity. While a code of ethics such as humanism may have Christianity as its basis,...

  10. Aesthetic Values in the Poetry of Gwendolyn Brooks
    (pp. 75-94)

    The aesthetic values in Gwendolyn Brooks’s poetry emerge from a close and highly disciplined imitation of the properties of the objects and situations her art confronts. By imitation I mean here the creative and imaginative engagement of values either actual or possible in the range of circumstances stirring the mind of the artist to action. If we are not overtaken by excessive rigor, we may usefully see the objects and situations under the following broad headings: existential tensions confronting any people facing human limitations and possibility; existential tensions given particularism by styles of engagement, failure, and celebration, created within Black...

  11. “Does Man Love Art?”: The Humanistic Aesthetic of Gwendolyn Brooks
    (pp. 95-112)

    Humanism has long characterized the poetry of Gwendolyn Brooks. SinceA Street in Bronzeville(1945) she has varied the forms of Shakespearean and Petrarchan sonnets; especially sinceThe Bean Eaters(1960) she has experimented with free verse and social theme. For more than thirty years she has excelled in the skills of alliteration, balance, plosive, and rhetorical question. Against a background of light and dark, her techniques reveal a deeply human struggle. Her world evokes death, history, pain, sickness, identity, and life; her personae seek the grace and vision of personal style. Although her forms vary, her poems generally impose...

  12. Contributors
    (pp. 113-116)