African American Literature 1950-1959
Stranger and Alone by J. Saunders Redding
The original edition of Stranger and Alone was subtitled: The Story of a Man who Betrayed His Own People. The novel is about segregation, and how society institutionalized self-hatred within the African-American community. Set against the background of education in the South, the story follows Shelton Howden, son of a black mother and a white father, trying his hardest to make something of himself in the world, even if it means betraying his origins. Stranger and Alone is the first and only novel by author J. Saunders Redding, an educator, and the first black professor in the Ivy League when he was hired as a visiting professor at Brown University in 1949.
The first edition of Stranger and Alone was published by Harcourt, Brace & World in 1950.
A Woman Called Fancy by Frank Yerby
A Woman Called Fancy is Frank Yerby's first novel to have a female protagonist, Fancy, who rises from poverty to prominence among the wealthy aristocrats of Augusta, Georgia in the late 19th century. Yerby left the United States shortly after the publication of A Woman Called Fancy and first moved to France, then Spain, spending the rest of his life abroad in a protest against racial discrimination in the United States. During his lifetime Yerby wrote a total of thirty-three novels. A Woman Called Fancy was his sixth.
The first edition of A Woman Called Fancy was published by Dial Press, New York in 1951.
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Invisible Man follows a nameless narrator as he recounts his life growing up in the South, going to a black college from which he is expelled, moving to Harlem, and becoming a spokesman for ‘the Brotherhood’ before disappearing to his underground lair, lit with stolen electricity, where he can remain invisible.
The novel won the National Book Award in 1953, making Ralph Ellison the first African American writer to win the award. Invisible Man considered a classic of the 20th century and a very important work in American literature.
The first edition of Invisible Man was published by Random House in 1952.
Go Tell It On The Mountain by James Baldwin
Written over a span of ten years, Go Tell It on the Mountain is James Baldwin’s first completed novel. Considered an autobiographical novel, the story follows John Grimes, a bright teen living in Harlem in the 1930s, as he explores relationships with his family and his church. Like his main character, Baldwin grew up in Harlem with a religious step-father, and the book highlights the moral hypocrisy and repression Baldwin saw represented in the Christian Church.
Go Tell It on the Mountain was first published by Alfred A. Knopf, New York, in 1953.
Youngblood by John Oliver Killens
Youngblood is the best-known novel by author John Oliver Killens, a founding member of the Harlem Writers Guild. The novel chronicles the lives of the Youngblood family in Crossroads, Georgia, from the turn of the century until the Great Depression. The novel was the first by Killens and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. It also became a landmark protest novel of the Civil Rights era.
The first edition of Youngblood was published in New York by Dial Press.
The Sweet Flypaper of Life by Langston Hughes
The Sweet Flypaper of Life is considered one of the “most successful collaborations between a great writer and a great photographer ever published" (Roth, 138). Langston Hughes's story, an extended poem evoking Harlem life in the 1940s and 1950s, is illustrated by 141 photographs by Roy DeCarava. DeCarava was a Harlem photographer who was the first African American photographer to win a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1952. The fellowship allowed DeCarava to spend a year taking photographs documenting life in Harlem, which were later part of MoMa’s 1955 landmark exhibition The Family of Man. That same year The Sweet Flypaper of Life was published. The book sold out of its first edition and was reprinted many times. It won multiple awards and received critical acclaim in The New York Times Book Review.
The first edition of The Sweet Flypaper of Life was published by Simon and Schuster, New York, in 1955. A reissue of the book by First Print Press was released in 2018.
Like One of The Family by Alice Childress
Like One of the Family, subtitled: "conversations from a domestic’s life," is written from the perspective of Mildred, a domestic worker in New York City, to her friend Marge. Mildred is not afraid to speak her mind and claim her space in a white-dominated world, and the novel’s portrayal of the working conditions of domestics laid the groundwork for a contemporary movement for workers in that field. Chapters of the novel were first published in Freedom, a periodical published by Paul Robeson from 1950-1955, and in the Baltimore Afro-American. Like One of the Family was Childress’ first novel. She was best known for her plays, and wrote books for young people as well.
Like One of the Family was first published by Independence Publishers, Brooklyn in 1956. The novel was republished by Beacon Press in 1986. A 2017 Beacon Press edition features an introduction by Roxane Gay .
The Hit by Julian Mayfield
The Hit is the first novel by author Julian Mayfield, who was also an actor, director, lecturer, and Civil Rights activist. The main character, Hubert Cooley, is an avid gambler who looks for a ‘hit’ to rescue him from his life in Harlem and will do anything to play the game. The novel follows a day in Cooley’s life, which starts out quietly and ends in dramatic confusion and violence.
The first edition of The Hit was published in New York City by Vanguard Press in 1957. $3.50 price on front flap.
Let No Man Write My Epitaph by Willard Motley
Willard Motley wrote Let No Man Write My Epitaph as a sequel to his debut novel Knock on Any Door starring some of the minor characters from that book. The main character is Nick Romano Jr, whose father was killed in the electric chair in the previous book. Let No Man Write My Epitaph was also a best-seller and was adapted into a 1960 film starring Burl Ives, James Darren, and Ella Fitzgerald.
The first edition of Let No Man Write My Epitaph was published by Random House, New York in 1958.
Brown Girl, Brownstones by Paula Marshall
Brown Girl, Brownstones is the debut novel of Paula Marshall, an award-winning author of many books. The novel is a coming-of-age tale that centers around immigration and place. The main character, Selina Boyce, is caught between her mother’s ideals of the American dream, and her father who longs for his home island of Barbados. Set in Brooklyn during the Great Depression and World War II, the novel centers around Selina and her family's struggles with poverty and racism.
Brown Girl, Brownstones was first published by Random House, New York, in 1959. A 2006 Feminist Press edition features an introduction by Edwidge Danticat.
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Author Bio: Amy C. Manikowski is a writer, bookseller, trail-diverger, history buff, and pitbull lover. She graduated from Chatham University with an MFA a while ago, and after wandering aimlessly settled in Asheville NC.