African American Literature 1990-1999
Middle Passage by Charles Johnson
Middle Passage is a historical novel set in 1830 and written from the perspective of a free black man, Rutherford Calhoun. Calhoun smuggles aboard a slave ship bound for Africa to escape troubles and debt in New Orleans. The journey from Africa back to America with the illegal captives is treacherous and ends with Calhoun being one of the only survivors and significantly changed by his experiences. Middle Passage received the National Book Award for Fiction.
The first edition of Middle Passage was published by Atheneum in 1990. First printings include a complete number line on the copyright page and a $17.95 price stamp on the dust jacket. The first UK edition was published in 1991 by Picador and include a full number line and £14.95 on the dust jacket.
Invisible Life by E. Lynn Harris
Invisible Life is a coming-of-age novel about a New York attorney struggling with his bi-sexuality. The book is considered one of the first popular works to deal with gay black men’s hidden lives.
Author E. Lynn Harris first self-published the novel in 1991 after being rejected by every major publishing house in America. He sold the book in beauty salons and bookstores across Atlanta before Anchor Books commercially published it in 1994.
Divine Days by Leon Forrest
This 1,100-page novel recounts a week in the life of Joubert Jones, an aspiring playwright returning home to Chicago's Southside after two years in the army. To make ends meet, he tends bar at his Aunt Eloise's Night Light Lounge, which was once the site of a con man's church revival dubbed 'Divine Days.' Forrest uses multiple oral styles to depict a wide-ranging cast of characters that illustrate various black experiences in the 1960s.
Another Chicago Press, out of Oak Brook, Illinois, published the first edition of Divine Days in 1992. W.W. Norton published an edition in 1993, which includes a full number line on the title page, but wouldn't be considered a 'true' first.
Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
Set in the mid-2020s, Parable of the Sower is a post-apocalyptic science fiction novel that follows Lauren Olamina, an highly empathic teenager, as she searches for her freedom and security amid a United States that has been overcome by climate change, growing wealth inequality and corporate greed.
The novel is the first in an unfinished series by author Octavia Butler and was followed by the sequel, Parable of the Talents (1998), which won the Nebula Award for Best Novel. Butler died in 2006 before completing the series.
First published in 1993 by Four Walls Eight Windows, The Parable of the Sower is Octavia Butler’s tenth novel. First editions have a full number line and stated 'First Edition' on the copyright page.
Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat
Breath, Eyes, Memory is the first novel by Haitian-American author, Edwidge Danticat, published when she was just twenty-five years old. It was chosen as a selection by Oprah’s book club in 1998. The book follows Sophie, who grows up with her aunt in Haiti before joining her mother in Brooklyn when she is twelve. Sophie was born after her mother was violently raped, and their fraught relationship, and the women’s relationships to their bodies and sexuality, is central to the story.
The first edition of Breath, Eyes, Memory was published by Soho Press on April 1st, 1994, and has a full number line from 10-1 present on the copyright page.
The Wedding by Dorothy West
Dorothy West (June 2, 1907 – August 16, 1998) was considered the last surviving member of the Harlem Renaissance. She published many stories in the 1920s and 1930s, and her first novel, The Living is Easy, was published in 1948. Her second, The Wedding, was published 47 years later. Set in the 1950s in Oval, an upper-class black community in Martha's Vineyard, The Wedding figures around the marriage of the community's proud daughter Shelby to a white jazz musician. West grew up as an only child in an affluent family in Boston, and her writing reflects that upper-middle-class black experience. During the Harlem Renaissance and later the Civil Rights era, publishers weren't interested in books about middle-class blacks, and West's work was not as popular as her fellow Renaissance writers like Hughes and Hurston. West was rediscovered by Jacqueline Onassis, her neighbor in Martha's Vineyard and associate editor at Doubleday. Onassis read her columns for the local newspaper and encouraged West to finish The Wedding, which she had started in the 1960s. West dedicated it to the former first lady when the book was published. Oprah made a mini-series of the novel starring Halle Berry.
Doubleday published the first edition of The Wedding in 1995.
Vivid by Beverly Jenkins
Dr.Viveca Lancaster is one of the few women to graduate from the Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania, although in 1876, she faces many barriers to practice as a black woman. She leaves California to set up a practice in Grayson Grove, Michigan, starting romance author Beverly Jenkins' The Grayson Family' series. Vivid is Jenkins' second published book (Nightsong in 1994 was the first), and she went on to be one of the premier writers of African American romance fiction.
Published January 15, 1995, the first edition of Vivid is a mass market paperback published by HarperCollins with a full number line on the copyright page
The White Boy Shuffle by Paul Beatty
The first novel by poet and author Paul Beatty, The White Boy Shuffle, centers around Gunnar Kaufman, who starts an awkward surfer bum, and transitions into a basketball superstar and best-selling poet. The satirical coming-of-age novel follows Gunnar as he becomes a reluctant messiah for his people.
In 2016, Paul Betty won the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Man Booker Prize for his novel The Sellout.
The first edition of The White Boy Shuffle was published by Houghton Mifflin Company in 1996.
Scenes from a Sistah by Lolita Files
The first novel by Lolita Files, Scenes from a Sistah, starts in upscale Fort Lauderdale, Florida and follows Reesy and Misty, best friends since second grade, as they grow up and city hop, finding careers and searching for Prince Charming. Files completed the novel's first draft in seven days and sold it to Warner Books for an advance of $50,000. After publication, it quickly sold out of its first printing. The story of the best friends is followed up in sequels Getting to the Good Part in 1999 and Blind Ambitions in 2000.
Scenes from a Sistah was first published by Warner Books in 2007.
Naming the New World by Calvin Baker
A brief but powerful, Naming the New World was the first novel by author Calvin Baker. This tale starts in Africa with a nameless character and follows the stories of consequent generations brought to America in slavery through three hundred years of history to modern-day ancestors.
Baker sold the novel to A Wyatt Books when he was just 23 years old. Naming the New World was first published in New York, A Wyatt Book for St. Martin's Press in 1997.
The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead
The Intuitionist takes place in a city full of skyscrapers, requiring many elevators for mobility. This speculative fiction tale revolves around elevator inspectors of two major classes, the ‘Intuitionists’ who inspect by intuition and the "Empiricists" who check the traditional way with instruments. The main character, Lila Mae Watson, is the second black inspector and the first black female inspector in the city.
The Intuitionist is the debut novel of writer Colson Whitehead, whose 2016 work, The Underground Railroad was awarded the 2016 National Book Award for Fiction and the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
The first edition of The Intuitionist was published by Anchor, Doubleday, in 1999.
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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.