African American Literature 1970-1979
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison’s first novel, The Bluest Eye was published in 1970, in a print run of between 1200 and 1500 copies. At the time it was not a commercial success, and over the years it has been banned by numerous organizations because of its depictions of racism, incest, and child molestation. The story is about an eleven-year-old black girl growing up in Morrison’s hometown of Lorain, Ohio. Pecola Breedlove equates beauty and social acceptance with whiteness and therefore longs for blue eyes. Set against the “Dick and Jane’ primers of the 1940s, Pecola’s life of abuse and rejection are tragically portrayed. After being impregnated by her father, her only escape from her unbearable reality seems to be insanity.
Mumbo Jumbo by Ishmael Reed
A satiric deconstruction of the foundations upon which white Western Civilization rests, Mumbo Jumbo weaves real people and events with fiction. This third novel by author, poet and publisher Ishmael Reed tells the story of the Wallflower Order, which is trying to contain the ‘Jes Grew’ virus, a personification of ragtime, jazz, polytheism, and freedom. Set in the 1920s it follows multiple conspiracy theories throughout cultural history. Cited by literary critic Harold Bloom as one of the five hundred most significant books in the Western canon. Mumbo Jumbo was first published by Doubleday in 1972. It was reissued as a Penguin Modern Classic in 2017.
There is a Tree More Ancient Than Eden by Leon Forrest
There is a Tree More Ancient Than Eden, the first novel by author Leon Forrest, is written in a non-traditional oral style that tells a story of human tragedy, injustice, and spirituality. The story centers around Nathaniel (Turner) Witherspoon, who invokes the collective voices of his ancestral past after the passing of his mother.
The novel was first published by Random House in 1973 after being rejected by multiple publishers (including, at first, Random House). Ralph Ellison wrote the introduction, and Toni Morrison served as the editor for this book and Forrest’s next two novels while she worked at Random House.
If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin
Set in Harlem in the 1970s, If Beale Street Could Talk revolves around Young Tish and Fonny, who are in love and expecting a child. They plan on marrying until Fonny is falsely accused of a terrible crime and imprisoned. Their tragic love story paints a bleak picture of racism and injustice. It is Baldwin’s fifth novel, and the only one narrated by a woman. The first edition of If Beale Street Could Talk was published by Dial Press in 1974.
Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany
Dhalgren is a sci-fi novel written by Samuel R. Delany. It features an extended trip to and through Bellona, a fictional city in the American Midwest cut off from the rest of the world by an unknown catastrophe.
The first edition of Dhalgren was published by Bantam Books in 1975 as a mass-market paperback. The first hardcover edition was published by Gregg Press in Boston in 1977. It is one of the all-time best-selling science fiction novels.
South Street by David Bradley
The debut novel of David Bradley, South Street is set in Philadelphia. There, a poet searches the streets of the city for someone to save among the prostitutes and gangsters, preachers and conmen.
South Street was first published by Grossman/Viking Press, New York in 1975.
Roots by Alex Haley
The novel Roots: The Saga of an American Family took twelve years of research, travel, and writing to complete. Author Alex Haley put the history of his own ancestry into the work, starting with the kidnapping of 16-year-old Kunte Kinte from Gambia in 1767. Haley was awarded a special Pulitzer Prize for the work in 1977, and that same year the novel was made into a popular mini-series.
Roots was first published by Doubleday & Company, New York in 1976.
Elbow Room by James Alan McPherson
Elbow Room is a collection of 12 stories that explore race relations in the United States during the 1960s and 1970s. It was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1978, making McPherson the first African American recipient of that prize.
The first edition of Elbow Room was published by Little Brown and Company, Boston, in 1977.
Poe Must Die by Marc Olden
Set in New York City in the 1840s, Poe Must Die by Marc Olden features Edgar Allen Poe as the main character, fighting demons and pursuing a sorcerer. When the most powerful psychic on earth teams up with Satan, only the imagination of Poe can save the world.
The first edition of Poe Must Die was published by Penguin in 1978. The book was later reprinted in 2015 by Mysterious Press/Open Road in 2015.
Kindred by Octavia Butler
Dana, a young black woman, has just started her writing career and gotten married when she is snatched from her life in California in the 1970s and transported back in time to Antebellum Maryland. There she is faced with the horrors of history and slavery. She saves a young white boy, Rufus, and later realizes Rufus is an ancestor. Dana is sent back through time repeatedly to save him, realizing it is her only chance of saving her family line, and her own life. Classified as science-fiction, Kindred is modeled on slave narratives and also crosses over into the literature genre.
Kindred was first published by Beacon Press (paperback) and Doubleday (hardback) in 1979.
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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.