New Bones: Contemporary Black Writers in America



New Bones: Contemporary Black Writers in America

This edition

"New Bones: Contemporary Black Writers in America" . Ed. Kevin Everod Quashie, R. Joyce Lausch, and Keith D. Miller. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2001. xviii+1,128 pp.

Table of contents

Ai -- Maya Angelou -- Tina McElroy Ansa -- Toni Cade Bambara -- Joseph Beam -- Becky Birtha -- David Bradley -- Gwendolyn Brooks -- Octavia Butler -- Bebe Moore Campbell -- Maxine Clair -- Michelle Cliff -- Focused study : Lucille Clifton -- Wanda Coleman -- Jayne Cortez -- Edwidge Danticat -- Angela Davis -- Toi Derricotte -- Melvin Dixon -- Rita Dove -- Cornelius Eady -- Trey Ellis -- Mari Evans -- Percival Everett -- Carolyn Ferrell -- Nikky Finney -- Ruth Forman -- Leon Forrest -- Ernest Gaines -- Nikki Giovanni -- Jewelle Gomez -- Hattie Gossett -- Michael S. Harper -- Focused study : Essex Hemphill -- Focused study: bell hooks -- Angela Jackson -- Jesse Jackson -- Kelvin Christopher James -- Charles Johnson -- Gayl Jones -- Barbara Jordan -- June Jordan -- Focused study : Randall Kenan -- Jamaica Kincaid -- Etheridge Knight -- Ruth Ellen Kocher -- Yusef Komunyakaa -- Focused study : Audre Lorde -- Haki Madhubuti -- Clarence Major -- Paule Marshall -- Colleen McElroy -- Reginald McKnight -- James Alan McPherson -- E. Ethelbert Miller -- Focused study : Toni Morrison -- Thylias Moss -- Harryette Mullen -- Gloria Naylor -- Pat Parker -- Richard Perry -- Ishmael Reed -- Carolyn Rodgers -- Sonia Sanchez -- Sapphire -- Ntozake Shange -- Reginald Shepherd -- Anna Deveare Smith -- Quincy Troupe -- Alice Walker -- Michelle Faith Wallace -- Marilyn Nelson Waniek -- Michael S. Weaver -- Cornel West -- Focused study : John Edgar Wideman -- Sherley Anne Williams -- Focused study : August Wilson -- More contemporary African American writers. [Detailed Contents in WorldCat.]

About the anthology

● Features 77 authors, 7 of whom (Lucille Clifton, Essex Hemphill, bell hooks, Randall Kenan, Audre Lorde, Toni Morrison, John Edgar Wideman) are given "focused study," to give "a more extensive introduction" to their work.
● Includes authors who work in various genres: "poets, fiction-writers, biographers, essayists, orators, and playwrights" (Ervin 2001: 268).

Reviews and notices of anthology

● Donalson, Melvin. "African American Review" 36.1 (Spring 2002): 176.
Donalson sees the anthology's "inclusiveness" as its "greatest strength": "With a generous representation of the traditional genres of poetry, fiction, and drama, the anthology also highlights literary theory, speeches, gay and lesbian writings, popular/commercial writings, and autobiography. The editors have assembled a diverse group of authors, introducing each with critical headnotes that assess both biographical backgrounds and the literary value of the included selections. In this way, the anthology takes a bold step in defining 'contemporary' as being the past thirty years [1970-2000] and selecting works that best represent those decades" (176).
He sees the alphabetical arrangement of the contents (by authors' last names) as the biggest weakness of the volume: an arrangement by chronology, genre, or thematic or stylistic affinities would be preferable. The alphabetical arrangement "discourages an evaluation of the connections and interdependence of artistic styles, literary movements, and cultural/political themes. . . . For a new or undergraduate reader of black literature, this type of compilation obscures the inextricable association among the newer and older voices during the past thirty years and before. At the same time, at the text's end, a single page includes a listing of names of 'Additional Contemporary Authors' without any context to assess or pursue the cursory amalgamation of names" (176).
● Ervin, Hazel Arnette. "CLA Journal" 45.2 (Dec. 2001): 268-71.
The editors emphasize how "extensive" the collection is: this invites scrutiny of what is missing from the anthology. Ervin remarks that "the editors do not move much beyond the existing canon of contemporary writers"; the editors include several works by some authors, "while other acclaimed and often anthologized contemporary writers such as J. California Cooper, Thulani Davis, Henry Dumas, and Alex Pate are excluded. Missing among the newer voices are established writers Kevin Young and Greg Tate. The editors also call attention to the wide range of topics in 'New Bones,' and in doing so, they force readers to question: Should not the contemporary African American writer be acknowledged as one concerned with, for instance, death, marriage, childhood innocence and experiences, and laughter, as well?" (269).
Ervin also calls for greater specification of what the editors mean by a writer's use of "repetition" or of "the language and rhetoric of the black church" (269-70). Ervin also objects to the anthology's presentation of the visual artworks included in it: she argues that Richard Powell's 1988 article "The Blues Aesthetic: Black Culture and Modernism" serves "as a model on how to use the blues to critique visual paintings. Yet the editors of 'New Bones' place paintings by Jacob Lawrence, Faith Ringgold, and Gordon Parks and a sculpture by Elizabeth Catlett in an obscure place in the anthology, as if to suggest, unfortunately, that there is no continuity in evaluative criteria in the African American poetic tradition when it comes to visual art" (270).
Ervin seems to take issue with the editors's description of their anthology as "the first and most extensive collection of its kind [i.e., across multiple genres of writing]" (quoted 268): she notes, at the start of her review, the presentation of contemporary African American literature in 'Breaking Ice: An Anthology of Contemporary African American Fiction,' edited by Terry McMillan; 'Brotherman: The Odyssey of Black Men in America,' edited by Herb Boyd and Robert L. Allen; and even sections of 'Black Writers in America,' edited by Richard Barksdale and Keneth Kinnamon" (268) and then concludes the review by remarking that: "In African American culture, literary ancestors serve as inspiriting influences. . . . The editors of 'New Bones' appear distanced from their literary ancestors (e.g., McMillan, Boyd, Allen, Barksdale and Kinnamon)--distanced, unfortunately, as they attempt earnestly to make the reader aware of the 'need' for newer black voices in the canon of contemporary African American literature; of the 'need' to include in our discussions visual art as well as literary art by contemporary African Americans; of the 'need' to deepen aesthetic approaches to contemporary African American literature; and of the 'need' to utilize the Web in our teachings of contemporary African American literary art (visual, oratorical, and written)" (270-71).

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With thanks to Renee Kingan, who contributed the images for this entry.

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