The present study has four facets: first, it aims to provide an enumerative bibliography of anthologies of African American literature (including their various revised editions); secondly, it seeks to document the material history of these anthologies as artifacts by including, wherever possible, images of the front and back covers (with and/or without dust jackets), title pages, frontispieces, and sample pages; thirdly, it seeks to provide a comprehensive index to the contents of these anthologies (which will serve to document an important part of the circulation histories of the various works included in the anthologies); and, fourthly, it seeks to provide materials toward the reception history of African American literature by examining, for each anthology, the discourse supplied by the publishers (in jacket copy, blurbs, and other publisher descriptions) and the discourse of the editors themselves (in their introductions, etc.), as well as documenting responses to the anthologies in reviews and commentary on the anthologies.
Each facet represents a huge task in its own right, but the online format allows one to roll out the project in phases. The first phase consists of the bibliographic enumeration of all the relevant anthologies: this is well in hand, with over 515 works listed here. The full publishing history of each anthology still needs to be investigated and documented and, of course, I will continue to make new discoveries of anthologies I have overlooked or that are being newly published. The second phase consists of assembling images for all of the anthologies (through their various incarnations): a first run through all the anthologies has been completed in this regard and over 1,000 images are included in the project at present (although much more work remains to be done on this front). The third phase, consisting of listing and indexing the contents from all the anthologies, is a massive undertaking and has only just begun. My aim will be to provide enumerations of the contents of each anthology, in the entry for each anthology, and to develop the indexing later. But even the simple examination and listing of anthology contents has just begun as yet. The fourth phase involves filling out the reception histories for each of the anthologies. At present that is only evident in piecemeal fashion: it will likely be the last part of the project to be attacked directly—and it is, of course, an open-ended task that can only progress without ever achieving completion.
Scope of the Project
The present bibliography seeks to provide a comprehensive enumeration of anthologies of African American writings from the first such works up to the present—with the following exceptions:
- anthologies of African diasporic writings are not included at present, although they can include substantial selections from African American authors;
- multicultural and general US literature anthologies are also omitted at present;
- anthologies of children's or young adult literature (that is, writings specifically composed for children or young readers) are not included, although collections of general African American literature selected for younger readers are included;
- dictionaries and collections of African American quotations are not included: these are not anthologies of writings, though they are useful reference works;
- collections of African American or African diasporic folklore—although I have included some collections of folksongs. Ideally, the project will expand to include such material more fully, but at present I have not attempted any specific efforts at addressing this material;
- self-published or privately-published anthologies (including those by groups of students) are not presently included.
Even with these restrictions and omissions, various borderline issues remain. Anthologies of "literary works" (poetry, fiction, drama) are unambiguously appropriate for inclusion here. But this project does not restrict itself to a narrow definition of "literary works," since anthologies of works in non-fictional genres (such as slave narratives and other life writings, speeches and addresses, cultural criticism and essays, interviews with literary authors) are also included. It is not always easy, however, to distinguish between a collection of essays on a topic of contemporary concern and an anthology. It would be an endless task to include every collection of essays by African American authors—and would obscure the focus and agenda of this project—but I have nonetheless had to make sometimes arbitrary decisions about whether to treat a given collection of writings by African American authors as an essay collection or as an anthology. Some essay collections, because they bring together influential contributions, function like anthologies—but my judgments about particular instances will, no doubt, be open to dispute. This is one area where there is likely to be ongoing revision of the project.
Another complication arises with works that bring together extracts from writings by African American authors, often with surrounding commentary. I have already indicated that I have omitted dictionaries of African American quotations—although such works can claim to function as anthologies of African American writings. But what about historical "sourcebooks" that consist of extracts from African American authors? Such works are often reasonably clearly anthologies of African American writings, even where they include considerable commentary about the extracts. But, as the proportion of commentary to extracts increases, such works come to resemble the hybrid genre of textbooks that include extracts from primary sources. So, too, works of literary biography or literary history that also include samples from the writings of the authors discussed can shade into literary anthologies that include extensive biographical or literary historical commentary. This problem is especially acute when dealing with works that present "traditional" and "folk" materials (such as spirituals, blues, folktales, jokes and anecdotes). Here, too, I have had to make sometimes arbitrary decisions about what to consider as an anthology and what to exclude as a textbook, encyclopedia, or work of interpretive scholarship.
I noted above that I am not, at present, attempting to include self-published and privately-published anthologies of African American writing. This material is certainly important for getting a sense of efforts to bypass or redress the limitations of formal publishers as gatekeepers of African American writing, as windows onto community-based writing activity, as (especially in the case of student work) insight into the early development of African American writers, but it is too challenging a terrain for me to take on at present. I am keeping records of such material as I happen to come across them and have included anthologies of student work where they seemed to me to have a more public profile (beyond the group of contributors themselves), where they seemed to go beyond a "privately-published" status. But here, too, I have had to make judgment calls that are open to revision.
Alok Yadav, George Mason University This page last revised: 15 Feb. 2021