Throughout my time as an English Major I’ve had the oppertunity to read diverse literature that the public school system often ignores. This is by no means a comprehensive nor exhaustive list of overlooked and underappreciated authors. It is a list of the 5 Black women who’s works connected with me the most.
- Maya Angelou (1928 – 2014)
One of the few Black women taught in the public school system, Angelou is best known for her poems- including Still I Rise. Her work in drama, education, performance, and activism resulted in over 50 honorary doctorate degrees and she should be remembered as one of the brigtest minds of the last century.
- Toni Morrison (1931 – 2019)
Morrison studied humanities at Howard and Cornell Universities, followed by an academic career at Texas Southern University, Howard University, Yale, and served as a Princeton University chair in 1989. In 1988 she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for her gothic novel Beloved.
- Audre Lorde (1934 – 1992)
Audre Lorde described herself as a “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet” and lived up to each of those descriptors. Her life was dedicated to fighting racism, homophobia, sexism, classisim, which resulted in numerous works of prose and theory revolving around her beliefs as an activist. I first encounted her work in a Literary Theory class, and then again within a course dedicated to diverse women writers in performance where her poem The Black Unicorn was heavily featured and discussed.
- Alice Walker (born 1944)
Walker is best known for her 1983 Pultizer Prize winning novel, The Color Purple, which was later adapted to film by Steven Spielberg. Walker dedicated a large part of her life to activism for social justice, civil rights, and gender equality all of which feature heavily in her essay collection: In Search of our Mother’s Gardens.
- Ntozake Shange (1948 – 2018)
Ntozake Shange was born Paulette Williams into an upper middle-class African American family. Shange attended Barnard College and the University of Southern California, earning both a BA and MA in American Studies. Shange was perhaps most famous for her play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf (1975). A unique blend of poetry, music, dance and drama called a ‘choreopoem.’ Shange played with conventions in her novels as well. Her first full-length novel, Sassafrass, Cypress, and Indigo (1982), was an admixture of narrative, recipes, letters, poetry and magic spells