African American Literature 1980-1989
The Salt Eaters by Toni Cade Bambara
The first novel by Toni Cade Bambara, The Salt-Eaters revolves around the healing of Velma Henry after she attempts suicide. It is set in the community of Claybourne, Georgia in the 1970s. Minnie Ransom, a fabled healer of the Southwest Community Infirmary where Velma is staying, performs the ritual along with guidance from a ‘haint’ she calls Old Wife. Coming out of the Civil Rights and Feminist movements, this novel, and Velma’s fractured psyche, explore the pieces left behind in the wake of change, and what needs healing, both personally and communally.
The first edition of The Salt Eaters was published by Random House in 1980.
The Chaneysville Incident by David Bradley
Author David Bradley’s second novel The Chaneysville Incident won the 1982 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. The story revolves around John Washington, a young black historian who returns to his hometown of Chaneysville Pennsylvania. While exploring the death of his father he uncovers a mystery involving twelve runaway slaves who were buried in town.
The first edition of The Chaneysville Incident was published by HarperCollins in 1981.
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
The Color Purple is author Alice Walker’s third novel and her best-known work. The groundbreaking book depicts the lives of black women in rural Georgia in the early 20th century and broke the silence on portrayals of domestic and sexual abuse. In the beginning, the main character, Celie, writes letters to God, about the rape and abuse she suffered at the hands of her father, even giving birth to two of his children which he makes disappear. Celie is married off as a teenager to an abusive man and separated from her beloved sister Nettie, to whom she writes letters that go unanswered. The story explores different deep love bonds between women, and also between men and women and their complicated relationships. Even in the face of deep hurt and abuse Celie and her sisters push through, finding redemption, hope, and love.
Published by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich in 1982, the novel received the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award. The novel was adapted into a film in 1985 by Steven Spielberg.
The Women of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor
This first published book by author Gloria Naylor, The Women of Brewster Place is a novel constructed of seven stories exploring the lives of men and women and their relationships. The novel is set in an unnamed industrial city in the Northern United States. It won the American Book Award for the best first novel of the year, and in 1989 it was released as a television miniseries.
The Women of Brewster Place was first published by Viking Press, New York in 1982.
Praisesong for the Widow by Paule Marshall
Praisesong for the Widow, the third novel by author Paule Marshall, chronicles the awakening of Avey Johnson, a sixty-four-year-old African American widow. After losing her husband Johnson takes a cruise with friends in the mid-1970s and feeling her life unraveling she disembarks on an island in the Grenadines, undergoing experiences that flashback through her life with her husband Jerome as well as her childhood in Harlem. which takes place in the mid-1970s.
Praisesong for the Widow was first published by Putnam in 1983.
Do Lord Remember Me by Julius Lester
Do Lord Remember Me is a novel written by author Julius Lester, who in his life published over 25 books, including many award-winning children’s books. This novel tells the story of Reverend Joshua Smith, Sr., a black preacher in Nashville Tennessee, as he writes his obituary, reflecting on his life which spanned several significant historical eras.
Do Lord Remember Me was first published by Holt, Rinehart and Winston, in 1984. It was critically acclaimed and is now considered a classic.
Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid
Annie John, published in 1985, details the growth of a girl on the island of Antigua in the Caribbean. The author, Jamaica Kincaid, was sent by her family to America to work as an au pair, but as soon as she arrived in the States she rebelled - not sending money home or leaving a forwarding address. After a few years, she left her job to go to college full time. After college, Kincaid wrote for multiple magazines, including The New Yorker, where the first chapters of Annie John were published. Those initial chapters were combined and tied together by the main narrator for publication. The novel deals with many issues, including mother-daughter relationships, racism, depression, education, and superstition.
The first edition of Annie John was published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, New York in 1985.
Homemade Love by J. California Cooper
This second collection of stories by J. California Cooper, Homemade Love, won the American Book Award in 1989. Cooper was a noted playwright when Alice Walker advised her to try her hand at short stories. Her work has been compared to Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston, and this volume is first-person tales of life and love, fate and the mysteries of life, told like gossip among old friends.
The first edition of Homemade Love was published by St. Martin’s Press in 1986.
Mama by Terry McMillan
Mama, the first novel by author Terry McMillan, is about Mildred Peacock, the mother of five who kicks her husband out after a violent fight. Mildred then raises her children alone in the impoverished town of Point Haven, Michigan.
Mama was published in 1987 by Houghton Mifflin Company. When the publisher failed to promote the novel as it did comparable books by white authors, McMillan took control of the publicity. She funded her own book tour, and wrote 3,000 letters to bookstores, Black organizations, and Universities, asking them to help promote the book. Her marketing effort worked, and six weeks after publication Mama was on its third printing.
Moustapha’s Eclipse by Reginald McKnight
Author Reginald McKnight's first book, a collection of ten stories, illustrates a diverse black experience from the voices of West Africans and African Americans. The title story, Moustapha’s Eclipse, is about a spiritual peanut farmer who would witness an eclipse although it would leave him blind. Margaret Atwood chose the collection as the recipient of the eighth Drue Heinz Literature Prize for short fiction.
The first edition of Moustapha’s Eclipse was published in 1988 by the University of Pittsburgh Press.
Baby of the Family by Tina McElroy Ansa
Baby of the Family is novelist Tina McElroy Ansa’s first book, and a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. This coming-of-age story is set in a small town in Georgia, beginning in the 1950s, when Lena McPherson, the third and longed-for child of Nellie and Jonah, is born with special powers to see ghosts and predict the future.
The first edition of Baby of the Family was published by Harcourt, Brace and Jovanovich in 1989.
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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.