From the Publisher
“A treasure trove of discovery…Readers across racial lines will find reason for delight in this debut of what is intended as an annual series.”—Kirkus
“There hasn’t been an anthology of such talented African-American literary figures since Marita Golden’s Gumbo, and the result is a masterful bouquet of literary flowers, some grand, some subtle, but none shrinking…With something for every reader’s taste, this is a collection not to be missed.”—Publishers Weekly
“This engaging collection…shows the incredible range of talent and focus of fiction written by African Americans."—Booklist
"These short stories, excerpts from novels, and thoughtful essays cover a broad range of subjects, experiences and perspectives from many of the best writers working today."—Sacramento Bee
There hasn't been an anthology of such talented African-American literary figures since Marita Golden's Gumbo, and the result is a masterful bouquet of literary flowers, some grand, some subtle, but none shrinking. Striking among the collection is "Cell One," Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's (Half of a Yellow Sun) cautionary tale of what happens when success and ambition outpace discipline and firm-handedness in child-rearing in Nigeria. The son of a professor and his accommodating wife, Nnamabia is titillated by thug life, and it isn't until he's arrested and observes the blatant disrespect toward a sick elder that he remembers the good sense his parents instilled long ago. In "This Kind of Red," Helen Lee (Water Marked) tells of a battered woman who copes by counting everything from crayons to the minutes she has to kill her abusive husband. Mat Johnson (Drop) offers an excerpt from The Great Negro Plot, his novel infused with the history of slavery and indentured servitude in colonial New York. With something for every reader's taste, this is a collection not to be missed. (Jan.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
African American fiction has come a long way from the days of Richard Wright and Ralph Ellison, and its wealth and variety are recognized in this first in an annual series. The volume includes both short stories and excerpts from adult and YA fiction written in 2007. The six short stories show a diversity of themes and locales. Chris Abani's "The White Albatross" combines the jazz milieu with a search for a mother, while Tiphanie Yanique's "The Saving Work" deals with two mothers on a Caribbean island watching a church burn down. Amina Gautier's "Dance for Me," about a minority girl's alienation and eventual acceptance of a sort at a white private school, fits nicely with Emily Rabotea's "Orb Weaver," about a young African American woman's experience at a writers' conference. The four excerpted novels include Junot Díaz's popular The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and cult author Samuel Delany's Dark Reflections. The inclusion of YA fiction-there's a selection, for instance, from Walter Dean Myers's Harlem Summer, about a meeting with Fats Waller and Dutch Schultz-brings another dimension to this volume. A good addition for large public and academic libraries.
The expansive criteria in terms of authors, genres and publication dates (2006-09) makes for a treasure trove of discovery in this volume, though it doesn't hold together as well as so many other best-of anthologies. Readers across racial lines will find reason for delight in this debut of what is intended as an annual series, which mixes short stories with novel selections and young-adult fiction, and writers as acclaimed as Junot D'az (typically categorized as Dominican-American) and as little known as L.F. Haines (whose selection from the young-adult work Up For It: A Tale of the Underground Respiration does not credit a publisher). A taste of D'az's virtuosic, award-winning The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao will likely leave readers hungry for the whole novel, while the Haines selection-with its gang warfare, drug house, references to Coltrane and Mingus and footnotes longer than David Foster Wallace's-must qualify as young-adult fiction mainly on the basis of its 15-year-old protagonist. Too many of the novel selections which dominate these pages start in the middle of things, with the reader lacking context of character. A half-dozen self-contained stories open the volume, with settings that range from the Caribbean ("The Saving Work" by Tiphanie Yanique) to Nigeria ("Cell One" by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie), and approaches from the metafictional ("Orb Weaver" by Emily Raboteau) to the first-person confessional ("This Kind of Red" by Helen Elaine Lee). A short introduction by Early provides perspective on African-American fiction, and another by guest editor Harris focuses on the selections. Lacking cohesiveness, this will likely lead the curious reader to other books.
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From the Introduction
"Over the course of American literary history African Americans tried many times to read, write, and publish their own books as a sign of cultural independence and racial entrepreneurism. In the end, the act of wiring black fiction was both quixotic and heroic. It served black and white readers alike by reminding them that black people wanted to write fiction, for its own sake and because it might empower the race. And it served the nation by reminding everyone that the creation of black literature was an act of freedom. For every new possibility that blacks fulfilled, such as the utterly preposterous one of becoming fiction writers, further possibilities opened for everyone else.
The effort required, however, was daunting.Not until after the Civil War would African American writers become sufficiently practiced in the craft of fiction writing to produce more than one novel or enough short stories to be collected in a volume. But those early writers, unpracticed and frequently unoriginal as they may have been, did much to establish a tradition of black literature. While these literary ancestors did not directly influence black writers who came later, one can appreciate them for a variety of reasons, even just for persevering to get what was in their heads on paper, at a time when society was organized to ensure that they had nothing in their heads and no way of putting anything on paper. For later generations, filiopiety has limits but also satisfies certain necessities of the mind and heart. As the bassist Charles Mingus once put it so succinctly, "Thank god I've got roots!"
My hope for the Best African American Fiction series is that it will show how far African American fiction has come and, more important, how far it extends." ~Gerald Early
"Considering the time and place of my Southern upbringing, it ought to come as no surprise that most of the books I encountered were by white authors. The libraries and schools were full of books by no one else. Not for years would I discover James Baldwin's Go Tell It on the Mountain, the first book that truly spoke to me. It depicted a world I closely identified with; more than that, it suggested to me for the first time that I might become a writer, that my life as a young African American boy was story worthy of being written.While I can't claim that reading saved my life, books nevertheless profoundly shaped me. They made my dreams bigger.
Being asked to write the introduction for the inaugural volume of Best African American Fiction is therefore a welcome opportunity to me as a reader and an honor to me as an author. It's the perfect chance to get acquainted with some of the best work by the best African American writers being published today. With this volume, whose knockout roster reads like a who's who of contemporary black fiction, it's difficult to know where to begin." ~E. Lynn Harris