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