This companion volume to Masterpieces of World Literature (1989) highlights the literary achievements of African-American authors from the 18th century to the present with individual articles on 149 major works of fiction, nonfiction, drama, and poetry. Each article contains the important facts and dates of authorship along with analyses of characters, settings, themes, and plots. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
About 150 works of literature by more than 90 African American authors are described in this new work, a companion to "Masterpieces of World Literature". Coverage ranges more than 200 years, including both early literature, such as "Our Nig" by Harriet Jacob and "Clotel" by William Wells Brown, and such contemporary works as "Mama" by best-selling novelist Terry McMillan, Shelby Steele's controversial "The Content of Our Character", and Charles Johnson's "Middle Passage", winner of the 1990 National Book Award. In addition to novels, the volume discusses autobiographies, poetry, plays, essays, speeches, and short stories
Arranged alphabetically by title, each entry follows a standard format. For a work of fiction or drama, an entry begins with brief ready-reference information giving author's name and dates, type of work, type of plot, time of plot, locale, and date of first publication. This information is followed by a description of the principal characters, a summary of the plot, some critical analysis, and a concluding section called "Critical Context." Nonfiction receives similar treatment, except that the ready-reference summaries introducing each entry are briefer, and the sections on literary characters are omitted. For autobiographical treatments, there are short descriptions of the principal personages that figure in the work. In some cases, works are grouped together by literary genre instead of being discussed individually by title. Thus, there are the essays for "The Poetry of Ai," "The Poetry of Amiri Baraka," and "The Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr." In all, 30 authors and their works are presented this way. Entries average 2,500 words in length and--as one has come to expect from a Frank N. Magill production--are written in a clear and accessible style. Each entry is signed. No affiliations are provided in the list of contributors that follows the brief preface. The volume concludes with author and title indexes
There is no shortage of information about most of the authors discussed here. Many of them can be found in volumes of Gale's "Dictionary of Literary Biography", such as "Afro-American Writers before the Harlem Renaissance" and "Afro-American Writers from the Harlem Renaissance to 1940". The "DLB" covers more writers and provides more information about their lives and careers. Information about newer writers can be found in Gale's "Black Writers", a spin-off of "Contemporary Authors". Many of the writers are also discussed in various other sets edited by Magill, including the Critical Survey and Masterplots series. A number of the titles analyzed in "Masterpieces of African-American Literature" are also included in one or another Masterplots set. However, the volume under review adds a number of titles, especially newer ones, not found elsewhere and also offers the advantage of a convenient format. It is extremely useful to have these works presented in a single volume. Libraries that need information on African American literature but cannot afford to invest heavily in the large sets from Salem Press or Gale will welcome this volume. Even those libraries that do own the larger sets will want to consider this volume as a convenient, accessible way to help support a multicultural curriculum. Recommended for high school, public, and undergraduate libraries.