1. Langston Hughes (1902 – 1967) was an American poet, novelist and playwright. He is best known for his work during the 1920s Harlem Renaissance. With famous poems such as “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” and Crotty fave, “Let America Be America Again,” Hughes proudly depicted the lives of poor blacks through the invention of what was called “jazz poetry.”
2. Richard Wright (1908 – 1960) authored what were considered “controversial” novels in his time, including Crotty fave Native Son. In 1945, Wright penned the best-seller Black Boy, a seminal portrayal of one black man’s search for self-actualization in a racist society. It paved the way for other successful black writers.
3. Toni Morrison (1931 – present) is a Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist. She is celebrated for novels with epic themes and richly detailed characters, such as in The Bluest Eye, Song of Solomon and Beloved. Though, for better or worse, Ms. Morrison is best known for her memorable, though misunderstood, quote, “Bill Clinton is our first black president.”
4. Zora Neale Hurston (1891 – 1960) was an American folklorist, anthropologist, and author of four novels and over fifty short stories, plays and essays. Her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God was written during her fieldwork in Haiti with the Guggenheim Foundation, which provides grants to professionals in the creative arts.
5. Frederick Douglass (1818 – 1895) was a strong public speaker and, after escaping from slavery, prominent leader in the abolitionist movement. Douglass also authored several compelling autobiographies that detailed his experiences in slavery. He served as a striking counter-example to slaveholders’ claims that blacks did not have the intellectual capacity to function as free and independent citizens.
6. Alice Walker (1944 – present) is an author and activist, best known for the critically acclaimed novel The Color Purple, for which she was awarded a Pulitzer Prize. It was turned into a successful Steven Spielberg film co-starring Oprah Winfrey, and later into an excellent Broadway musical. Walker was involved in the Civil Rights movement and participated in the 1963 March on Washington.
7. W.E.B. Du Bois (1868 – 1963) was the first African-American to earn a doctorate from Harvard. He was a member of the early 20th century African-American intellectual elite and helped increase black political representation. He was a co-founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and served as editor for its magazine, The Crisis, to which he contributed many essays.
8. Ralph Ellison (1914 – 1994) was a literary critic, scholar and writer. He wrote Shadow and Act, a collection of political, social and critical essays. He served as a professor at Rutgers University and Yale University. In addition, he received a National Book Award in 1953 for his book Invisible Man, which was chosen in 1998 by the Modern Library Association as one of the top 100 Best English-language Novels of the 20th Century. Invisible Man ranked 19th, ahead of Richard Wright’s Native Son at 20th.
9. August Wilson (1945 – 2005) is an American playwright best known for The Pittsburgh Cycle (often referred to as his “Century Cycle”), which consists of ten plays set in different decades highlighting the black experience throughout the 20th century.
10. James Baldwin (1924 – 1987) was a novelist, poet and essayist. He explored the unspoken intricacies of racial, sexual and class distinctions in Western societies throughout 20th century America. His novel, Go Tell It On the Mountain, ranked 39th on the MLA list.