Special Report

Most Influential Black Authors of the 20th Century

Source: Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Lorraine Hansberry (1930-1965)
> Birthplace: Chicago, IL

Activist and writer Lorraine Hansberry wrote for the Black newspaper, “Freedom” before she achieved success as a playwright. Her 1959 play, “A Raisin in the Sun” was the first play written by a Black woman to be performed on Broadway, and has been called one of the best plays ever written. The tale of a Black family’s experiences of housing segregation reflected Hansbury’s own childhood story, wherein her family brought a segregation case to the Supreme Court.

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Toni Morrison (1931-2019)
> Birthplace: Lorain, OH

Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Toni Morrison has written numerous critically acclaimed books, including her masterpiece, “Beloved.” Inspired by true events, Beloved follows the life of a formerly enslaved woman who killed her young daughter to prevent her from being captured and returned to slavery.

In 1993 Morrison became the first Black woman of any nationality to win the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Source: Courtesy of Amazon.com

Toni Cade Bambara (1939-1995)
> Birthplace: New York City

Active during the Black Arts Movement in the ’60s and ’70s, Toni Cade Bambara helped to highlight the voices of Black women in her anthology, “The Black Woman,” which included her own work as well as writing by Alice Walker, Audre Lorde, and others.

A novelist and screenplay writer, as well as a documentary filmmaker, Bambara is best known for her first novel, “The Salt Eaters,” and for her grounding of feminism and politics in Black culture.

Source: Courtesy of Amazon.com

Barbara Christian (1943-2000)
> Birthplace: St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands

Non-fiction author and professor Barbara Christian wrote about race and accessibility, publishing the first comprehensive scholarly work on Black feminist literature, entitled “Black Women Novelists: The Development of a Tradition.”

Her dedication to creating opportunities for minorities and underprivileged people prevailed through her writings and actions; in 1971 she was a founding member of the “University Without Walls,” a department at UMass Amherst.

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Nikki Giovanni (1943-present)
> Birthplace: Knoxville, TN

Professor Nikki Giovanni has been called “one of the most celebrated poets of our time,” as well as “the poet of the Black revolution.” Her work spans five decades, with origins in the Black Power Movement, and has grown to encompass themes of parenthood, family, social issues, and gender equality.

She has published nearly 30 books, including multiple poetry books for children, and has won countless awards.

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