African American Literature: Do You Understand?

Dr. Beth McCoy’s English course, African American Literature, is built on the foundation of five distinct course epigraphs. The class has circled back to these epigraphs throughout the semester and continuously found connections to their messages to our various course concepts, conversations, and assigned readings. Merriam Webster Dictionary defines an epigraph as “a quotation set at the beginning of a literary work or one of its divisions to suggest its theme.” The use of this literary device serves the purpose of not only providing us as students with a constant reminder of the objectives of the course but further immediately exposes us to quotes by experienced and well-revered Black authors and poets like Lucille Clifton and Audre Lorde. Using our fifth course epigraph by Toni Morrison and Percival Everett’s novel The Trees, I will be reflecting on how this epigraph has overall impacted my experience and learning in this course and the reading of our final novel. 

The epigraph I will be informing my writing around is a quote from the late renowned African American author and Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison. In a 1989 interview with journalist and author Bonnie Angelo on her novel Beloved, Morrison states, “Black literature is taught as sociology, as tolerance, not as a serious, rigorous art form.” In response to Angelo’s question of how to improve America’s racial climate of the late 1980s, Morrison brings up how our educational system institutionalizes racism and explains this in the profound quote about Black literature. As expressed by Morrison in the quote, although Black literature is much more than a study of social problems, it is underestimated and even disregarded by many when it is an exhaustive and thorough craft in all actuality. Using this bold statement exposing the failure of American education, I will connect Percival Everett’s creativity in The Trees and what else I have learned in this course to concur with and further prove Morrison’s statement. 

To begin with, The Trees is an unorthodox thriller about America’s legacy of lynching. Defined by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) as the “public killing of an individual who has not received any due process…often carried out by lawless mobs, though police officers did participate,” lynching is just one side effect of the brutal epidemic of racism in the United States. The NAACP reports that 4,743 lynchings occurred in the U.S. between 1882 and 1968. There has been a resurgence of lynchings of Black men, women, and children by police officers alongside hate crimes against Asians and Asian Americans in recent years. Percival Everett connects these past atrocities to recent ones with the listing of names like Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and Trayvon Martin on the book’s cover. Notably, the plot of the murder mystery, beginning in Money, Mississippi, is reminiscent of the infamous murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till in 1955. After visiting his uncle for the summer in Money, young Till was lynched for allegedly flirting with a white woman at a convenience store. Photos of his dehumanized body were displayed all over the country, and it was one of America’s most vicious lynchings. In The Trees, the ancestors of Emmett Till’s murderers were the first to be killed in the act of revenge, which spirals into a series of killings of white people all over the country. 

Although, as an African American man, Everett’s topic of lynching and revenge may seem predictable or even simple for him to write, The Trees is much more complex and creative than that. In a recent interview with The Guardian, Everett recognizes this perception and states, “It would be very easy to write a dark, dense novel about lynching that no one will read; there has to be an element of seduction…The absurdity of the inattention to the subject was the driving force of the comedy, but the novel lives as much in turning around stereotypes as it does in revealing the truth of lynching.” As our epigraph describes, Everett’s literature is more than just a history lesson about lynching in America but additionally is a work of art and comedy. Understanding his intended audience, Everett crafted a story that would make people laugh and further grapple with the ongoing fight against racism and the complexities of justice. One example of Everett’s both creativity and seriousness can be seen in this conversation between the characters Sheriff Red Jetty and his wife as they look at a picture found in their basement: “‘Who’s this one of?’ She pointed…‘Is that your father?’ Jetty said nothing. ‘Red? Is that a n***** beside him? He’s light but I can tell.’ ‘No, that n****** is my father’” (pp. 225). In this short snippet of dialogue, Everett uses irony to discuss racism. Using the n-word and the building of suspense in this scene with the series of questions asked by the wife, Everett transports us into what could be a real-life, modern conversation. Everett does this effortlessly throughout the novel, thus making it such a page-turner.

Additionally, The Trees connects to various overarching class concepts. The first one that stood out to me while reading is framing: placing a piece of literature in a particular perspective or lens that impacts how you interpret or understand what you are reading. This occurs in Everett’s novel by mentioning Emmett Till and the corresponding setting of Money, Mississippi, where he died. When an unknown body of a Black man keeps showing up at bloody crime scenes in the novel, characters even suggest that it is the ghost of Emmett Till. By mentioning this historic lynching, Everett intentionally causes readers to consider the past and its correlation to our present – by juxtaposing Till and characters like Donald Trump. Another course concept present in The Trees is that of repetition and recursion. Throughout the novel, similar gruesome crime scenes were reoccurring in different parts of the country, all including the killing of white men by Black and Asian individuals. This deliberate repetition helps readers come to terms with the reality of how often lynchings occur in America. While their cases are not all the same as in the novel, they do similarly affect Black and Asian communities and keep our country in a place of fear and hostility. Lastly, Everett’s novel relates to our class concept of social sustainability: the maintenance and development of structures to benefit people – including the promotion of health, social justice, and education. Throughout the novel, white characters become afraid of an impending race war because of the recent mysterious murders. On the other hand, these murders of retribution by Black and Asian communities are a response to every single lynching since 1913 – 7,006. I understood this as competing motivations for social sustainability – just like the white characters scared of their race being erased, minorities in the novel and real life are afraid that theirs are already endangered. As all these concepts are evident in the novel, Everett’s writing is undoubtedly a work of rigorous and deliberate art. 

Looking beyond The Trees for a moment, I have seen this epigraph in use throughout the course. For example, in reading and discussing Octavia Butler’s Bloodchild, the class had trouble thinking unconventionally about the short story’s more profound meaning. Like my previous point about writing a novel about lynching, Black writers are often unfairly minimized to the assumption that their stories are about slavery. Minimizing Bloodchild – a science fiction including aliens, pregnant men, and an unconventional love story – to an allegory of slavery is precisely what Toni Morrison said in her interview. While Black writers do not have control over how their writing is interpreted and analyzed, their autonomy and innovativeness should be appreciated and acknowledged for its craftsmanship. 

Our Toni Morrison epigraph and reading of The Trees has caused me to contemplate the perseverance of not only Black writers but African Americans in general. The novel shows that African Americans have been threatened for centuries by the cruel realities of racism that still haunt our systems and daily lives. For Black writers like Percival Everett, they have yet to break free from the confinements of white perspectives and expectations when trying to express themselves creatively and freely. As they continue to push on despite these structural and undeniable obstacles that come with being Black in America, African Americans and all people of color must keep finding joy in breaking the status quo. Like Mama Z asks the detectives at the end of the novel, “Shall I stop him?” (pp. 308). Shall we stop Black writers from determining the meaning of their own writing after once not being able to write at all? Shall we stop Black people from taking justice into their own hands when justice was once not a part of their vocabulary? Shall we stop Black people from sustaining their culture when they are constantly wrestling to persevere it? My answer is now and forever no, and I appreciate Everett and this class for helping me see that.

Sustainability, Sankofa & Steps Toward Action

Cheyanne Carney, Francheska Colon, Josephine Lewis, McKinley Skala, & Susanna Dolan

Through our analysis of chapter ten Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, and Leah Penniman’s Farming While Black chapters three and five, we uncover how the shared individual and systemic responsibility of everyone in society is important to sustain the world we live in. By playing our part in the three pillars of sustainability: social, environmental, and economic – we discussed how to maintain and balance sustainability once we find a way to achieve it after seeing a local example at the Geneseo heating plant. Using examples of African American oral and farming traditions, as well as the spirit of the African Sankofa bird, we further discuss how we as students at Geneseo can play our role in continuing our journey of learning and thinkING about what sustainability means and why it matters.

The Meaning of Sustainability

Sustainability is such a broad word without context; there is so much potential, but the world has to give it the fuel to be something bigger and better. Sustainability is not just one thing, it is very complex and has three pillars: social sustainability, environmental sustainability, economic sustainability; all a part of something bigger but not exactly the same. Social sustainability refers to humans and our health, resource opportunities, and how we educate our youth. Through this, we are attempting to maintain our way of life, our way of thinking as human beings. Economic sustainability refers to job creation, profitability, and the distribution and consumption of goods and services in our society. Here, we focus on what we can get from our environment and others in our society and how we can use these resources to build something for ourselves. Using the other aspects of sustainability, we can build our empire and survive within it. Environmental sustainability refers to our impact on natural resources, our compliance with the laws and regulations we have created regarding the environment, water and air quality, pollution, biodiversity, and the measures we take to protect wildlife and endangered species in our world. All of these pieces are individual, different from the others, and able to stand alone, however, they are interlaced and stand stronger together. It is important to note that true sustainability occurs only when all three pillars are balanced. It might seem pointless to have some aspects of sustainability met and not others because sustainability is not complete until all pillars are achieved and work together in balance. Sustainability is defined as the ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level; avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance. 

What does sustainability possibly have to do with a literature class? There are many aspects of our lives that could connect to the literature we experience on a daily basis, including the overarching concept of authorship and ownership. Throughout our time together, especially at the beginning of the semester, we have discussed what authorship really means in literature and generally in our lives. In the Merriam-Webster dictionary, authorship is defined as “1) the profession of writing; 2) the source (such as the author) of a piece of writing, music, or art; 3) the state or act of writing, creating, or causing.” We had many conversations as a class about what can sway people’s opinions about true authorship. Does someone own the work they have written in its entirety, or do the editors and illustrators of the literature deserve authorship credit for the work that they contributed as well? There can be a lot of gray areas regarding authorship and what it means to truly own something. In terms of sustainability, ownership can apply to how humans view Earth. We do not own the planet no matter how much our actions might try to say otherwise. Earth is here to offer us a place to live, food to eat, and water to drink in return for protection and repayment of the resources we use. Chapters three and five in Farming While Black make the connection between Earth and the people that inhabit it in an endless spiritual exchange of give and take with resources and caregiving. We do not own the earth, but we do have an unspoken obligation to take care of it. To get us thinkING about this, some authors, like N.K. Jemisin write, at least partially, through the perspective lens of Earth as an active character with its own emotions and reasons for being. This allows readers an insider’s look at what the planet might be thinking and feeling when we treat it certain ways.

Ownership does not only pertain to environmental factors, it can also refer to Bernice Johnson Reagon’s idea of taking care of her songs by saying that they are free when in reality they are not licensed for sale. She took authorship over the songs she sang to the public and was accused of hypocrisy for not making them “free” like she stated they were. Taking ownership of the songs could allow Reagon to hold the meaning of the music close and safe until the audience was deemed ready to actually appreciate the songs, their historical importance, and the social necessity to keep their messages alive. The phrase that Bernice Johnson Reagon uses to describe the meaning of the songs is “the songs mean what they mean” which actually provides us with a good representation of her idea of ownership in regards to them.

Finally, we thought it was important to look back to when we learned about the African Sankofa bird and understand what happened in the past so that we can move forward together and make the changes needed to reach a state of true sustainability. Sankofa is a word in the Twi language of Ghana meaning “to retrieve” or “go back and get.” This idea of circling back with new information, making connections, and continuing to grow and move forward is the main idea of Sankofa and should be the ultimate goal when trying to reach true sustainability (all three pillars). We must revisit and learn from the past to avoid making the same errors in the future.

Invisible Possession

Throughout our course conversations, the discussion has continuously returned to concepts of possession. In one of our early classes, we read an excerpt from Suzan-Lori Parks The America Play and Other Works which provides the definition of “possession” as being “the holding or having of something as one’s own” (Parks, 3). With this definition in mind, it is interesting to see how elements of possession impact personal accountability when implementing sustainable practices that nourish the Earth, economy, and human spirit. Chapter ten of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man raises questions that help readers gain a better sense of their role in sustainable practices at the individual and systemic levels. 

In the chapter, the main character begins working at Liberty Paint, a company that bears the slogan, “Keep America Pure with Liberty Paints.” The company’s logo emphasizes purity with its signature color ‘Optic White’ which is attested to be the “purest white that can be found.” What the main character soon realizes is that the key to this pure white paint is a chemical referred to as ‘black dope’ that gives the paint its blinding white property. On his first day, our narrator is tasked with administering this dope to all of the paint buckets and while doing so questions his role in this task. At this moment, our narrator is taking on a role of personal responsibility by questioning the process that seems unscrupulous. When he asks his supervisor, Mr. Kimbro, about the process he is performing, the response he receives is, “That’s it. That’s all you have to do,” he said. “Never mind how it looks. That’s my worry. You just do what you’re told and don’t try to think about it.” Kimbro’s response releases our narrator from his moral dilemma by asserting that the paint-making procedure is a factory concern and the responsibility is held by Liberty Paint, not individuals. 

This interaction draws attention to practices of sustainability in relation to Earth, the economy, and the human spirit. In terms of Earth, it questions the ethical qualities of adding chemicals to paint. In relation to the economy, this scene illustrates how the ‘dope’ makes the paint whiter, which in turn makes the company more profitable. In a capitalist society, profitability may often take away from environmental or ethical concerns. In regard to the human spirit, this scene asks questions of ethics and individual accountability. Does Kimbro’s response change the sense of possession over sustainable practices within the plant? This scene asks readers to examine when individual responsibility ends and institutional responsibility begins as well as determine whether these two worlds are mutually exclusive. 

Thinking about this scene at a more figurative level, it is important to examine the question of what it means that the black chemical “dope” drops are covered up to create “pure” white paint? Throughout the chapter, there are indications that this scene is meant to symbolize the somatic norm of whiteness and how different groups of people are often compelled to live up to white standards and societal norms. One example of this is found in the character of Mr. Brockway who was the only one who knew how all of the machines in the paint factory functioned. If he were unable to come in, the factory would not function in the same way. When talking to the narrator, Mr. Brockway states “They thinks ’cause everything down here is done by machinery, that’s all there is to it. They crazy! Ain’t a continental thing that happens down here that ain’t as iffen I done put my black hands into it!” In this assertion, the author once again draws attention to the fact that creating Optic White paint would be impossible without the work of Mr. Brockway who is one of the very few people of color working in the factory. Mr. Brockway is more valuable to the company than many of the younger white workers, but he is paid incredibly low wages and forced to endure terrible conditions. 

Although Mr. Brockway does not literally possess the deed to the company, his knowledge of and function within the factory makes it his possession. This factory model is unsustainable because Mr. Brockway is the only one who knows the system. This chapter creates room for critical conversations about personal responsibility and accountability within the workplace. It also draws attention to the somatic norm of whiteness and the enduring power that this has within society. 

The Power of the Individual 

The power of the individual is essential in the progression of the future. This surely applies to how we view individual responsibility in regards to maintaining a sustainable world. One individual who has pioneered the concept known as intersectional environmentalism is Leah Thomas. The concept of intersectional environmentalism is a broad-based form of environmentalism that argues for the protection of both people and the environment. It analyzes the manner in which injustices against marginalized populations and the environment are linked. It puts to light injustices against the most vulnerable groups and the environment, rather than minimizing or silencing socioeconomic inequalities. This is similar to the Black civil rights leader Benjamin Chavis noted in relation to the definition of environmental racism. He stated that racial discrimination is engraved in environmental policy-making, regulation, and law enforcement. It intentionally targets communities of color through toxic waste facilities, official sanctioning of the life-threatening presence of poisons and pollutants in their communities, and a history of excluding people of color from ecology movement leadership. Furthermore, Thomas was influenced by Kimberlé Crenshaw’s term of intersectionality. The word was coined to describe the oppression of African American women in the feminist movement. In simplest terms, it demonstrates how feminism does not recognize the reality that women come from diverse backgrounds, ethnicities, abilities, and sexualities, among other things. It further favors the demands of those who are white, middle-class, heterosexual, cisgender, and able-bodied.

Leah Thomas is the founder of Intersectional Environmentalist (IE). This is a platform that focuses on the climate justice community and resource hub centered on BIPOC and historically under-represented environmental voices. Here they promote collaboration, accessible educational resources, and connect people to other organizations. For example, IE connected with Allbirds to create a series of workshops and videos that presented ideas on how to address climate change. This collaboration included a series of posters commissioned by IE artists that were shown in towns around the United States, as well as IGTVs that featured IE council members addressing significant environmental legislation. Leah Thomas, the creator of IE, thought that individuals had the potential to address these challenges that impact people all around the world in various ways. Thomas is only one person who has reached out to thousands of people and created an organization that may assist those in need and those who want to donate to this cause.

Multiple Perspectives

The class toured the Geneseo heating plant unit in order to understand the difficult and time-consuming efforts that go on behind closed doors to secure a better perspective of the deeper meaning of sustainability. A few of the many significant responsibilities that staff members of the campus heating plant at Geneseo take on include overseeing the energy management system, evaluating combustion efficiencies, analyzing chemicals, and responding to maintenance situations. 

The class was invited into a whole new world of knowledge with the help of two passionate staff members of the heating plant: Mr. Morse and Mr. Schunk. Both Mr. Morse and Mr. Schunk spoke with a great deal of excitement as they shared their essential work with the class. There was a distinct gap of knowledge and experience between the staff members and the class as sustainability, heating, and cooling jargon was included in the conversations as well as explanations of how the unit functioned. An overall key takeaway from this illuminating opportunity was the fact that we outsiders knew such little information pertaining to a system that so greatly impacts our lives. There is such an immense amount of detail and technique behind this cyclical process of heating and cooling. 

With the help of her book, Farming While Black, Leah Penniman offers her readers her unique perspective on the process of farming and her thoughtful insights on social issues such as racism and food access. Penniman emphasizes the importance behind the reciprocity between the Earth and the human beings inhabiting it. In order to produce effective and long-lasting change, we must work towards “economic justice, social welfare, and environmental justice” (chapter 3, page 54). Sustainability is merely an idea, which means that human beings must take responsibility for their actions and work hard to make positive changes within their world and the people around them. Consequences of taking from the Earth without giving back include the possibilities of “spiritual poverty, impairments to our physical and emotional well-being, or a sense of disconnection from our purpose” (chapter 3, page 57).

Real-World Application

Through our understanding of sustainability and how both individual and institutional structures work to maintain it, conversations on the continuity of African American culture can be revealed. As seen through the survival of Black oral and farming traditions, the African American community has mastered how to keep their practices alive. As symbolized by the African Sankofa bird, in order to move forward, you have to go back and retrieve what you can from the past. This spirit is emphasized when African Americans refer to the traditions and practices of their predecessors as guidance on what to do in the present and future. 

For example, as explained in Farming While Black by Leah Penniman, the spiritual practices at Soul Fire Farm are informed by their lineages and nature-based religion (p. 54). By connecting the social pillar of sustainability of their religion and community, Black farmers can work together to take care of the Earth. This practice of farming further helps them balance the environmental and economic aspects of sustainability as well. This same cyclical process can be seen in Black oral traditions. If not for the preservation of the songs, enslaved narratives, and stories of African Americans created during slavery, Black writers today would not have the work of their ancestors to draw inspiration from.

This carrying on and evolving of ideas of African Americans has been threatened throughout our nation’s history. Despite the institutional structures of slavery, police brutality, Jim Crow, and mass incarceration, the Black community has continued to thrive. This is necessary to mention because addressing one pillar at the expense of the other pillars will not lead to a balanced, sustainable future. Without the support of equitable organizations and various groups of allies, African Americans can not be socially sustainable. 

Notably, we can carry out this responsibility of balanced sustainability as students at SUNY Geneseo. As seen on the college’s website, Geneseo defines sustainability using the following United Nations definition: “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Through learning how to be an ally to our Black peers through our journey towards belonging or our heating plant recycling water and using steam power, the Geneseo community can work together to balance all three pillars of sustainability. Therefore, through the obvious connections between the three pillars of sustainability of Black culture and the overall sustainability of the Earth, we can continue to educate ourselves and others to change our practices for the better in the future. 

Call & Response: A Dynamic & Empowering Anthology

Call and Response: The Riverside Anthology of the African American Literary Tradition is a cornucopia of the boundless and rich heritage cultivated by African Americans. As this textbook is the first compilation of African American literature created by intentionally using elements of Black culture, the editors methodically organized every aspect. Specifically, through the intergenerational collection of African American voices, Call and Response is constructed using a dynamic blend of aesthetics that pay homage to Black culture, community, and continuity. This blending of the folk and cultural nationalist aesthetics in particular tells stories that are not homogenous but instead reveal the complexity of the African American experience and the pride they all share in it.

When trying to define the governing aesthetic of the collection, I struggled to pinpoint just one. What I did conclude quickly is that Call and Response is not governed by a belletristic aesthetic. Originating from France, belles-lettres are defined in Cambridge Dictionary as “works of literature that are beautiful and pleasing in an artistic way, rather than being very serious or full of information” (n.d.). While I agree that it is beautiful to see the work of my ancestors intentionally compiled, the hundreds of works included are filled with a deep shared meaning. Through the words of each author, emotional and powerful accounts are told that should be regarded as philosophical and informational. For example, Alice Walker’s Everyday Use, included in the Women’s Voices of Self-Definition section of the textbook on pages 1720 to 1725, is more than just a short story about a complicated family. Instead, her work sparks conversations on the Black identity and the effects of generational trauma; not just beautiful and pleasing literature.

While I do not see a belletristic one, I do notice elements of a folk aesthetic. By featuring lesser-known authors in history, it not only gives their work the exposure it deserves but underscores the value of community for African Americans. While history classrooms often teach Black history through a few “diamonds in the rough” that made a change, Black culture is what it is today because of the contributions of many. Therefore, by including the work of not only the James Baldwins, Lorraine Hansberrys, and Fedrick Douglases of literature, the editors are not only privileging high culture.

In addition to the aspects of the folk aesthetic, an eminent nationalist aesthetic is evident in Call and Response. As defined by the Wilson Center Digital Humanities Lab, cultural nationalism is “a way for marginalized people to collectively live in their shared experiences through self-expressive forms” (n.d.) – which in this discussion is in the form of literature. They further conclude that cultural nationalism “gives black and brown people a sense of pride in being people of color in a white-dominated society” (n.d.). This shared, although intricate, meaning of Black culture, tradition, and reason amongst the authors included in the textbook demonstrates this aesthetic and glues their various works together. As an African American woman, browsing Call and Response and seeing the authors and texts I did recognize, I was overwhelmed by a sense of pride. As I identify with the messages and sentiments written, I can live vicariously through the works, further confirming the cultural nationalist aesthetic embedded in the anthology.

Through the blending of the folk and cultural nationalist aesthetics, Call and Response is dynamic and reminiscent of the quilting tradition of Black women. Compared to Euro-American quilting patterns that are “rigid, uniform, repetitious, and predictable” (Brown, 1989), African American women have a tradition of quilting using improvisation by piecing together a variety of patterns and colors inconsistently. This binding of different, diverse elements to create something unique and interconnected is in my view exactly what this Call and Response does. In fact, this quote from author Elsa Barkley Brown’s article “African-American Women’s Quilting” perfectly summarizes the textbook’s aesthetic: “the symmetry in African-American quilts does not come from uniformity as it does in Euro-American quilts; rather, the symmetry comes through the diversity” (1989, p. 923).

Following its title, Call and Response is divided chronologically into sections that either call or respond to issues and aspects of African American history. The first call on pages one to 68 subtitled Origins: African Survivals in Slave Folk Culture, strategically discusses the inception of Black oral tradition. As explained by the editors, “this significant history of the development of that literature, of those who produced the literature, and of the resulting cultural and literary traditions, embraces a rich body of oral and written messages, which have roots traceable back to Africa. Though transported from Africa to the New World in shackles and chains, Americans of African descent retained memories of their African cultural heritage” (1998, p. 2). Furthermore, “the theme of black self-determination, at the very core of the slave narrative, would not only become the genesis of the nineteenth-century black novel, but, subsequently, much of the focus of African American literature as a whole” (1998, p. 4). In other words, as symbolized by the map of Africa’s west coast on the first page of Call and Response, all the works, techniques, and features throughout the anthology can be traced back to this continent. Through word of mouth, enslaved Africans shared stories of the homeland, sang spirituals, and later told their testimonies of slavery. Thus, to begin the literary journey, the editors understood the need to first acknowledge the origins of the culture brought from Africa. As symbolized by the African Sankofa bird, in order to move forward, you have to go back and retrieve what you can from the past. This spirit is clearly emphasized by the editors’ intentional start of the textbook. By first paying respect to those of the past, readers can see how the legacy has been continued while most importantly keeping the original stories and voices alive.

As Lin Manuel Miranda writes in Hamilton, leaving a legacy is like “planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.” Using this simile, Call and Response: The Riverside Anthology of the African American Literary Tradition is a garden in full bloom as it is impregnated with the works of writers and orators who have undoubtedly left their mark on the Black community and America as a whole. By blending the folk and cultural nationalist aesthetics and mirroring the quilting tradition of Black women described by author Elsa Barkley Brown, this anthology gives a complete retelling of the African American experience. Although not explicitly expressed by the editors, the structuring of this textbook additionally leaves room for its continuation. Released in 1998, over two decades of cultural nationalism from African Americans is missing from this textbook. Therefore, left for us, the African American writers, poets, musicians, and storytellers of today, to carry on, Call and Response can and should continue to evolve just like Black culture does daily.

Works Cited

Belles-Lettres. Belles-Lettres Definition in the Cambridge English Dictionary. (n.d.). Retrieved February 18, 2022, from

Brown, E. B. (1989). African American Women’s Quilting. Signs, 14(4), 921–929.

Cultural Nationalism. Omeka RSS. (n.d.). Retrieved February 18, 2022, from

Hill, P. L. (1999). Call and Response: The Riverside Anthology of the African American Literary Tradition. The Mississippi Quarterly, 53(1), 111.