Amplifying Black voices in literature

Amplifying Black voices in literature

Image courtesy of newyorker.com
Mr. James Baldwin

Mr. James Baldwin (1924–1987) was an American novelist, playwright, poet, essayist, social critic, and one of America’s foremost writers, according to biography.com.  Through his literary work, he greatly shaped the discourse around race and identity in America, influencing not only literature but also broader social conversations of his time and beyond.  As one of the most powerful voices of the twentieth century, Mr. Baldwin’s works persist in encouraging readers to challenge societal norms, confront injustice, and examine issues of race, identity, and equality. 

Mr. Baldwin grew up in the Bronx, New York, and spent much of his time in libraries at a young age, cultivating his passion for reading and writing, according to pbs.org.  It was in these early years that he developed his eloquent voice that would eventually shift the trajectory of modern civil rights.  In his works, Mr. Baldwin confronted controversial issues of racial injustice and sexuality, hoping to destigmatize convention and encourage inclusivity. 

Notably, Mr. Baldwin’s novel Giovanni’s Room (1956) delves into the complexities of homosexuality, marking a powerful stance against prevailing norms.  Mr. Baldwin vulnerably invites readers to examine the realities of prejudice and bias, according to biography.com.  As a queer Black writer, Mr. Baldwin addressed the systemic injustices of American society.  His work also includes Notes of a Native Son (1955) and The Fire Next Time (1963), which address the uncomfortable reality of racial discrimination. 

Ultimately, Mr. Baldwin contributed immensely to the groundwork that fueled the Civil Rights Movement.  His literary contributions serve as timeless representations of inequality and will persist in inspiring future generations to come.

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read,” Mr. Baldwin said, according to medium.com.  “It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.”

Image courtesy of newyorker.com
Image courtesy of The New York Times
Ms. Maya Angelou

Ms. Maya Angelou (1928-2014) was a poet, author, and Civil Rights activist.  She rose to fame with the publication of her first memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings in 1969, according to mayaangelou.com.  Her book honestly depicts the culturally taboo topic of sexual abuse, which Ms. Angelou experienced firsthand at a young age.  This led some Southern states in the United States (US) to ban her memoir.  However, many credit her book for helping survivors speak up about their stories, according to womenshistory.org.  

During the Second World War, although Ms. Angelou was only fifteen, she became determined to find employment.  She applied for a position as a streetcar conductor, but they would not hire her because of her race.  Regardless, Ms. Angelou persisted, submitting her application every day for three weeks until the company relented and gave her the position.  Thus, she became the first African-American woman to work as a streetcar conductor in San Francisco, California, which paved the way for many African American women in the future, according to womenshistory.org.

In total, Ms. Angelou published 36 books and numerous volumes of poetry, according to mayaangelou.com.  She also won two Grammy awards for her spoken word poetry.  In 2010, former President Barack Obama honored Ms. Angelou with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the US.  Essentially, through the written and spoken word, Ms. Angelou addressed pressing social issues, like racism and sexual abuse, while showcasing the beauty of language, according to womenshistory.org.

In her poem “Still I Rise,” Ms. Angelou declares, “You may shoot me with your words.  You may cut me with your eyes, you may kill me with your hatefulness, but still, like air, I’ll rise.”

Image courtesy of The New York Times
Image courtesy of The New York Times
Ms. Toni Morrison

Ms. Chloe Anthony Wofford (1931-2019), who wrote under the name of Ms. Toni Morrison, was an American novelist who profoundly influenced the course of modern American literature.  As a Black woman who grew up in the American Midwest, Ms. Morrison developed an intense appreciation for Black identity and culture, which fueled her devotion to addressing topics of racism in her literary work, according to britannica.com.  

In pursuit of enriching her love of storytelling, Ms. Morrison graduated from Howard University in 1953 with a bachelor’s degree in English.  She earned her Master of Arts in English from Cornell University in 1955, according to womenshistory.org She then served as a professor at various universities before publishing her first book, The Bluest Eye (1970), a novel that frames a young Black girl’s struggle to live up to white standards of beauty, according to britannica.com.

Ms. Morrison’s best-selling novel Beloved (1987) won the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.  Her literary laurels also include a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993 and a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012 from then President Barack Obama, according to guardian.com.  In fact, Ms. Morrison was the first African American woman to win the Nobel, paving the way for future generations of Black writers.

Truly, during the course of her life, Ms. Morrison greatly influenced American literature.  Her literary works persist in broadening the discourse of race in America today and beyond, unveiling the uncomfortable and ongoing realities of American society. 

“My world did not shrink because I was a Black female writer,” Ms. Morrison said, according to The New York Times.  “It just got bigger.”

Image courtesy of The New York Times
Image courtesy of barackobamabooks.com
President Barack Obama

Former President Barack Obama (1961–) has dedicated his life to serving the American people by trying to create lasting change and make the United States (US) more equal for all citizens, according to barackobama.com.  After graduating from Columbia University in 1983, Mr. Obama began his career as an analyst at Business International Corporation.  Shortly after, however, he switched career paths and started working with the Development Communities Project, where he helped low-income families in Chicago’s South Side.  

After three years of working for the community service organization, Mr. Obama moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to study at Harvard Law School.  There, Mr. Obama became the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review before graduating magna cum laude, laying the foundation for future constitutional scholars, according to obamalibrary.gov.  While he was president of the influential legal journal, a literary agent approached Ms. Obama and gave him a $40,000 advance to write what the world would later know as Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance.  It is a story that explores the early years of Mr. Obama’s life until his enrollment into Harvard Law School.  The book details how, with a white mother and a black father, Mr. Obama discovers what it means to be African-American.  Although literary credits gave his memoir favorable reviews, it went out of publication within a few years.  Publishers did not reissue his book until 2004, when he ran for US Senate, according to history.com.  

Mr. Obama’s political career began in 1996 when the people of Illinois elected him to the position of State Senator, where he served as a Democratic Spokesperson for the Public Health and Welfare Committee, the Co-Chairman of the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, and a member of the Judiciary and Revenue Committees, according to obamalibrary.gov.  In addition to his political obligations, Mr. Obama worked as a professor in constitutional law for the University of Chicago from 1996 to 2004, according to barackobama.com.  In 2004, he became a US Senator for Illinois, according to obamalibrary.gov.  While senator, Mr. Obama published his second book in 2006, The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream

In 2008, Mr. Obama became the first African-American president of the US.  During his first days in office, Mr. Obama dealt with challenges including the economic collapse, the continuation of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and worldwide terrorism.  In his first term as president, Mr. Obama helped stimulate the economy, created legislation to make health care more affordable for all Americans, and urged for the creation of an equal pay act for women.  As a result, Mr. Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, becoming the fourth US president to be honored with this internationally acclaimed award, according to whitehouse.gov

Since his second publication, Mr. Obama has written two other books.  The first one, a picture book, Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters (2010), he wrote during the first term of his presidency.  Additionally, Mr. Obama published A Promised Land in 2020, which takes readers through his political journey of becoming head of the US Executive Branch and into his eight presidential years, according to barackobamabooks.com

“Writing has been an important exercise to clarify what I believe, what I see, what I care about, [and] what my deepest values are,” Mr. Obama said, according to time.com.  “The process of converting a jumble of thoughts into coherent sentences makes you ask tougher questions.”

Image courtesy of barackobamabooks.com
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About the Contributors
Ana Patricio, Co-Editor-in-Chief
Ana is immensely grateful to serve as this year’s Co-Editor-in-Chief and Social Media Manager.  Approaching her third year at the King Street Chronicle, Ana is committed to instilling a dedicated and collaborative environment in the newsroom and is eager to welcome the newspaper’s newest staff members.  Additionally, Ana hopes to weave her interests in current events, linguistics, and design into her articles this year and hopes to share her passions with her peers.  When not in the newsroom, Ana manages a fashion blog, leads the World Language Club and the ARISE Club, and serves as Vice-President of the Barat Foundation.
Emily Shull, Features Editor
After a rewarding first year as a staff writer for the King Street Chronicle, Emily is incredibly thrilled to return as Features Editor as well as Art of the Week curator.  She hopes to utilize the journalistic skills she built last school year to strengthen both her own articles and the ones she will edit this school year.  Additionally, Emily is looking forward to exploring and mastering new methods of keeping the Sacred Heart Greenwich community informed as well as enhancing her editorial writing skills.  When Emily is not working on articles for the King Street Chronicle, she spends her time running for the Upper School varsity cross country team as well as writing creatively.

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