Anger, and Beyond: the Negro Writer in the United States. Edited by Herbert Hill
It wasn’t until a while ago, while reading a review of Claude Brown’s Manchild in the Promised Land, that I became acquainted with the term, “Negro genre writing.” I wondered why I hadn’t come across it before, for I sensed in the expression a certain smoothness of texture which suggested it had been in use for a long time. However, I had no difficulty recognizing its meaning: “Negro genre writing” was a clear enough reference to an alleged penchant in the work of Negro writers for “anger, rage, and social protest.” In the words of the critic, Albert Murray, most white commentators “seem to assume that for the Negro, literature is simply incidental to protest.”
I was disturbed at the time—and still am—by the patness of the term, its smug certainty that nothing had happened within, say, the last thirty years or so to impair its relevance as a description of any and all writing that happened to be done by a Negro. Though I was willing to acknowledge that the term may have had a certain historical aptness, it seemed very apparent that today—except for a few defiantly regressive instances—most serious Negro writers do not see literature as simply incidental to protest. One would have to have, it seemed to me, some deep psychic stake in preserving old Negro stereotypes to believe that a category like “genre writing” could describe accurately or honestly the novels of Ralph Ellison and William Melvin Kelly, the plays of the late Lorraine Hansberry, the poetry of Melvin Tolson and Gwendolyn Brooks, and—to a lesser extent perhaps—the work of James Baldwin and Ann Petry, to name only the most obvious instances that come to mind.
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