Does African-American Literature Exist?

The question of what makes a piece of writing African American literature or not is one that I have never been confronted with before. I have certainly never been challenged to question the entire existence of the genre before taking a course entitled "ENGL 234: Major Writers in African American Literature". On the contrary, frequent evenings spent perusing bookstores have fortified the notion in my mind that the genre is alive and well. Other literature courses have not touched on this subject at all much less brought this question to light. Through that course, however, I found that it is certainly one worth exploring and one that deserves a definitive answer. I have come to understand the genre of African American literature as encompassing any piece of literature that deals specifically with issues unique to African Americans as a culture.

It is interesting to consider the definition for this genre that our English 234 class came up with at the start of this course. We all seemed to have a general understanding of what it was that we could agree upon. Students said based on what they had read in the past, that the genre was made up of books that seemed more 'real' than other books; that there was less fiction in black literature. It was also said that these books had to do with mostly issues surrounding slavery. It did not even seem to be a question that the authors of these books would be African American themselves, that appeared to be a given. It is funny that we were all so convinced that we knew what this genre was at the beginning of the course and how student's definitions have since completely changed, well mine has at least.

It is surprising to me, upon consideration, that I would agree with the claim that African American literature seemed more 'real' than books from other genres. It seems very ignorant to assume that all authors of African American literature actually had all of the life experiences they write about actually happen to them. In fact, most piece of this type of literature are fictional. Though some authors may have drawn from actual historical accounts, many of the stories themselves come from the writer's imagination. It is still safe to say that African American literature is more real than fantasy. The parameters of my definition steer it away from fantasy and more towards real, human experiences.

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