Black Diaspora Literature of the 20th Century


Born on May 19, 1925 in Omaha, Nebraska, Malcolm Little, who later became known as Malcolm X was an iconic figure of the Civic Right movement. The Autobiography of Malcolm X as Told Alex Haley includes intimate details about X’s life, from his days in Harlem, New York to life changing pilgrimage to Mecca.

As an African-American Muslim minister he became a human rights activist. His activism for people of color and his unabashed criticism of racism within America resulted in close surveillance by the United States government and the target of Black violence. On February 21, 1965, he was assassinated by Nation of Islam members Talmadge Hayer, Norman 3X Butler, and Thomas 15X Johnson. Before his death Malcolm had become a powerful voice for change in the Civil Rights movement.


The dystopian Californian road novel, Parable of the Sower was written by Los Angeles based author, Octavia E. Butler. The narrative evokes images similar to those seen in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath due to themes of mass migration and ecologically disrupted settings. Throughout the novel the characters are challenged by the scarcity of existing resources, and fight to preserve what little they do have.

Lauren Olimina, a multi-ethnic (biracial) adolescent, is at the center of the narrative in this coming of age novel. When Lauren’s gated community is invaded by fire fetish drug addicts she is forced to abandon her home and family. In her search for safety she caravans from Southern California to Northern California forming allies along the way. In addition to road challenges dealing with social, gender, race and class issues, Lauren must personally come to terms with a unique power she possesses, a hyperempathy called “sharing”.


Jackie Kay’s collection of poetry The Adoption Papers is a collection of narrative poems that weave together the perspectives of three people; a “birth mother”, an “adoptive mother”, and an “adopted daughter.” During the opening poem, the child’s history is metaphorically presented as a commodity, she is a human being without agency. Themes of motherhood reoccur throughout the collection of poems.

Over the course of the book the adopted child’s status (a black adopted child that is also half Nigerian) is slowly revealed. The poems illustrate the mutual conflict experienced by both the adopted mother and the biological mother, as well as the tribulations of the adopted child. Kay, an adopted child herself, received the Forward Prize for Best First Collection for this 1991 book. Additional works include Other Lovers (1993), Off Colour (1998) and Life Mask (2005). In addition to poetry Kay also writes fiction and non-fiction prose.

Michael Ray

Bachelors of English Literature
Humboldt State University.

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