Formal Characteristics of African American Literature
Smitherman, G. (1994). “The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice”: African American student writers. In A.H. Dyson & C. Genishi (Eds.), The need for story: Cultural diversity in classroom and community,(pp. 80-101). Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.
1. Rhythmic, dramatic, evocative language. Example: “Darkness is like a cage in black around me, shutting me off from the rest of the world.”
2. Reference to color-race-ethnicity (that is, when topic does not call for it). Example: “I don’t get in trouble at school or have any problems with people picking on me. I am nice to every one no matter what color or sex.”
3. Use of proverbs, aphorisms, Biblical verses. Example: “People might have shut me off from the world ‘cause of a mistake, crime, or a sin…. Judge not others, for you to will have your day to be judge.”
4. Sermonic tone reminiscent of traditional Black Church rhetoric, especially in vocabulary, images, metaphor. Example: “I feel like I’m suffering from being with world. There no lights, food, water, bed and clothes for me to put on. Im fighten, scared of what might happened if no one finds me. But I pray and pray until they do find me.”
5. Direct address-conversational tone. Example: “I think you should use the money for the railroad track…. it could fall off the tracks and kill someone on the train. And that is very dangerius. Don’t you think so. Please change your mind and pick the railroad tracks. For the People safelty O.K.” [From letter writing persuasive task.]
6. Cultural references. Example: “How about slipping me some chitterlings in tonite.”
7. Ethnolinguistic idioms. Example: “…a fight has broke loose”; “It would run me crazy….”
After referring to the characteristics of African American Literature in the readings for this Unit, pick TWO of those characteristics and ONE of the stories and demonstrate how that story exemplifies those characteristics.
Richard Wright “The Ethics of Living Jim Crow”