African American Literature for High School Students
Incorporating African American literature into high school curriculum can be an enriching experience for students, allowing them to explore diverse perspectives, histories, and cultures. African American literature is a vast and diverse field that encompasses works in various genres, styles, themes, and time periods. Here are some essential works of African American literature that high school students can read and analyze to develop their critical thinking, empathy, and awareness.
“Their Eyes Were Watching God” by Zora Neale Hurston
Published in 1937, “Their Eyes Were Watching God” is widely regarded as a masterpiece of African American literature. The novel follows the journey of Janie Crawford, a young black woman living in Florida in the early 20th century, as she navigates love, marriage, self-discovery, and social conventions. Hurston’s lyrical prose, vivid imagery, and cultural insights make the book a compelling read that sheds light on the experiences, aspirations, and challenges of African American women in the Jim Crow era.
“The Color Purple” by Alice Walker
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1983, “The Color Purple” is a powerful and profound novel that explores the lives of black women in the rural South during the 1930s. The book tells the story of Celie, a poor and abused young woman who finds strength and resilience through her bonds with other women, especially her friend Shug Avery. Walker’s portrayal of the intersections of race, gender, and class in the context of systemic oppression and violence is both honest and inspiring.
“Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison
First published in 1952, “Invisible Man” is a complex and challenging novel that reflects on the realities of being black in America. Ellison’s protagonist, an unnamed black man, struggles to navigate a society that treats him as invisible, voiceless, and disposable. From his experiences in the South to his involvement in a Harlem-based political organization, the protagonist confronts racism, nationalism, and identity crisis. “Invisible Man” is a landmark of African American literature that showcases the richness and diversity of black cultural expressions.
“Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Written as a letter to his teenage son, “Between the World and Me” is a poignant and urgent exploration of the historical and contemporary manifestations of racism and violence against black bodies in America. Coates draws on his personal experiences, historical research, and literary references to convey the harsh realities and complex emotions of living in a society that devalues and endangers black lives. The book challenges readers to confront their own biases, privileges, and responsibilities in the fight for social justice.
Integrating African American literature in high school education can have many benefits, from promoting cultural awareness and empathy to improving reading and writing skills. By exposing students to diverse and authentic voices, teachers can facilitate meaningful discussions and critical thinking that enhance students’ learning and enrich their lives. These four works of African American literature are just a starting point for exploring the vast and vibrant world of black literary traditions.