Report of Black Literary Suite: New York Edition

[By Kenton Rambsy]

On, Thursday, October 6, 2011, The Project on the History of Black Writing (HBW) presented showing of selections from the “100 Novels” project in the Memorial Union, Governor’s Room. Black Literary Suite: New York Edition was the third public exhibit sponsored by the HBW. This is a walk-through, multimedia exhibit, allowed visitors to use MP3 players to listen to commentaries and view displays related to the period.

The New York Edition utilizes a database of 100 novels reveals useful ways of considering the central topic of migration and location in African American literature. In the 23 novels featured in this exhibit, NYC—most often, Harlem—was a central location for each novel’s storyline. Possibly, the prevalence of urban areas such as New York City as settings for novels indicates that writers view city environments as fertile grounds for positioning their narratives.

Migration patterns of black characters are often times depicted in African American literature. But, what about the real life movement of black writers? And, why is New York City such a popular destination for them. Out of 19 novelists featured in this exhibit, 5 were born in NYC, 13 were living in NYC during the time their novels were published, and 17 called NYC a permanent residence for at least 5 years. Surveying a wide body of novels at a time gives readers new insight into African American literature and culture.

The “100 Novels Project” is a relatively new research initiative that utilizes quantitative research to enhance understandings of black literary history. As part of this initiative, The Black Literary Suite was designed to engage the public, shed new light on HBW’s holdings, and stimulate discourse about the value of studying African American literature as an entire body of work.