Black Literature, 1827-1940, is one of the most significant research efforts in African American studies. Begun at Yale University by Professor John Blassingame and continued by another colleague, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the project was completed by Gates at Harvard's W.E.B. DuBois Institute for African and African American Research. Since its release, the collection has redefined African American literature. Gates described it as rediscovering "a hermetically sealed library of the Afro-American periodical literature after a century of neglect."
The collection brings together for the first time novels, short stories, poems and reviews scattered throughout 110 scarce black periodicals and newspapers giving students and scholars alike a unique opportunity to understand this vast body of American literature.
1827, the starting date, was the year when Freedom's Journal, the first black periodical was published. Throughout the years, black authors, denied publication by mainstream American institutions, turned to their own local neighbourhood newspapers and magazines to give voice to their literary concerns.
These authors are now identified through this collection, many for the first time. While some were middle class, others were laborers or domestics who would come home after a long day's work and sit down to write a novel or short story or poem. Large numbers of the writers were women who often discuss sexual exploitation and the fact that black women had even less freedom than black men.
Henry Louis Gates, Jr., has recently noted that "Four previously unknown Zora Neale Hurston stories have been discovered through the Black Literature 1827-1940 resource, including The Book of Harlem, The Country in the Woman, The Back Room, and Monkey Junk."
Not only have Hurston’s previously unknown stories been uncovered and examined by scholars, but rare works by Gwendolyn Brooks, Countee Cullen, Claude McKay, Waring Cuney, and Edythe Mae Gordon, and hundreds of other writers are now accessible for further discovery and assessment.
Black Literature not only expands vastly the black literary tradition, this fascinating collection, full of vitality and imagination, is of immense social and historical significance in understanding the African American experience in the 19th and 20th centuries.
A free online index to the Black Literature collection is available at www.blackliteratureindex.com. Over 27,000 of the works identified through this index are now digitized and available through ProQuest's Black Studies Center and Historical Black Newspapers.