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History

History of the African American Literature and Culture Society

Founded in May 1993, during the annual conference of the American Literature Association (ALA), with the encouragement and support of Alfred Bendixen, Executive Director, and its Executive Board, the African American Literature and Culture Society (AALCS) initiates and encourages critical dialogue, scholarly publications, conferences, programs, and projects devoted to the study of the African American Literature and Culture. Its specific objectives are to (1) explore more fully the study of African American literature within the context of contemporary theory and more traditional discourses, (2) validate a larger cultural context and avenue for understanding this body of material, (3) broaden and expand the appreciation of the context of this body of literature; and above all, (4) encourage participation of undergraduate and graduate students in this venture.

At present, the AALCS sponsors panels at the annual conferences of ALA in Boston and California. It also plans to present panels at the annual College Language Association and Twentieth Century Literature conferences. Some of the recent panels presented at the 15th ALA Annual Conference in San Francisco, May 27-30, 2004, were on "Race, Class, and Identity in African American Literature and Culture," "Black Bay: Innovators and Outriders," "Masculine Configurations in 20th Century African American Literature," "Teaching the Harlem Renaissance," and "Queerness and Race."

At the 16th ALA conference in Boston on May 26-29, 2005, panels were presented on "Women of the Harlem Renaissance," "Poetics and Politics in Gwendolyn Brooks and Langston Hughes," "Contemporary African American Novelists," "Subjectivity and Sexuality in Contemporary African American Women Writers," "Racial Representations," and there was a Roundtable on Nineteenth-Century African American Writing. During the 17th ALA conference in San Francisco, May 25-28, 2006, panels were presented on "Contemporary African American Fiction," "African American Literature: International Perspectives," "Nineteenth-Century African American Writing," "Contemporary African American Poetry," "African American Literature and Other Arts," and "August Wilson." In Boston, at the 18th ALA conference, members presented scholarly papers on six panels: "August Wilson's Women," "Revisiting the South in African American Literature I & II," "Re-examining Migration in African American Literature," Examining African American Popular Literature," and "Race and Visual Culture."

At the 19th ALA conference in San Francisco on May 22-25, panels were presented on “The Life and Writings of Ann Petry,” “Re-Reading Contemporary African-American Women’s Fiction,” “Visualizing the Black Writer: Recent Photographs,” “18th and 19th Century African American Literature,” and “20th Century African American Literature.”

In addition to engaging panels at ALA, the AALCS hosts "In the Tradition: Generations of African American Poetry," a guest writers series inaugurated in 1995, that has showcased and introduced new poets and writers, such as As-Salmai (1996), William Henry Lewis (1999), Mel Donalson (2000), and Jeffrey Allen (2001).

Through its Stephen E. Henderson Award, the AALCS recognizes outstanding achievement in literature and poetry. Recipients include: Sam Cornish (1995); Ouincy Troupe (1996); E. Ethelbert Miller (1997); Sherley Anne Williams (1998); Clarence Major (2002); Askia Toure´ (2003); Charles Johnson (2004); Al Young (2006), the poet laureate of California; Marilyn Nelson (2007); Nathaniel Mackey (2008); and inaugural poet Elizabeth Alexander (2009).

There is also the Darwin T. Turner Award. Past winners include: Loretta G. Woodard (2009), Maryemma Graham (2005) and Jerry W. Ward, Jr. (2000).

Our newest award is the Sterling A. Brown Award. The first recipient of this award is Eugene Redmond (2007).

During former president Wilfred Samuels' leadership, the AALCS coordinated the ALA’s Seventh Annual Symposium in San Jose del Cabo, Mexico, in October 1998. Looking Back with Pleasure II: A Celebration, was its second international conference held at the Little America Hotel, October 25-29, 2000, in Salt Lake City, Utah, which drew over three hundred scholars and critics to the birthplace of Wallace Thurman, including representatives from the Chesnutt, Baldwin, Horton, Morrison, Wideman, and Wright Societies. Also represented were faculty and students from the Departments of English of the University of Utah, Brigham Young University, Utah State University and Westminster College.

Keynote speakers and literary voices joining us at the conference were Ai, Jeffrey Allen, Maya Angelou, Kwame Anthony Appiah, Amiri Baraka, Karla F.C. Holloway, Randall Kenan, Yusef Komunyakaa, William Henry Lewis, Paule Marshall, E. Ethelbert Miller, Sandra Jackson Opoku, Quincy Troupe, Daniel Wideman, John Edgar Wideman, and Kalamu ya Salaam. Other highlights of the conference were the exhibits, workshops, an Ailey II performance and the church service at the Calvary Baptist Church (founded by Ma Jackson, Thurman’s grandmother), Dr. Francis A. Davis, pastor.

An inaugural issue of the AALCS Newsletter, featuring the president’s message, guest essays, short essays by members, book reviews, a comprehensive bibliography, conference pictures, and general information and announcements, was published in May 1996. Subsequent issues will appear online. The newsletter will be revived in the spring of 2005.

At the 16th Annual ALA conference in Boston, May 25-29, 2005, the AALCS made plans for its next symposium, which was hosted by Saint Louis University in St. Louis, Missouri, October 25 - 27, 2007, during the 40th anniversary celebration of African American Review. Over 100 scholars attended.

In San Francisco, at the 21st ALA conference, May 27-30, 2010, panels were presented on "The State of the Nation: Contemporary African American Poetry," "Novel Approaches to the Black Novel: Contemporary African American Literature," "African American Nature Writing," "Nineteenth-Century African American Fiction: New Perspectives," and "African American Women's Poetics."

On May 26-29, 2010, at the 22nd ALA conference in Boston, members presented on such panels as "New Readings of Nella Larsen," Bodies and Language in Contemporary African American Writing," "Rereading Neo-Slave Narratives," "Reading Narratives of Slavery," and "Jean Toomer and Claude McKay."

2010 and 2011 Stephen Henderson Award recipients, inaugural poet Elizabeth Alexander (2009), C.S.Giscombe (2010), and Ed Roberson (2011).

The charter members of AALCS are: Warren Carson, James Coleman, Gloria Cronin, Mary Kemp Davis, Marilyn Elkin, Lee Greene, Candis LaPrade, Dan Ragean, Wilfred D. Samuels and Virginia Smith-Whatley.

The former officers of AALCS include: Aldon Nielson, Immediate Past Present; Loretta G. Woodard, Immediate Past President, Marygrove College; Wilfred D. Samuels, Founding President, University of Utah, Salt Lake City; James Coleman, First Vice President, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; Virginia Whately-Smith, Second Vice President, University of Alabama-Birmingham; Warren Carson, Secretary/Treasurer, University of South Carolina, Spartenburg, and Loretta G. Woodard, Interim-President and Secretary, Marygrove College.

In Print

Afro American Folklore, Harold Courlander

"Literature is a unique resource that articulates 
and preserves a people’s culture . . . an understanding
of the past to gain insight into the present and develop
perspectives for the future.” 

Coretta Scott King,Listen Children

The Harlem Renaissance

Long Distance Life, Marita Golden

Philadelphia Fire, John Edgar Wideman