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Callaloo 25.2 (2002) 685-687
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The New Generation of African American Writers
Young, Kevin. Giant Steps: The New Generation of African American Writers. New York: HarperCollins, 2000.
"Hip hop is a cultural form that attempts to negotiate the experiences of marginalization, brutally truncated opportunity, the oppression within imperatives of African-American and Caribbean history, identity, and community. It is the tension between the cultural fractures produced by postindustrial oppression and the binding ties of black cultural expressivity that sets the critical frame for the development of hip hop."
The often-criticized hip hop generation continues to make its voice heard through Kevin Young's Giant Steps. As a product of that generation, Young brings the voices of young African-American writers, born after 1960, together to interact as one. Although Young clearly states that he did not "discover" these writers, he does, however, discover a vehicle and outlet in which these writers can further be exposed. By intricately weaving together different genres, tones, styles, and themes, he makes a "giant step" towards not only exposing these writers in particular, but also giving young African-American writers acknowledgement, encouragement, and praise overall. As Young pronounces in his captivating introduction, "Giant Steps hopes to counter our expectation on what black writing should be with what it be," yet it goes further than this proclamation to reveal what it will be. [End Page 685]
The writers that Young includes in Giant Steps come from a variety of backgrounds and discuss many topics that are not unique to the hip hop generation, but are explored in the unique way that hip hop confronts the past and "positive" images of American and African-American life and uses it to interpret the present as they see fit, often showing the negative, hidden sides of those images in the meantime. The writers use popular culture, which ranges from the music of Miles Davis, Marvin Gaye, and Billie Holiday, movies such as Cleopatra Jones and Shaft, current events, and other literature to convey their messages. As these young African-American writers interact in this anthology through poetry, fiction, and essays, they discuss a variety of themes. Such themes include sexuality and gender as discussed in the excerpt from Hilton Als's The Women as he portrays a young boy exploring his sexuality by identifying with his mother and sisters and Carolyn Ferrell's "Can You Say My Name?" which discusses young black women's confusion of sex as love and the ever-growing "baby mama drama." To accompany Ferrell's scenario is Kevin Powell's letter to his absent father, which gives a voice to the child born out of wedlock and confronts the man who creates single parent households.
Along with the exploration of sexual identity, racial identity is a recurring theme. In "The Land of Beulah," Danzy Senna writes, "The bitch was a mystery. She didn't look mixed, more like some breed that hadn't yet been discovered" as she investigates biracial, female identity through arresting and realistic images and language (194). Allison Joseph and Claudia Rankine intersect by using not only language as a tool, but also language as a subject to explore racial and cultural identity. Joseph's "On Being Told I Don't Speak Like a Black Person" is a nice contrast to Rankine's use of Jamaican vernacular. As Young makes the connection between Rankine's use of language to the "early 'dialect' poems of Harlem Renaissance writer Claude McKay," it is evident that many of these young writers embrace their past by not only recognizing canonical authors, such as Claude McKay, Sonia Sanchez, James Baldwin and Langston Hughes, but also "sampling" their styles to convey their own messages as is common in hip hop (161). Although sexual, racial, and cultural identity, along with other themes such as slavery history, violence, soul food, and oppression are confronted in African-American literature of the past, these young writers express the hip hop generation's perspective on these issues.
Young also pays homage to those who came...