- The Emergence, Renaissance, and Transformation of Multicultural American Literature from the 1960s to the Early 2000s
Writers of color in the U.S. have been producing novels, poetry, and essays in American letters since the eighteenth century, particularly African American writers.1 But before the social, cultural, and political movements and forces of the 1960s, very little literature by writers of color was institutionalized and/or in print. For example, before the 1970s, Three Negro Classics, comprising of Booker T. Washington's Up From Slavery, Du Bois' The Souls of Black Folk, and James Weldon Johnson's The Autobiography of An Ex-Colored Man, was the most visible text by African Americans readily available. Although Richard Wright's Native Son (1940) and Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man (1953) remained in print, the bulk of African American literature was out of print until the 1970s. Although American Indians had been writing fiction, which was also consistently out of print, since the latter half of the nineteenth century, it was the publication of N. Scott Momaday's (Kiowa) House Made of Dawn in 1968, which garnered the Pulitzer Prize for literature, Vine Deloria, Jr.'s Custer Died for Your Sins in 1969, and Dee Brown's best-selling revisionist historical account Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (1970) that initiated a renaissance in Native American history and literature in the 1970s. And although there were scattered out-of-print literary and autobiographical texts by Asian American writers from the early and middle parts of the twentieth century such as Korean-American Younghill Kang's The Grass Roof (1931) and East Goes West (1937), Japanese-American John Okada's No-No Boy (1957), Chinese-American Louis Chu's Eat a Bowl of Tea (1961), and some autobiographies (Jade Snow Wong's Fifth Chinese Daughter, 1945, and Monica Sone's Nisei Daughter, 1953), Asian American literature becomes visible and begins to emerge as a legitimate field of inquiry with the publication of some ground-breaking anthologies and of Maxine Hong [End Page 173] Kingston's The Woman Warrior (1976). The situation with Latino/a literature in print was equally as dismal. As the Hispanic Recovery Project informs us, there were unpublished and/or out-of-print Mexican/Mexican American testimonials at the turn of the twentieth century. But before the 1960s there were only a scattering of Latino/a texts in print such as Pocho (1959) by the Mexican American writer Jose Antonio Villareal.
But with the transformative Civil Rights movements of the 1960s and early 1970s—including the Chicano movement and the groundbreaking work of the Chicano/a Arts movement, the Puerto Rican labor activist movement and the Nuyorican Arts movement, American Indian Movement (AIM) and the American Indian literary renaissance, the nationalist/Black Power and Black Arts movements, the Asian American movement, and the Women's movement, the 1970s and 1980s were renaissance periods for the literatures of American Indians, Latinos/as, African Americans, and Asian Americans. Thus, by the late 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s the literature of writers of color in the U.S. had grown and matured, successfully challenging and transforming American literature, which continues until today.
The literatures that emerged from this period were further developed and institutionalized with the re-printing of pre-1960s literary texts, the establishment of ethnic studies programs and departments on the campuses of American colleges and universities, and the inclusion of ethnic literature in mainstream American literature courses, allowing the literatures to be taught, studied, assessed, written about, and therefore to remain in print. Although some of the literatures written by people of color in the 1960s and 1970s overtly protested institutional, legal, and de facto racism, and captured the experiences of oppression/victimization, of colonization, and of the pain and confusion of being caught between two cultures, by the 1980s and 1990s many writers of color had come to assume the centrality of their race or ethnicity in their literature. This shift allowed them to move beyond protest, the white gaze, and the various binaries that positioned them as lower halves of binary oppositions, to take on the literary styles and issues of modernity/post-modernity, to...