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The Vintage Book of African American Poetry Paperback – February 15, 2000


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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

This anthology of the work of 50 African American poets complements co-editors Harper and Walton's Every Shut Eye Ain't Asleep (LJ 12/93), which showcased 35 recent African American poets. Included in chronological order here are over two centuries of poets, from Jupitor Hammon (1720-1800) to Reginald Shepherd (b.1963). Critical opinions in the headnotes are more persuasive and sweeping than the brief notes of the earlier one. For example, the editors argue that Sterling Brown's "body of poetry" is one of the greatest produced by an American in this century and that Robert Hayden has "amassed a nearly flawless collection of poems regarded as among the finest by an American of this century." Such assessment should bring into sharper focus the importance of issues like "belonging," dialect, identity, and race in a multiethnic society. More than ever, one sees that African American poetry essentially begins with Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906), whose pioneering poetry ("different voicings") endures. That so few African American poets before Dunbar's era were allowed to achieve "voice and freedom" is a tragic waste. The editors' eloquent, outspoken vision provides a springboard for further examination of what constitutes the mainstream of American poetry.
-Frank Allen, Northampton Community Coll., Tannersville, PA
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

After the triumph of their last editorial collaboration, Every Shut Eye Ain't Asleep: An Anthology of Poetry by African Americans since 1945 (1994), poets Harper and Walton have teamed up again, this time to select the best of two centuries of African American poetry. In their introduction, they write that if there is a single, overarching theme shared by the 52 poets gathered here, it is the "quest for identity and a belonging that will not compromise the self," a crucial search that continues unabated as racial inequality persists. The most haunting works are those written by slaves, such as George Moses Horton and Frances E. W. Harper, who wrote that slaveowners "tried to hide / Book learning from our eyes; / Knowledge didn't agree with slavery--/ 'Twould make us all too wise." So she and others taught themselves, and their bid for spiritual, intellectual, emotional, and artistic freedom has found fruition in every poet who followed on that long, long road to justice, from Sterling A. Brown to Toi Derricotte, Elizabeth Alexander, and Reginald Shepherd. Donna Seaman
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 403 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; First Edition edition (February 15, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375703004
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375703003
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #504,526 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Thomas E. Defreitas on December 15, 2001
Format: Paperback
The Vintage Book of African American Poetry, edited by Michael S. Harper and Anthony Walton, is reminiscent of a somewhat earlier anthology EVERY SHUT EYE AIN'T ASLEEP (also edited by Mr Harper and Mr Walton). The poems in the Vintage Book span three centuries, from Jupitor Hammon and Phillis Wheatley, to Carl Phillips and Reginald Shepherd; the 20th century, as one might expect, is most generously and gloriously represented. This reviewer has always prized the work of Countee Cullen and of Robert Hayden; and is grateful to make the acquaintance of Sterling A. Brown and Gwendolyn Bennett (her poem "To A Dark Girl," written early in the last cnetury, is an irreducible greatness); Langston Hughes is shown to advantage in the selection of his work, many of the chosen poems being new to this reader. It shames us that hithertofore we had not been familiar with the work of Boston-born William Stanley Braithwaite. Claude McKay and Jean Toomer appear in these pages, McKay's finely wrought sonnets being familiar from other anthologies. New to us, and a gift for which the reader is grateful, is Margaret Walker's "October Journey," of Keatsian loveliness.
Stylistic diversity exists here, and surfaces in a salient fashion as we reach the middle of the twentieth century: Gwendolyn Brooks (both formal and colloquial); Bob Kaufman (can we cavil at the omission of his fine eulogistic poem "Afterwards, They Shall Dance"?); Etheridge Knight (whose diamond-like haiku enliven our sense of the possibilities of the form); and the Nobel laureate Derek Walcott, whose "Bounty" is indeed a marvel.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Reader746 on January 23, 2011
Format: Paperback
I like this book, but I can only give it two stars because it left out too many important African American poets. The back cover claims that the book presents "the definitive collection of black verse in the United States," but I keep shaking my head at the absence of Nikki Giovanni, Maya Angelou, Naomi Long Madgett, Dudley Randall, E. Ethelbert Miller, June Jordan, Mari Evans, Angela Jackson, Wanda Coleman and Patricia Smith. How could the editors leave out such giants? By the year 2000 (when the book was published), all ten of those poets had made ground-breaking contributions to African American poetry as well as the evolution of poetry in general as a universal art form. As for the poets they did include, I agree with most of them, but I question the importance of esoteric poets like Reginald Shepard and Carl Phillips. I also wonder why they only included one or two poems by Melvin Tolson, Sonia Sanchez, Haki Madhubuti and Gayle Jones, yet included many more for some of the other poets.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A. M. Weaver on March 3, 2006
Format: Paperback
There are very few poetry books that can be used as a comprehensive textbook in a college class...but this is one of them. Every author has a well-written mini-biography that is rather in-depth for how short it is, and the poetry found within is not always the poet's greatest or most remembered work; in fact, the book tries to convey more than just the popular poems that any famous poet within the book might be known for. It actually inspires the reader to learn more about the other poetry these poets may have written! There are definitely moments when I forget that I'm reading for a class, and I read for the sheer pleasure of it. This book belongs in your personal library, even if you are wary of poetry as a whole.

The book itself focuses on the evolution of African American poetry, from the very structured beginnings to the more contemporary here & now. It's a captivating read.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A. Jones on March 29, 2000
Format: Paperback
An excellcent collect of African American Poetry. Never really been interested in poetry, but after reading this book can't wait to read more poetry any kind of poetry.
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