Tag Archives: fiction and literature

Lorraine Hansberry

When I lived in The Bronx I would occasionally get off the 2 or the 5 train to at West Farms Square-East Tremont Avenue to look at the Manhattan skyline. Just below and to the east and south of that very high station, sits the Lorraine Hansberry School. In the past couple of years, some new high-rise apartment buildings have gone up there, so the view is now obscured. But the school remains, thank goodness.

Lorraine Hansberry has crossed my radar screen several times recently: she was the subject of a PBS American Masters series, and she is featured prominently in Raoul Peck’s superlative documentary, James Baldwin: I Am Not Your Negro. Lorraine Hansberry and James Baldwin were great friends, and her early death was a great tragedy for him, and for the theater.

Here, hot off the press, is a reading on playwright Lorraine Hansberry and its attendant vocabulary-building and comprehension worksheet.

If you find typos in these documents, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

Imamu Amiri Baraka

Formerly Leroi Jones, 1934-2014). American poet and playwright. Dutchman, a taut one-act play, part realistic, part ritualistic, crystalizing the conflicts between white and black cultures, established Baraka as an important force in stimulating black playwriting and production. Slave Ship (1967), relies on music and action as much as language to unfold its haunting story. Baraka’s theater is aggressive and provocative, yet lyrical in its theatrical effect. His prolific output of essays and poetry includes Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note (1961) The Dead Lecturer (1964), Black Magic (1969) and Hard Facts (1976); his work is collected in Selected Plays and Prose and Selected Poetry (both 1979). Two other works appeared in 1979: a collection of poetry AM/TRAK and Spring Song. Reggae or Not, prose writings, appeared in 1981. Baraka’s later works have become increasingly polemical and separatist, causing many white liberals to desert him. He also published The Music: Reflections on Jazz and Blues (1987), Shy’s Wise: The Griot’s Tale (1994), and Jesse Jackson and Black People (1994).”

Excerpted from: Murphy, Bruce, ed. Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.

James Baldwin

(1924-1987) American novelist and essayist. Baldwin’s first novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain, about the religious awakening of a fourteen-year-old black youth, was based closely on Baldwin’s own experience as a young storefront preacher in Harlem. His subsequent novels, including Giovanni’s Room (1956), Another Country (1962), Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone (1968) and If Beale Street Could Talk (1974), are movingly written accounts of emotional and sexual suffering and growth, often played out against the background of social intolerance toward freely expressed sexuality (particularly homosexuality) as well as racism. Baldwin was a distinguished essayist whose nonfiction works include Notes of a Native Son (1955), Nobody Knows My Name (1961), and The Fire Next Time, all passionately angry indictments of an American society that institutionalizes race discrimination. In his own protest against inhumane conditions, Baldwin left the U.S. at twenty-four to live in France, where most of his work was written; he returned to America in 1977. He also wrote plays, such as The Amen Corner (1955), Blues for Mister Charlie (1964), and One Day, When I Was Lost (1973), a script based on The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Baldwin’s sixth novel, Just Above My Head (1979), is a thirty-year saga of a group of Harlem friends whose individual odysseys through wars, poverty, and the civil rights struggle bring them to various fates. In 1985 he published The Price of the Ticket: Collected Non-Fiction, 1948-1985, and in 1986, Evidence of Things Not Seen, an analysis of racism in the light of the Atlanta murders of black children.”

Excerpted from: Murphy, Bruce, ed. Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.


Claude Browne

(1937-2002) American writer. Brown’s reputation rests primarily on his best-selling autobiographical novel, Manchild in the Promised Land, which depicts his upbringing in Harlem, experiences in a succession of correctional institutions, and eventual escape from the ghetto when he goes to college. The Children of Ham (1976) is a collection of sketches of a group of Harlem adolescents and their attempts to survive in a living hell dominated by heroin.”

Excerpted from: Murphy, Bruce, ed. Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.


Mariama Ba

(1929-1981) Senegalese novelist and activist. Despite the brevity of her writing career, Mariama Ba’s published novels secured her an international reputation. Une Si longue letter (1979; tr So Long a Letter), her first novel, won the first Noma Award for Publishing in Africa at the 1980 Frankfurt Book Fair. Le Chant ecarlate (tr Scarlet Song, 1981), her second novel, was published posthumously and also gained international attention. Ba’s works examine such issues and polygamy, clitoridectomy, and woman’s ability to transcend the negative consequences of the irresponsible use of power in a traditional Muslim and patriarchal society. The novels affirm the ability of women to experience such potentially devastating  situations, and yet move beyond victimization to action and wholesome self-expression.”

Excerpted from: Murphy, Bruce, ed. Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.

Antihero (n)

“Antihero: A protagonist who lacks traditional heroic virtues and noble qualities and is sometimes inept, cowardly, stupid, or dishonest, yet sensitive. The type is best represented in modern fiction and drama, although it appears as early as 1605, in Don Quixote, James Joyce’s Leopold Bloom in Ulysses, Kingsley Amis’s Jim Dixon in Lucky Jim, and Joseph Heller’s Yossarian in Catch 22 are antiheroes.”

Excerpted from:
Murphy, Bruce, ed. Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.

Allusion (n)

“Allusion: Usually an implicit reference, perhaps to another work of literature or art, to a person or an event. It is often a kind of appeal to a reader to share some experience with the writer. An allusion may enrich the work by association (q.v.) and give it depth. When using allusions a writer tends to assume an established literary tradition, a body of common knowledge with an audience sharing that tradition and an ability on the part of the audience to ‘pick up’ the reference. The following kinds may be roughly distinguished: (a) a reference to events or people (e.g. there are a number in Dryden’s and Pope’s satires); (b) reference to facts about the author himself (e.g. Shakespeare’s puns on Will; Donne’s puns on Donne, Anne, and Undone; (c) a metaphorical allusion (there are many in T.S. Eliot’s work); an imitative allusion (e.g. Johnson’s to Juvenal in London).”

Excerpted from: Cuddon, J.A. The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory. New York: Penguin, 1992.