The Seeds Of Change English Literature Essay

April Heuft

Professor Myhren

English 620A

The Seeds of Change

The Beat Generation brought a new meaning to writing poems and literature with a flavor all of its own. Jack Kerouac being the leader of this new group had many followers, such as Alan Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Neal Cassidy, and may others that would follow in his footsteps. This is where the African American writers stepped in and took the opportunity to contribute poems and literature that could be included into the scene of the new Beat Generation. These African American writers use this opportunity to write about their own life experiences that center on racism and the advancement of the African American individual here in America. These African American writers wanted to form their own Beat literature that could be included in the Beat Generation.

African American Writers

There were many African American writers that contributed wonderful pieces of literature to the Beat Movement. Richard Wright, Gwendolyn Brooks, James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Lorraine Hansberry are just a few that helped influence the African American Beat Generation(Jackson 511). The themes that these writers focused on ranged from the Jim Crow Laws, racism, The Great Depression, decolonization, and American Communism. Some of these writers also contributed pieces of literature that centered on the academic and career advancement of the African American individuals in their society. By writing about these different themes in their literature pieces the African American writers were calling attention to their audiences about their own plight during the 1950’s.

African American Voices

The African American person was being placed into the background of their

society during the 1950’s as a person that did not fit into the norm of their society. Many African American writers pushed through these barriers of oppression and fought on by writing impressive pieces of literature that could be included in the Beat Generation. African American writers such as Langston Hughes, Ann Petry, LeRoi Jones/ Amiri Baraka, Rosa Guy were just some of the African American writers that would be influencing their idea across America with their short stories. According to Major, "But every good short story presents its own magic, and it usually defines formula. It creates its own reality" (xiv). This was an opening door for the African American writers to use their words of magic and persuasion that could reach a larger audience exposing their plights and struggles as human being during the 1950’s.

LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka

One of the African American writers that would be the driving force behind the Beat Generation Movement was, LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka, who was instrumental in writing short stories and poems that pushed forward the idea of the African American culture individual identity in America. He believe in being active in bringing about change in the way American’s thought about the African American person living on the fringes of their society through his written works of literature and poems. He believed that the writers of the Beat Generation were becoming a close tight nit community in which he was a member which gave him the freedom to write his poems and literature in his own style. According to Vangelist, "Amiri Baraka wrote these poems in 1964, Hymn for Lanie Po, Look for you Yesterday, Way out West, Vice, Betancourt, From an Almanac, Notes for a Speech, The dead Lecture, and The New Sheriff" (1). This was just the beginning of the written pieces of literature that Baraka would be bringing to the world that rang with a new African American voice.

Lorraine Hansberry

Another African American writer, Lorraine Hansberry, would be the first female writer to write a play, "A Raisin in the Sun", describing an African American family saving up enough money to move into a suburban White housing community during the 1950’s in which the family would be facing racism by the community and therefore being forced to move back to their city apartment. According to Reuben, "This is the first play that was written by a black woman that was produced on Broadway" (1). Hansberry experience racism herself as a child in which she incorporated into this play to give a real life flare of what it was like for an African American family to live amongst a White community in American during the 1950’s. This play was turned into a movie starring Sidney Poitier in 1961. Hansberry wrote this play because she was crusading for the civil rights movement and because she was against any form of racism and sexual discrimination against woman.

Maya Angelou

Many African American woman were inspired to write poems during the civil rights era, Maya Angelou, was the one poet to help make an impact during this time period for her people. She wrote poems that promoted change and recognition for her people in American during the civil rights era. She helped Martin Luther King Jr. with his freedom campaign for his people during the civil rights movement era. According to Hirsche, "Angelou has many accomplishments, from working with Martin Luther King Jr. in his fight for civil rights to composing and reading a poem for President Clinton’s inauguration" (176). One of her recent books that just came out is titled, Mama and Me Mama, in which she describes how the love of her mother healed her and inspired her to write literature and poems.

Fighting against Suppression

Even though there were wonderful African American writers during the civil rights era many people in their society shunned many African Americans in their communities. Many African American school children had to fight for their rights to be included into the white school system. Thus the civil rights era saw the court case of Brown v The Board of Education in 1954 which was discussing the idea of allowing a little black girl to go to an all-white school. Changes were taking place everywhere in America with the African American communities when they perform public protest against racism and discrimination and demand the freedom to be treated as human beings that could advance and become educated and pursue a career. As a result of many African Americans standing up for themselves they were hosed down with water hoses by police men and arrested and place into jail cells. This did not stop the civil rights movement they just pushed on with the "Freedom Riders", and protesters at café coffee shops that would not serve colored people. The lynching of many black men still went on by the secret groups of men that wanted to suppress the African American man from rising up in the American society. And let us not forget that a sweet innocent young African American boy was found dead on his mother’s porch by an unknown assailant. With all this going on during the civil rights movement many teachers in their schools were instructed by their superiors not to be teaching about racial equal rights. According to Zoe, "Paradoxically, teachers stopped teaching about racial equality just as the African American civil rights movement erupted into national politics" (138). It is a shame that only in the last twenty years that a teacher is allowed to teach his/hers students about racial equality and about the African American writers in the classroom.

Pushing Forward

One African American writer, Ralph Ellison, chose to expose the truth about power and corruption and how it affects one’s own race in the world. Ellison novel, Invisible Man, written during the 1950’s exposes the truth about what happens to a young man searching for meaning and identity in his life while he encounters the power struggles of the world that surround and impede him from making progress in his life. Ellison dared to expose the truth to the world without being concerned about the consequences from the thoughts of society. According to Castronovo, " The book went far beyond the bland expression "race problem"; as a book about civilization, it focused on underlying ideas, rooted attitudes, and complex manifestations" (35). Ellison takes the problems of the black person’s struggles even deeper when he talks about the African American person being viewed from the American society as invisible and nonexistent in the world. He is basically indicating in his novel, Invisible Man, that the African American person is viewed by his society as being less than human and unworthy of any recognition from anyone in his society.

What is unique about this book is that it focuses on how people in his society looked at the African American male from their viewpoint and treat him as an object to be manipulated for their own amusement. Ellison’s novel, Invisible Man, gives you an insight in which an African American male is being used as a sexual slave by other people in his society and that he is being used as the brunt end of a joke that is meant to ridicule the African American male by keeping him in his place in society. This insight gives you a clear idea of where the boundaries are for the African American male. He is not allowed to advance in any direction in his society. According to Castronovo, "Invisible Man is about the awaking consciousness in an era of illusions about power and race: the protagonist comes to maturity as he matches wits with the Marxists and the Black Separatists" (37). One has to use wit and wisdom to overcome every obstacle that he encounters so that he can reach the ladder of success in his life.

Ralph Ellison

Ralph Ellison wanted to shock that nation with his novel, Invisible Man, which portrays that the African American male has a place in the American society. He feels that all the boundaries that have been placed on the African American male should be broken down and discarded in his society. Ellison puts forth in his novel, Invisible Man, the question of how an African American male is supposed to overcome racial discrimination when other people in his society do not consider it a problem. According to Ellison, "I am the invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Alan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood- movie ectoplasms" (3). The African American male is a real flesh and blood human being.

Ellison believed that the African American male was a real human being and not a figment of someone’s imagination. He strived to hold onto the American dream that everyone is created equal under the Constitution of the United States of America. Ellison experience in his own neighborhood racial tensions while living in a White community while he was writing this novel. Never mind that he served in the war his neighbors still view him with suspicion because he is an African American male living with his wife in a White housing community. Ellison felt that it was extremely important to write about the past because it reflected upon your future. According to Ellison, "No, because what is commonly assumed to be past history is actually as much a part of living history present as William Faulkner insisted" (xxvi). Ellison believed that he should write about his peoples past struggles so that the door of racial equality could be opened for them in the future.

When Ellison wrote his novel, Invisible Man, he used an African American character that would be encountering racial discrimination but pushing forward to embark on pursuing the American dream. The novel became a great success and Ellison was still being asked questions about it by his curious admirer’s years later. According to Ellison, " But, as I said in the beginning, this has always been a most willful, most self-generating novel, and the proof of that statement is witnessed by the fact that here, thirty astounding years later, it has me writing about it again" (xxxiv). He is remember for using his words that were masterly crafted into a novel that was used to continue the fight of recognition of his people in our modern society.

The Struggle Continues

Ralph Ellison wrote his novel, Invisible Man, because he felt that someone had to take up the torch and carry on the fight for his people to have the door of equal opportunity opened for them in their life time. He believed so strongly in the American Dream that he embarked on a journey through his character in his novel, Invisible Man, to help preserve this dream for all his people. He believed that that there were no barriers to the imagination and that anyone could have the opportunity to learn and become educated in this world. He explained to his readers that they should open up their hearts to culture and to the imaginational thought and experience life to its fullest. He felt that his readers would understand his deepest meanings of his thoughts for writing his novel, Invisible Man.

African American Literature

The main reason that the African Americans should have a voice through literature in our American society is because they should have the same equal opportunity that the other Americans have in our society. Their voices should be heard from the mountain tops to the oceans just as Martin Luther King Jr. visualized it in his speeches. The African American writers began a literary movement that would be included with the Beat Generation. Out of this movement came several wonderful African American writers that we embrace today in our society. The African American struggle is not over but their voices will be continued to be heard all over the world.

This is why it is extremely important to read all of the literature from the Beat Generation because this movement inspired others to follow in its footsteps. We may not have the original Beat writers around anymore but that does not stop others from voicing their ideas in literature. Writing literature is a powerful tool that can be used to persuade many readers to understand and follow your ideas that you write about in your short stories or novels. One way to make change in the world they say is to sharpen your stones together and make fire by writing literary pieces that carry waves of voices across the world.

The Beat Generation Movement will be forever etched in the pages of literature as of those individuals that risked everything to be heard across America. There is something that you can learn from each one of them for they all have a message to tell. Little did they know that they would be giving other groups the fire to press forward and write literary pieces from their own voices. Thus the African American writers came to play a part in the Beat Generation that cried out for change in the world. Come to think about it we still have many new African American writers that bring us wonderful pieces of literature that we have available to us via the library and the internet.


I began this project of writing about this paper because I felt that the African American literary movement during the 1950’s coincides with the Beat Generation Movement. Little did I know that there were African American writers already included in the Beat Generation. To my surprise I found out that there were many African American authors that I was already familiar with so I had hopes of discovering more authors. I did I included these African American writers in this paper. I intended to give them a voice in this paper because they deserve one.

I discovered something about myself which is that everyone deserves a voice and respect in this world. I mean when you wake up and realize that your own culture is not the only one being traumatized in the world you soon realize that you should be more thoughtful of other people. Meanings that you cannot be too busy in the world to not having your eyes open to other people in the world. I have in fact become an active helper with our high schools students’ summer reading program at our local library to help promote our young students into reading this summer. I had an opportunity to present a lecture on the Wizard of Oz to a group of people and it was great.

As a mature person it was to my advantage to go to school and learn to become a more professional writer and with the hope of reading new wonderful pieces of literature. This paper that I am writing about brings a new opportunity for me to learn more about the Beat Generation. This helped me to focus more on learning about the African American Beat Generation writers during the 1950’s. The more you learn the more you grow. That’s my motto for me and my future students that I will be teaching in my classroom. I will be teaching my students about different perspectives about the literature that we are reading about in the classroom.

One thing to remember is that you must have your eyes open and ears available to hear about other people in the world. One must learn to listen to other people’s feelings and respect each other’s opinions in the world. The change begins with your inside your heart and only you can do this in your life. Being kind and loving to people in the world is not that hard one just needs to do it in their lifetime. The more you learn to grow as a human being thee more you become a humanitarian.

Second thing to remember we all share this world and there is room for everyone in the world to share a safe and stable world together. Grow together and live in peace with everyone. Learn to be patient and kind to each other in the world. In American we have the freedom to live in harmony and in happiness in the world. I continue to grow as a person and I am grateful for this class.


The African American writers have made their mark in literature and in history. They continue to brighten our world with stories about their struggles and hopes and dreams. They have a right to have an equal opportunity in this world. I hope that I have the opportunity to read more about African American literature and grow more as a person. The more people learn the more people know.

Work Cited

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Oxford University Press (2011): 1. ELibrary. Web. 13 April 2013.

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Culture. New York: Continuum, 2004. Print.

Ellision, Ralph. The Invisible Man. Ed. Johnson, Charles. New York: The Modern Library,

1994. Print.

Hirsche, Carol. "Agins, Donna Brown. Mayo Angelou: A Biography of an Award-Winning

Poet and Civil Rights Activist". School Library Journal 59. 4(2013): 176.

Academic OneFile. Web. 13 April 2013.

Jackson, Lawrence P. "The Indignant Generation: A Narrative History of American

Writers and Critics, 1934-1960". University Press (2011): 579. Aquabrown.

Web. 13 April 2013.

Major, Clarence. Calling The Wild. New York: HarerCollins, 1993. Print.

Reuben, Paul P. "Chapter 8: Lorraine H". PAL: Perspectives in American Literature- A

Research and Reference (2009): 1. English 9 Superstars. Web. 13 April 2013.

Vangelist, Paul. "Transbluesency: The Selected Poems of Amiri Baraka/Leroi Jones

(1961-1995)". Marsilio Publishers(1995): 1. Aquabrown. Web. 13 April 2013.