Call and Response: The Riverside Anthology of the African American Literary Tradition counts the rings in the family tree of Black people. Like a sequence of echoes, the rings of the tree are the responses of Africans adapting to the call of America. The technique of a concentric reverberating history adds cohesion and rhythm to the information.
The core beginning of Call and Response compares African and African American slave proverbs, work songs, spirituals, praise poems, sermons, prayers, song structure and folktales. The central ring echoes Africanisms into the printed works of poetry, slave narratives, letters, essays and oratory with the chapter Response: Black Literary Declarations of Independence. The spirituals and secular songs of slavery in the South are followed by the abolition voices in the North and include writings by Fred Douglass and Frances Harper. The Social Protest in Prose chapter includes words of Nat Turner, Harriet Jacobs, Martin Delaney, Charlotte Grimke and William Wells Brown. The Call for the Ideal of Freedom chapter includes spirituals Git on Board Little Children and Go Tell It on the Mountain; Work, Badman and Prison Songs like John Henry and Stagolee are followed with rural blues, ragtime, folk sermons and preacher tales.
The tree of the Black aesthetic is then extended with great stories by Charles Chesnutt and Paul Lawrence Dunbar, the politics of Booker T. Washington and Julia Foote, the activism of Ida B. Wells and W. E. B. Du Bois, the lyrics of classical blues of W. C. Handy, Mamie Smith, Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Billie Holiday and Robert Johnson. Call and Response includes gospel, jazz, swing, boogie woogie, more “bad man” and prison songs, and toasts (including Shine and the Sinking of the Titanic and The Signifying Monkey).
That outlines only the first 800 pages! The span of the remaining 1200 pages includes writings by (to name a few) Marcus Garvey, Alain Locke, James Weldon Johnson, Claude McKay, Langston Hughes, Countee Cullin, Zora Neal Hurston, Jean Toomer, Sterling Brown, Richard Wright and Chester Himes. The musical response to that layer of time includes The Twist and Charlie Parker, the poetic: Melvin Tolson, Robert Hayden, Dudley Randal, Margaret Walker and Gwendolyn Brooks, theater: Alice Childress and Lorraine Hansberry, and novelists: Ralph Ellison, John O. Killens, and James Baldwin. Response to the 60’s and 70’s call were lyrics sung by B. B. King, Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin’s Respect, Howling Wolf, Ray Charles, James Brown, Curtis Mayfield and, of course, Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On? The spirituals rocked steady with Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around and Keep Your Eyes on the Prize. The hood variations of the songs were sung by Queen Latifah, Ice T, Gil Scott Heron, Eric B. and Public Enemy who were responding to the conscience called from Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., Stokley Carmichael and Angela Davis.
Poetry rings true with Sonia Sanchez, Amiri Baraka, Haki Madhubuti, Nikki Givanni, Mari Evans, Maya Angelou, June Jordan, Ishmael Reed and Al Young. Toni Morrison, Toni Cade Bambara, Alice Walker, Terry McMillan, Askia Toure, August Wilson, Ana Deavere Smith, Rita Dove respond to our needs and close out this volume which ends with Randall Kenan’s The Foundations of the Earth.
This is a great study of Black history. In addition to being the best anthology of Black writing, Call and Response: The Riverside Anthology of the African American Literary Tradition is the legacy of artful living.