Definition. African American literature is the verbal organization of experiences into oral forms, such as spirituals, work songs, blues, and sermons; and into written forms, such as autobiography, poetry, fiction, drama, essay, and letter (Henderson 1973 , 4). Produced by writers of African descent, the oral and written genres are closely tied to African Americans' ways of life, their needs, their aspirations, and their history—in short, their culture (Henderson 1973 , 4). Since the mid-twentieth century, African American literature has gained an ever-increasing celebratory and scholarly status in the United States. As editors and critics contend, it is rare to find a library that does not collect or a bookstore that does not market literary works by African Americans. Even in the academy, African American writers, particularly those who have earned the prestigious honors of the National and American Book Awards, the Nobel Prize in Literature, and the Pulitzer Prize are increasingly included in newly reconstituted curricula in American literature, American studies, women studies, and ethnic studies. What must not be lost in this literary paean for African American arts and letters is that African American writing as literature has been a long time coming in the United States (Andrews, Foster, Harris 1997 ), and today's writers stand on the shoulders of writers from ages beyond, whose roles have been complexly accommodating, apologetic, and experimental.
from: Books and Beyond: The Greenwood Encyclopedia of New American Reading (Vol. 1. ) Publisher: ABC-Clio, 2008.