RALPH ELLISON (1913-1994)

Going to the Territory

New York: Random House, 1986

Gathers together much of Ellison’s essays and criticism.

DeGolyer Library PS3555 L625 G6 1986


TONI MORRISON (1931-2019)


New York: Knopf, 1987

The first black woman of any nationality to win the Nobel Prize for literature. In her acceptance speech, Morrison said: “We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.” Beloved is based on the true story of an enslaved African-American woman, Margaret Garner, who had escaped slavery across the Ohio River but was pursued by slave hunters. Facing a return to slavery, Garner killed her two-year-old daughter but was captured before she could kill herself.  

DeGolyer Library PS3563 .O8749 B4 1987. Gift of Donald Janak.



The Complete Stories

New York: HarperCollins, 1995

Best known today for her pioneering work in black folklore, Mules and Men (1935), and her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937), Zora Hurston was part of the Harlem Renaissance. Many of her short stories were gathered and published for the first time in this volume edited by Henry Louis Gates.

Part of the Donald Janak Collection

DeGolyer PS3515 U789 A6 1995


RALPH ELLISON (1913-1994)

Juneteenth: A Novel

New York: Random House, 1999

Unfinished at the time of Ellison’s death, this novel was published posthumously in 1999 as a 368-page condensation of over 2,000 pages of notes Ellison had written over a period of 40 years. While Invisible Man (1952), Ellison’s first novel, is considered a masterpiece, Juneteenth has received mixed reviews. Ellison’s “writer’s block” is well known and may have had many causes, one of which surely is the difficulty of bringing together into a coherent, meaningful whole the multiple strands of African American history. And in that spirit we include Juneteenth in this survey. Ellison’s struggle is ours as well..

DeGolyer Library PS3555 L625 J86 1999


MAYA ANGELOU (1928-2014)

A Song Flung Up to Heaven

New York: Random House, 2002

Poet, actress, director, producer, activist, Angelou is best known for chronicling her life and times in a series of autobiographies: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969): Gather Together in My Name (1974); Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas (1976); The Heart of a Woman (1981); All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes (1986); A Song Flung Up to Heaven (2002): and Mom & Me & Mom (2013).

DeGolyer PS 3551 N464 Z476 2002


TONI MORRISON (1931-2019)

A Mercy

New York: Knopf, 2008

In her ninth novel, Morrison sets her story in the colonial period in the Chesapeake, with African American, Native American, and English characters struggling to survive in a new and alien environment. In this imaginative world, Morrison examines the roots of racism going back to slavery’s earliest days in America, a legacy we are still attempting to comprehend.

DeGolyer Library PS3563.O8749 M47 2008


RITA DOVE (b. 1952)

The Yellow House on the Corner: Poems

Pittsburgh: Carnegie-Mellon University Press, 1980

The author’s first book, inscribed to Willard Spiegelman.

DeGolyer Library PS3554 O884 Y45 1980. Part of the Willard Spiegelman Collection.


BARACK OBAMA (b. 1961)

Dreams from My Father

New York: Three Rivers Press, 2004

Before he became the first African American President of the United States, Barack Obama wrote this memoir of growing up as the son of a white American mother and black African father (a man who left the family when Obama was 2 years old and whom he never really knew).  A personal story, obviously, but one with significance for the larger American story. The last section, dealing with Obama’s visit to Kenya to visit his relatives, is especially moving.

DeGolyer E185.97 O23 A3 2004

From the Epilogue to Dreams from My Father:

The study of law can be disappointing at times, a matter of applying narrow rules and arcane procedure to an uncooperative reality; a sort of glorified accounting that serves to regulate the affairs of those who have power—and that all too often seeks to explain, to those who do not, the ultimate wisdom and justness of their condition.

But that’s not all the law is. The law is also memory; the law also records a long-running conversation, a nation arguing with its conscience.

We hold those truths to be self-evident. In those words, I hear the spirit of Douglass and Delany, as well as Jefferson and Lincoln; the struggles of Martin and Malcolm and unheralded marchers to bring these words to life. I hear the voices of Japanese families interned behind barbed wire; young Russian Jews cutting patterns in Lower East Side sweat-shops; dust-bowl farmers loading up their trucks with the remains of shattered lives. I hear the voices of the people in Altgeld Gardens [a Chicago housing project], and the voices of those who stand outside this country’s borders, the weary, hungry bands crossing the Rio Grande. I hear all of these voices clamoring for recognition, all of them asking the very same questions that have come to shape my life …. What is our community, and how might that community be reconciled with our freedom? How far do our obligations reach? How do we transform mere power into justice, mere sentiment into love?  The answers I find in law books don’t always satisfy me—for every Brown v. Board of Education I find a score of cases where conscience is sacrificed to expedience or greed. And yet, in the conversation itself, in the joining of voices, I find myself modestly encouraged, believing that so long as the questions are still being asked, what binds us together might somehow, ultimately, prevail.

—Barack Obama