> Skip to content
  • Published: 14 May 2024
  • ISBN: 9780241678503
  • Imprint: Allen Lane
  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 304
  • RRP: $65.00

The Black Box

Writing the Race




A foundational reckoning with how Black Americans have used the written word to define and redefine themselves, by one of the nation's major literary critics

Distilled over many years from Henry Louis Gates Jr's legendary Harvard course in African American Studies, The Black Box: Writing the Race is the story of Black self-definition in America through the prism of the writers who have led the way. From Phillis Wheatley and Frederick Douglass, W. E. B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington, to Zora Neale Hurston and Richard Wright, James Baldwin and Toni Morrison, these writers used words to create a liveable world – a "home" – for Black people destined to live in a bitterly racist society.

This is a community that defined and transformed itself in defiance of oppression and lies; a collective act of resistance and transcendence that is at the heart of its self-definition. Out of that contested ground has flowered a resilient, creative, powerful, diverse culture formed by people who have often disagreed markedly about what it means to be 'Black', and about how best to shape a usable past out of the materials at hand, to call into being a more just and equitable future.

This is the epic story of how, through essays and speeches, novels, plays and poems, a long line of creative thinkers has unveiled the contours of – and resisted confinement in – the black box that this "nation within a nation" has been assigned, from its founding to today. It is a book that records the compelling saga of the creation of a people.

  • Published: 14 May 2024
  • ISBN: 9780241678503
  • Imprint: Allen Lane
  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 304
  • RRP: $65.00

Also by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

See all

Praise for The Black Box

The allure of this book, and the reason for its existence, are the narrative links he draws among these people and events, and his insistence that a survey of African American history is incomplete without a special consideration of how writing has undergirded and powered it. This is a literary history of Black America, but it is also an argument that African American history is inextricable from the history of African American literature

Tope Folarin, The New York Times

An absolute tour de force... A study in the art, intellect, and inherent contradictions that define the making of a people

Elle

Gates tracks questions of class, language, aesthetics, and resistance in a manyfaceted, clarifying, era-by-era chronicle propelled by vivid considerations of such influential Black writers as Phillis Wheatley, W. E. B. Du Bois, James Weldon Johnson, Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright, and Toni Morrison . . . A call to protect the free exchange of ideas in the classroom and beyond

Booklist (starred review)

A must for scholars, yet still accessible to general audiences, by arguably the preeminent scholar of African American studies. This gem brilliantly reflects multiple depictions of what it means to be a Black American amid complex, structured interracial and color-based discrimination discourses, in which writing and language are keys

Library Journal (starred review)

Henry Louis Gates is a national treasure. Here, he returns with an intellectual and at times deeply personal meditation on the hard-fought evolution and the very meaning of African American identity, calling upon our country to transcend its manufactured divisions

Isabel Wilkinson, New York Times bestselling author of The Warmth of Other Suns and Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents

The allure of this book, and the reason for its existence, are the narrative links he draws among these people and events, and his insistence that a survey of African American history is incomplete without a special consideration of how writing has undergirded and powered it. This is a literary history of Black America, but it is also an argument that African American history is inextricable from the history of African American literature

Tope Folarin, The New York Times