Right on! An Anthology of Black Literature, edited by Bradford Chambers and Rebecca Moon. New American Library, Inc., Mentor Books. 303 pp. Paperback, $1.50.
What does one have here? At first, the title Right On! coming at you from the paperback book’s cover, conjures up thoughts of militancy. One recalls Black people in the vanguards of freedom activities — the desegregation of lunch counters, buses and trains, school integration, busing, and in the many other areas saying enthusiastically, Right on! and for a variety of reasons.
Right On! is a collection of Black prose and poetry. The prose is presented in various forms, There are fictional, dramatic and autobiographical selections. The format of the book is an added feature. The editors, Bradford Chambers and Rebecca Moon, have chosen a sampling of Black writing that highlight three aspects of the Black experience in America and have divided the book into three representative sections. The first is entitled “Oppression” and includes, in a chronological vein, articles depicting the mistreatment of Blacks in America. An example of this is Harlem from Langston Hughes’ Lenox Avenue Mural:
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does is dry up like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load,
Or does it explode?
Resistance is the second section devoted to writings that demonstrate how Blacks have dealt with their oppression. Each of the twelve articles in this section, whether prose or poetry, testifies that resistance is a natural outgrowth of oppression. I cite the story of The Convert? by Lerone Bennett, Jr. It begins like this:
A man don’t know what he’ll do, a man don’t know what he is till he gets his back pressed up against a wall.
Will one not say Right On!, after he has read Strong Men, a poem by Sterling A. Brown? The last verse goes like this:
One thing they cannot prohibit
The strong men…coming on
The strong men gittin’ stronger.
Black people who have overcome, who are aware of self have written about the beauty of their blackness. Jean Toomer, Dudley Randall, Fenton Johnson and Angeline W. Grimke are some of the writers appearing in the third section of the anthology, Black Is Beautiful. Angeline W. Grimke says it succinctly and, so well, in her poem, The Black Finger:
I have just seen a beautiful thing
Slim and still
Against a gold, gold sky,
A straight cypress,
A black finger
Why, beautiful, still finger are you black?
And why are you pointing
Right On! is not just another anthology. It gets the reader into Black literature. Like paintings, the themes, the colors and the methods vary. However, each story, play and poem is an interesting picture.
The introduction to the book is full of Black literary history. This, in itself, should make the acquisition of the book a must. The biographical sketches that appear before each author’s work lend depth and understanding to their writings. One should not overlook Margaret Walker’s For My People beginning as the book’s prologue and continued at the end as its epilogue: Let a beauty full of healing and strength of final clenching be the pulsing in our spirits and our blood. Right On! is not just another anthology. It gets the reader into Black literature.
Into The Unknown by Terry Carr Nelson, 192 pp., $6.50, Ages 12 and Up
Here are eleven tales that pull on one’s imagination. There is humor, terror and realism. If your child has a healthy imagination, this book offers enjoyment.
The Drugged Cornet and Other Mystery Stories chosen by Susan Dickinson, Dutton, 230 pp. , $5.95, Ages 9 and Up
As the title indicates, this is a collection of mystery stories that will appeal to youngsters of all ages.