№14 2023

УДК / UDK: 821.111(73).0


Author: Yuri V. Stulov
About the author:

Yuri V. Stulov, PhD, Former Associate Professor and Chair of the World Literature Department, Minsk State Linguistics University (till 2021).


E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 


The paper discusses the works of African American writers of the end of the 1960s — the end of the 2010s that address the historical past of African Americans and explores the traumatic experience of slavery and its consequences. The tragedy of people subjected to slavery as well as their masters who challenged the moral and ethical norms has remained the topical issue of contemporary African American historical novel. Pivotal for the development of the genre of African American historical novel were Jubilee by the outstanding writer and poet Margaret Walker and the non-fiction novel Roots by Alex Haley. African American authors reconsider the past from today’s perspective making use of both the newly discovered documents and the peculiarities of contemporary literary techniques and showing a versatility of genre experiments, paying attention to the ambiguity of American consciousness in relation to the past. Toni Morrison combines the sacred and the profane, reality and magic while Ishmael Reed conjugates thematic topicality and a bright literary experiment connecting history with the problems of contemporary consumer society; Charles Johnson problematizes history in a philosophic tragicomedy. Edward P. Jones reconsiders the history of slavery in a broad context as his novel’s setting is across the whole country on a broad span of time. The younger generation of African American writers represented by C. Baker, A. Randall, C. Whitehead, J. Ward and other authors touches on the issues of African American history in order to understand whether the tragic past has finally been done with. Contemporary African American historical novel relies on documents, new facts, elements of fictional biography, traditions of slave narratives and in its range makes use of peculiarities of family saga, bildungsroman, political novel, popular novel enriching it with various elements of magic realism, parodying existing canons and sharp satire.

Keywords: African American literature, historical novel, slave narrative, genre, magic realism, family sage, slapstick tragedy.
For citation:

Stulov, Yuri. “Contemporary African American Historical Novel.” Literature of the Americas, no. 14 (2023): 75–99. 


Avant 2020 — Avant, Gerry. “How Alex Haley’s ‘Roots’ Ignited Interest in family History.” Church News (Feb 2, 2020).

Bagwell 1998 — Bagwell, Orlando. “Preface.” Africans in America: America’s Journey through Slavery. Produced and directed by Orlando Bagwell, Susan Bellows. New York — San Diego — London: Harcourt Brace & Co, 1998: vii–xv.

Сhristian 1997 — Christian, Barbara. “Moving Forward: Excavating the Past.” In The Norton Anthology of African American Literature, edited by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Nellie Y. McKay. New York — London: W.W. Norton & Company, 1997: 2012–2014.

Denisova 2012 — Denisova, Tamara N. Іstorіia amerikans'koi lіteraturi XX stolіttia [History of the 20th Century American Literature]. Kiїv: Kiєvo-Mogilians'ka akademіia Publ., 2012. (In Ukr.).

Durham 2006 — Durham, David Anthony. “Review of Calvin Baker’s Dominion.” November 1, 2006.

Elliott, Hughes — Elliott, Mary, and Jazmene Hughes. The 1619 Project.

Gilroy 1993 — Gilroy, Paul. Small Acts: Thoughts on the Politics of Black Cultures. New York: Serpent’s Tail, 1993.

Gray 2004 — Gray, Richard J. A History of American Literature. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2004.

Griffin 2009 — Griffin, Farah Jasmine. “Toni Morrison.” In A New Literary History of America, edited by Greil Marcus, Werner Sollors. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University press, 2009: 993–997.

Luczak 1999 — Luczak, Ewa. “Rethinking History: Toni Morrison’s Versions of the Past.” American Studies XVII, no. 1 (1999): 35–52.

Mickel 2012 — Mickel, Emanuel J. “Fictional History and Historical Fiction.” Romance Philology 66, no. 1 (Spring 2012): 57–96.

Miller 2010 – Miller, James A. “Book World Reviews Rebel Yell by Alice Randall.” The Washington Post. Book World (Jan. 6, 2010): 4.

Nasidi 2021 — Nasidi, Yakubu A. “Margaret Walker’s Jubilee and the Burden of History.” July 2021.

Patrick 2016 — Patrick, Diana. “Tunnel Visions.” Publishers Weekly (July 26, 2016): 27–28.

Sapozhnikova 2011 — Sapozhnikova, Iulia L. Klassicheskii i novye istorii rabov: preemstvennost' zhanrov v tvorchestve afro-amerikanskikh pisatel'nits (H. Jacobs, S.A. Willims i L. Cary) [Classical and New Slave Narratives: The Continuity of Genres in the Works of African American Women Writers (H. Jacobs, S.A. Williams and L. Cary)]. Smolensk: Smolensk State University Publ., 2011. (In Russ.)

Steinway 2020 — Steinway, Susan. “Celebrating the Legacy of Author Margaret Walker and Jubilee.” HMH (20 Feb. 2020).

Sundquist 2015 — Sundquist, Christian B. “Post Oppression.” Journal of Race, Gender, & Ethnicity 7, no. 1 (2015): 137–140.

Udler 2013 — Udler, Irina M. Stanovlenie i evoliutsiia dokumental’no-publitsisticheskogo zhanra “nevol’nich’ego povestvovaniia” v amerikanskoi zhurnalistikeAvtoref. diss. … d. filol. nauk [Formation and evolution of the documentary-journalistic genre of "slave narrative" in American journalism], DSc thesis. Ekaterinburg, 2013. (In Russ.)