Journal Title


Publication Date



How do we define the category of African American literature? Is there some set of shared characteristics unifying texts by Black Americans from the nineteenth century to the present? One way of answering these questions is to point to the vernacular, or folk tradition of African Americans; in many Black-authored texts we find traces of the folktales, slave spirituals, and jazz and blues music that compose that tradition. Yet African American writers have had a complicated relationship to the vernacular, with some rejecting it entirely and others insisting it is just one of their influences. This paper investigates the relationship between some representative African American writers and the Black folk tradition, demonstrating how current discussions of racial authenticity—of being “black enough”—are deeply tied to this dynamic between individual and cultural inheritance.


Criticism, interpretation, etc; Literature--Study and teaching

Publication Information

Pursuits, Volume 13, Issue 1, 11-18.

© 2015 Mercy College

Archived version is accepted manuscript.



Document Type

Journal Article