Educational resources for:

Literature and Language


An audiovisual record offers the unique and significant documentation of changing street vernaculars and the evolution of new forms of interpersonal communication. ABJ shows trace the transformation of letters and language in the black community through the ideas and reflections of important authors and speakers. The sermonic rhetoric of black ministers-turned-politicians and the formal styles of academic discourse are contrasted with the languages of family, neighborhood, and street that germinated new forms of music and literature.

Featured Show Clips & Comprehension Questions

Related Videos

Lena Horne describes getting started in show business

Lena Horne reflects on the strength of black women and gives advice for younger generations

Nikki Giovanni discusses the nature of artistic growth and the process of building on what was done by earlier generations

Ossie Davis recounts how he and Ruby Dee began to focus their work on materials created by African American authors

Report on international conference of black writers, including speech by Stokely Carmichael

Thematic Questions

In what ways do you see artists, such as Nikki Giovanni, Ossie Davis and Lena Horne, concerned with defining or expressing the identity of African Americans as a group?
How do you think the struggles that they have faced have helped shape the outlook of these artists?
What similarities or differences do you see in the ways that Nikki Giovanni and Ossie Davis describe the role of artists?


"Do You Speak American?" - American Varieties: African American English
PBS companion website to the series "Do You Speak American?" This site focuses on African American English. It explores the origins as well as the debate over Ebonics. The program site includes resources for teachers.

"From the Soil of Suffering" - Online NewsHour
An online presentation of an interview with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Nellie McKay from 1997. They are the editors of the anthology of African American Literature. They discuss the anthology, 200 years of African American writings, from slavery to contemporary African American vernacular English. Audio file and transcript of the interview are available.

African American Literature Book Club
This site is "devoted to promoting African American authors and their work." As so it provides resources for African American writers and a gateway for readers into the world of African American literature from all periods and genres. There is a companion site which promotes hip-hop literature (

Center for Applied Linguistics - Dialects: African American Vernacular English
A resource for locating more information - internet and print - on the subject of African American vernacular English.

The Givens Collection: Literature and Life
The PBS gateway site to the University of Minnesota collection of African American literature and authors. Audio and video clips of author interviews and digital text available.

Zora Neale Hurston Plays at the Library of Congress
This site features a selection of ten plays by the African-American playwright, anthropologist and folklorist Zora Neale Hurston. Her writing documents the African-American South and her life, and illustrates the integration of that vernacular into African-American literature. biography of Nikki Giovanni
The website of the Academy of American Poets contains biographies and writing samples of numerous African-American poets.

Related Films

Spirit to Spirit: Nikki Giovanni.
VHS. 28 minutes.
Director Mirra Bank. Santa Monica, California: Direct Cinema Ltd., 1987.
This film explores the work and life of African American poet Nikki Giovanni. It focuses on the personal and political drive behind her work.

Furious Flower I.
VHS. 369 minutes.
Directed by John Hodges. San Francisco, California: California Newsreel, 1998.
An anthology of portraits of twenty-five influential contemporary African-American poets. Fifteen to twenty minute portraits of the poets includes public readings incorporated into conversations with poets and critics.

Furious Flower II.
VHS/DVD. 180 minutes.
Directed by John Hodges. San Francisco, California: California Newsreel, 2005.
A more scholarly look at contemporary African-American poetry than its predecessor Furious Flower I , this film incorporates critical discussions of the medium and authors’ individual works with individual readings.

"Do You Speak American?"
DVD. 180 minutes.
Director William Cran. New York: Thirteen/WNET, 2005.
A documentary exploring the dialects of various regions and ethnic groups of Americans, including Black vernacular English.


Collier, Thomas, Bettye. Daughters of Thunder: Black Women Preachers and Their Sermons 1850-1979. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1998.
A collection of 38 sermons of 14 African American female preachers accompanied by biographical and historical materials. Explores the impact these women had on the black community from a time when women preachers were largely unaccepted by the mainstream church through the Civil Rights Movement.

Hubbard, Dolan. The Sermon and the African American Literary Imagination. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1994.
This work demonstrates the influence of the African American preaching style and common sermon themes in black literature. Hubbard also explores the role of the preacher in African American culture.

Liggins Hill, Patricia. Call and Response: The Riverside Anthology of the African American Literary Tradition. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company College Division, 2003.
An anthology of African American literature giving weight to both oral and written traditions. With a selection of 550 works, it begins with African proverbs and ends with contemporary writers. Includes a companion CD.

Rickford, John R. African American Vernacular English: Features, Evolution, Educational Implications. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell Publishers, 1999.
Sixteen essays by the author on the subject of African American Vernacular English. The author seeks to answer three questions: “What are the features of AAVE/Ebonics and how is it used? What is its evolution and where is it headed? What are its educational and social implications?”

Smitherman, Geneva. Talkin and Testifyin: The Language of Black America. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1985.
An exploration of Black English in the context of Black culture and lifestyle. She argues that Black dialect reflects its African origins.

Additional Show Clips & Comprehension Questions

Related Videos

Bobby Seale responds to an audience question about education

Bobby Seale discusses the change in perspective that occurred for African Americans in the 1960s

Bobby Seale responds to an audience member's question about his future