African American National Biography

Booker T Washington once wrote “The kind of reading that I have the greatest fondness for is biography.” His reading predilections would surely be satisfied by the recently-arrived eight-volume African American National Biography. Ably edited by Henry Louis Gates and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham whose joint prefatory writing clearly presents the genesis of this work in an historical context, these weighty tomes contain over 4100 entries. Unlike other similar works of collective biography such as the American National Biography or the Dictionary of National Biography(both multi-volume works are available in the Library), this title features both the deceased and the living. So one can read the biography of the late science fiction author Octavia Butler along with her living counterpart Samuel Delaney. The pre-eminent historian John Hope Franklin is profiled as is the “fabulous” Jim Beckwourth, one of the few African Americans identified as a mountain man. Here, too, read about Johnnie Cochran and his most well-known client – O.J. The biographies, averaging a page or two, do a good job of distilling the major life events of each person while providing additional bibliographical references. Volume 8 includes various indexes, among them birthplace(go Brooklyn!), awards, occupations, Congressional service, etc. This is a milestone work.

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