Writing against all odds

This thesis examines selected works of two representative Black writers of the 18th century who used writing to fight oppression and advocate for the emancipation of African Americans from slavery. The specific writers are Phillis Wheatley (poetry) and Richard Allen (prose). This study explores the works of these writers in the context of what Dr. Dorothy Tsuruta posits as “art for life’s sake”, Arthur Danto as "Disturbatory Art" and Trey Ellis as “art that shakes you up” (Tsuruta 2008; Ellis 2014). To this end, I examine the rhetorical mode of the selected literary works which is defined as “saying something in a certain way for a certain reason with the self and the audience in mind” (Tsuruta 2008). In bringing a 21st century angle of vision to 18th century race themed poetry of Wheatley, I contextualize them rightfully as social protest literature. This fact was disputed in the 1960s when Wheatley's poetry was ostracized by the Black Arts Movement, which understandably championed poetry that sounded the strident tone of the times. Amiria Baraka declared "Black Art must be the Nationalist's vision given more form and feeling, as a razor...cut (1969). In simultaneously bringing attention to the race themed prose of Richard Allen, I contextualize his work as sounding a 1960s Black Arts strident tone, though written in the 1700s. This study of 18th century protest literature, as forebears of Black literary activism today, contributes to the African American literary legacy, correcting a dearth of research in these areas of study.