Octavia Butler was an American science fiction writer, one of the best-known among the few African-American women in the field. In 1979, she published Kindred, a novel that uses the science-fiction staple of time travel to explore slavery in the United States. The literary expression of African Americans has always been a tale of life realities whether dealing with historical experiences in science fiction or love in romance. Literary works, like music, have become a tool that reflects the African-American experience from one generation to the next generation. This legacy continues by us creating and/or reclaiming and maintaining a literate environment.
To understand and appreciate literacy is to understand the African American literacy and literary history beginning in Africa as cradle of civilization and the birthplace of the written word script that pre-dates our Latin -based writing system of standard contemporary English. Ancient Egypt along the Nile River valley, the Nubian of the Eastern Sudan and the Axumites of the Ethiopia highlands had their own forms of writing. In the case of Egypt (Kemet) hieroglyphics were in use by 3300BCE.
The next major literary influence on the African continent was in a script known as ajami and abjab commonly referred to respectfully as Yoruba or Arabic and Hebrew. During the past 20 years ancient African manuscripts were rediscovered in Timbuktu, Mali. Over a million manuscripts were recently rediscovered in Timbuktu, Mali and about 20 million more in West Africa. These manuscripts date back from 12th to 16th century period. Prior to the rediscovery of these manuscripts, people thought Africa had no written tradition and that it was only oral tradition according to the International Museum of Muslim Cultures. Hence, prior to the MAAFA or African enslavement there was a great appreciation of the written word and books was a very valuable commodity.
European languages such as French, English, and Portuguese begin to spread in the fifteenth century in West Africa. During the Transatlantic Slave Trade period, Olaudah Equiano and Otta-bau Cugoano were enslaved Africans who learned to read and write. They both gained their freedom in the late eighteenth century and wrote books condemning the Atlantic slave trade.
During slavery legislators enacted a draconian body of public laws, making two forms of literacy punishable by law: mastery of letters, and the mastery of the drum. These two forms of literacy were related to the African slave capacity to rebel. The Stono Rebellion, the largest uprising of slaves in the colonies, was related to Africans becoming literate prior to the literacy laws.
Now we come to celebrate two centuries of writing in English by person of African decent in the United States. We kickoff our literacy celebration with the talking drum with My Brothers Keeper.