The Black Pen (Cultural Writing) and Black Writers

Before I proceed, I want to clarify something here. I just want to iron out a point, and the one that I think might be confusing for some of you, is the term “The Black Pen”.

You see, when I conceived this idea, I used the term “Black Pen” simply to refer to the type of writing that Black writers were aligned with or rather, the writing Black writers aligned themselves with.

This style of writing both advocates for and administers truth and morality; it condemns prejudice.

Put plainly, it addresses the reality that Black people in particular are faced with and the conditions they lived under. This type of writing embraced and safeguarded the cultural principles that Blackness was meant to serve.

And when this idea took a clear shape ̶ when it was well chewed and digested in my cognitive psychology, I then concluded that Black writers writing about the reality black people face write with a Black Pen.

The primary objective or motive behind this talk is to critically and creatively examine how Black writers have evolved from writing, particularly with a ‘Black Pen’. This will take an analytical approach. Further, I would also like to celebrate their writing.
I must also note that this talk is not limited in terms of dating or geography.

The past is not something that can be overlooked by Africans; it lives on in present communities of black people to a much greater extent than in other communities. As a result, the present has constituted a continuation of the past. Literature can teach people not only to know their history, but also to know themselves

Culture, in any society, is potentially a humanising force. As a result: The writer becomes the eye of the people.

I was very careful, when selecting Black writers, to choose those whose writing fit the category of the Black Pen. I wanted their writing to be based on critical material that provides much deeper insights into the significance of the African tradition.

I found Black writers who didn’t mask reality; who didn’t white-wash the truth ̶ and who told it in everyday language. These writers foster a sense of national unity within black masses. They seek to establish traditional African cultural values which have been deliberately perverted for centuries. They proclaim the reality of their history and heritage.

As I have previously indicated, this talk is not limited in terms of dating or geography.

The first on the list is . . . MICHÈLE LACROSIL

Born in Guadeloupe, she was a novelist; her writing is a very rich reference to the history of colonization. She has particularized and internalized the implications of racism and colonialism (reflecting on the psychology of the colonized). Her well-known books include: SAPOTILLE and CAJOU; which describe the traumatised mind of the colonized black woman.

Our next writer is . . . NICOLÁS GUILLEN

Born in Cuba (an Afro-Cuban). Both his parents were descendants of Africans and Spaniards.
Guillen’s writing was mostly for black solidarity and Cultural solidarity. His work conscientises and condemns the dehumanisation of the Black race. He was one of the vocal instruments of negritude.

In his poem “The Surname”, Guillen says “Without knowing each other we recognise each other in the eyes heavy with dreams.” Guillen further observes. “Without knowing each other we recognise each other in the hunger.”

His father died fighting for national progress, trying to prevent the continuation of racist policies led by the inveterate reactionary, Mario Menocal.

Unfortunately, his father was killed by soldiers and as a result, Guillen wrote a collection of poems titled “Songs for soldiers”, a dedication to his father.

The next writer is . . . LEON GONTRAN DAMAS

Leon is a Guyane native. Recognised as one of the fathers of Negritude; has been described by his peer, Aime Cesaire, as the most black of all the partisans of the movement. He was one of the key Black writers who embarked on a process of rehabilitating Black race and Culture. Damas was a pioneer in the protest against prejudice, reviving the cultural matrix of mother Africa upon which future generations would build.

A champion of Negritude; a voice that worked tirelessly, in uniting distant African relatives, both in the continent and in the diaspora. Damas’ books include Black Label, which expresses the implication of love and the experiences of African people.

He once said that he doesn’t live with words but lives in words, and that tells you something about the type of writer he was.

In some instances I’ve dealt with two writers in one space, in an attempt to avoid battling with time.

Our next writers are . . . STEVE BIKO and FRANTZ FANON

It has become tradition to talk about Biko when one talks about Fanon, simply because Biko was that individual who successfully carried out similar ideological aims as Fanon did. He helped fulfil his historical mission.

Both these writers were devoted to their medical studies. It was this devotion that was required to help people. In their writing, both Biko and Fanon embraced the notion of cultural restoration and unity among Africans.

Fanon became well known for his close, careful analysis of the negative effects of colonialism in the psychology of the African. He clearly expressed the state of mind of Blacks in a colonial context.

Biko is known as the father of Black Consciousness in South Africa. His ideas have largely contributed to enlightening Black people in South Africa by promoting ideas from protest to consciousness.

The works of both writers are still relevant today, as insightful references.

The next writers are . . . YOSEF BEN JOCHANNAN and NGŨGĨ WA THIONG’O

Ngugi decided to use Gikuyu as a mechanism of his ‘Black Pen’. His impeccable writing earned him global admiration as one of the most renowned African intellectuals, whose contribution continues to offer new and exciting explanations. Ngugis’s writing is an assertive force in the Black community.

Jochannan was an Egyptologist. Jochannan travelled extensively, giving talks that were often alarming to Black people. He urged them to embrace their Blackness and Culture.

Yosef and Ngugi’s writing possesses the view that Africa should be returned to its deserved position at the centre of culture.

There are many Black writers who contributed equally to the movement as some of the aforementioned writers. Due to time constraints, I cannot go into detail regarding their contributions; therefore, mentioning their names would be appropriate.

Writers such as: Eskia Mphahlele, Joseph Kizebo, Ama Ata Aidoo, Leopold Senghor, Cheik Anta Diop, Ali Mazrui, Richard Wright, Oswald Mtshali, Alice Franca, Langston Hughes and the list goes on . . .

All these writers were troubled by the question, “Why must my colour make me a lesser man?”

It is important to be mindful of what contemporary Black writers are trying to achieve. On the positive side, their new writing raises urgent issues about our independent society. It is good when present writers speak their mind about present conditions.

However, today, Black writers lack the collective agenda that would keep the essential values of our culture intact, apart from the trenches of Black Consciousness and Pan – Africanism. That is to say, the call to advocate for and administer African culture has always been done within the trenches of Pan-Africanism and Black Consciousness.

Therefore, to avoid ideological limitations that can influence these calls to action, the agenda of culture needs to be spread out to other initiatives in order to reach Africans in greater numbers. The Black writer is supposed to express his peoples’ visions and implement a way forward that reflects on the past.

There’s a need for a critical framework that declares the Black Writer’s Cultural identity, so as to forge a tradition of Black writing. By reflecting on the achievements of the above writers, contemporary Black writers are left with a foundation to build upon; to work out their artistic destiny and create a new slate and new dimensions, creating new aims for African culture. They must interpret the faith of Africa.

As Eskia Mphahlele keenly observed: “No one can wish for the spread of African Culture if he does not give practical support to the creation of the conditions necessary to the existence of that culture.”

Africans have a Culture worthy of respect and emulation. Africans and African Culture have contributed immensely to the growth of every country to which they were introduced.

How relevant is the Black Pen today?

Today, when one writes with a black pen, he/she is likely to be demoted to a lower level, or be regarded as an outcast from the collective identity that represents our rainbow nation. These writers are considered revolutionaries or as being resolute. However, in today’s context, being a revolutionary or being resolute connotes terrorism. These are the measures taken to silence such writers.

Once again, thank you for coming. I hope this information will help shape your consciousness.


Tell us: Which is your favourite writer and why?