"A VITAL FORCE IN AFRICAN AMERICAN LITERATURE": FIRST EDITION OF YOUNGBLOOD, 1954, INSCRIBED BY JOHN OLIVER KILLENS
KILLENS, John O. Youngblood. New York: Dial, 1954. Octavo, original half black cloth, original dust jacket. $850.
First edition, first printing of the Pulitzer Prize-nominated first novel by Killens—"the spiritual father of Black Arts… comparable to Wright and Zora Neale Hurston"—inscribed by him, "To R— & J— With sincere regards—John Killens 2-25-55," in elusive original dust jacket.
John Killens, the great grandson of former slaves, was born in Georgia in 1916 and, after serving in WWII, devoted both his life and art to providing "a silenced community with a voice" (Oxford Companion, 420). "Heralded as the spiritual father of Black Arts" (Blair, Harlem Crossroads, 201), he remains a "key link in progressive cultural and political developments between the Harlem Renaissance… the Black Arts movement" and the Black Power era. Above all, his work reflects "a quest for freedom… [which] is also the lasting significance of his life… he was a vernacular genius, a master of folktales and humor, comparable to Wright and Zora Neale Hurston. No comprehensive study of the African American novel—indeed, the American novel—can ignore his contribution to the genre" (Gilyard, John Oliver Killens, 3-4).
Killens' first draft of Youngblood
, his first novel, "was shared over a storefront in Harlem with seven other young African Americans writers." who co-founded the Harlem Writers Guild (Oxford Companion
, 420). The novel, which captures the struggle of a Black family in the Jim Crow South, won early praise as "far, far more faithful to its setting, more detailed in its delineation, more powerful in its presentation than Invisible Man
." The New York Times
particularly highlighted the novel's honesty and sincerity, and The Crisis
a work that "should be a revelation to both Faulkner and Howe, for here is a graphic portrait of
people, not merely about
them" (Gilyard, emphasis in original, 1-2). Twice nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for his novels but often overlooked, Killens stands as "a vital force in African American literature" (Oxford Companion
, 420). He also mentored a generation of Black writers and activists as a teacher at Columbia, Howard and other universities, established the long-running National Black Writers Conference and co-founded the Organization of Afro-American Unity. Before his death in 1987, he movingly wrote of: "the basic truth of what my grandmother used to say, 'Aah Lord, honey, the half ain't never been told'" (Black Man's Burden
). First edition, first printing, with no statement of edition or printings on the copyright page; first printing dust jacket with $3.95 on front flap, orange lettering and design on spine and front panel, Union "bug" on rear flap. Blockson 6832.
Book fine; lightest edge-wear, small closed tear with minimal foxing to rear panel of very scarce near-fine dust jacket.