Date of Award

Summer 7-17-2012

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


African-American Studies

First Advisor

Jonathan Gayles

Second Advisor

Makungu Akinyela

Third Advisor

Kya Reaves


This exploratory qualitative study describes the criteria that African American Literature professors use in defining what is African American Literature. Maulana Karenga’s black arts framework shaped the debates in the literature review and the interview protocol; furthermore, the presence or absence of the framework’s characteristics were discussed in the data analysis. The population sampled was African American Literature professors in the United States who have no less than five years experience. The primary source of data collection was in-depth interviewing. Data analysis involved open coding and axial coding. General conclusions include: (1) The core of the African American Literature definition is the black writer representing the black experience but the canon is expanding and becoming more inclusive. (2) While African American Literature is often a tool for empowerment, a wide scope is used in defining methods of empowerment. (3) Black writers should balance aesthetic and political concerns in a text.