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The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Fifth Edition
Paul Lauter, General Editor

Saunders Redding

Of middle-class parentage, Jay Saunders Redding was born in Wilmington, Delaware, just three years after W. E. B. Du Bois posed his own probing questions in The Souls of Black Folk. His father, Lewis Alfred Redding, and his mother, Mary Ann Holmes Redding, had been educated to become teachers. His father’s roots led back to slavery; his paternal grandmother was an escaped slave. His mother was mulatto; his maternal grandmother, a mixture of Irish, Indian, and black, was of a “free” background. For the young Saunders, an understanding of the importance of education for blacks and a consciousness of racial identity and awareness developed early.

After his early schooling in Wilmington (1912–23), Redding attended Lincoln University in Pennsylvania for one year (1923–24), then transferred to Brown University, from which he received his A.B. degree in 1928. After teaching at Morehouse College in Atlanta, he returned to Brown and was awarded an M.A. in 1932.

For more than half a century, Redding taught at a number of colleges and universities and built an outstanding career as writer and literary and cultural critic. He became one of the major “senior” scholars in African American literature and a much-sought-after mentor to new scholars in the field. Over the years, he taught at Louisville Municipal College, Southern University in Baton Rouge, State Teachers College at Elizabeth City, North Carolina, and Hampton Institute, among others. In his final professorial years he was Ernest I. White Professor of American Studies and Humane Letters at Cornell. He served also as director of the division of research and publication of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and he accepted a State Department assignment in India. In recognition of his scholarship, he was awarded several honorary doctorates, including one from his alma mater, Brown, and one from his home state university, the University of Delaware.

In literary history and criticism, Redding’s To Make a Poet Black (1939) is a standard among early sources on African American literature. Including key writers from 1760 to 1939, the text had as its goal “to bring together factual material and critical opinion on American Negro literature in a sort of history of Negro thought in America.” In 1940 Redding received a Rockefeller Grant to “Go out into Negro life in the South.” The result was No Day of Triumph (1942), which won him the Mayflower Award from the North Carolina Historical Society for the best work that year by a North Carolinian. This book is an example of Redding’s writing forte: the bringing together of the personal and the historic, with analysis and commentary.

Supported by a Guggenheim Award, Redding wrote his only novel, Stranger and Alone (1950), in which he scathingly attacks the black educator. This book received mixed critical attention in essays by Alain Locke, Ralph Ellison, Ann Petry, and others. As an illumination of the novel and an extension of the autobiography and social history of No Day of Triumph, one should read On Being Negro in America (1951), Redding’s attempt to look back at self and race in his continued search for truth. His social histories—They Came in Chains (1950), The Lonesome Road (1958), and The Negro (1967)—treat some of the same issues as his other texts. Finally, in 1971, he and Arthur P. Davis published an anthology, Cavalcade: Negro American Writing from 1760 to the Present, revised with Joyce Ann Joyce and reissued after Redding’s death. Letters written between 1938 and 1945 by Redding to James Weldon Johnson, Carl Van Vechten, and Richard Wright are housed at the Yale University Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

Eleanor Q. Tignor
LaGuardia Community College

In the Heath Anthology
No Day of Triumph
      Chapter One: "Troubled in Mind" (1942)

Other Works
To Make a Poet Black (1939)
Stranger and Alone (1950)
They Came in Chains (1950)
On Being Negro in America (1951)
The Lonesome Road (1958)
The Negro (1967)

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Secondary Sources

Imamu Amiri Baraka, "A Reply to Saunders Redding's 'The Black Revolution in American Studies,'" and Jefferson B. Kellogg, "Redding and Baraka: Two Contrasting Views on Afro-American Studies," Sources for American Studies, ed., Jefferson B. Kellogg and Robert H. Walker, 1983

Faith Berry, "Saunders Redding at Literary Critic of Romantic Idealists and Conforming Materialists: Expressions of the American National Character," MAWA Review, 3 (June 1988), 6-9

Faith Berry, "Introduction," A Scholar's Conscience, The Mississippi Quarterly 46 (Spring 1993), 326-30

Noel Schraufnagel, The Black American Novel: From Apology to Protest, 1973

Eleanor Q. Tignor, The Black Male Character in Afro-American Fiction: 1920-1960, Ph.D., diss., Howard University, 1975, 752-776

Clarence E Walker, Rev. of Stranger and Alone, African American Review 26 (Winter 1992), 675-82