The editor of this work is considered a leader in the field. He is Professor of American Literature at Nihon University, Tokyo. Other books by A. Robert Lee include Designs of Blackness: Mappings in the Literature and Culture of Afro-America, Black Fiction: New Studies in the Afro-American Novel since 1945, and Multicultural American Literature: Comparative Black, Native, Latino/a and Asian American Fictions.
This set is noteworthy because being five volumes long, it is able to trace African American writing from slave texts to recent Nobel Prize winning novels. Each volume includes different parts. Volume One includes African American literary-cultural statements, Overviews, and Theory perspectives. Volume Two includes Oral tradition and legacy, Literary critiques and slavery studies, and Early and reconstruction African American texts. Volume Three includes New Negro and Harlem Renaissance, Richard Writing, Chester Himes, Ann Petry, Frank Yerby, Margaret Walker, and John A. Williams, and finally Ellison and Baldwin. Volume Four covers Modern African American fiction. Volume five includes Modern African American poetry, African American drama, and African American autobiography. Each part includes different essays written by scholars.
The entire set has a lot of valuable content, but several things especially stand out. Part One of Volume One includes famous essays and speeches written by writers and intellectuals like Frederick Douglass, Zora Neale Hurston, LeRoi Jones, and Alice Walker. Part Four of Volume Two includes a section on oral tradition, an important part of African American culture. Volume Four is completely devoted to Modern African American fiction, so you get essays about not just the major names like Toni Morrison, but also essays about various other important writers, such as Ishmael Reed, Paule Marshall, Ernest Gaines, Octavia Butler, Barbara Chase-Riboud, Edwidge Danticat, etc.
There is also a selective historical chronology and a very extensive bibliography of African American writing. Anyone wanting to learn more about African American writing would benefit from checking out this set of criticism. Many important writers, theories, themes, and criticism are represented in these volumes.