I've always loved the young adult books of Frank Bonham and Walter Dean Myers. In my search for early, authentic books written about the African-American experience, I recently came across the work of Kristine Hunter Lattany. The few books she wrote for teens share much in common with Bonham's Dogtown novels and Myers' popular YA novels that would come later.
The following is adapted from a brief biography found online prepared by Jackie Fiorello in 2005.
Kristin Hunter (September 12, 1931 - November 14, 2008) was a well known and talented African-American novelist. She was the author of 11 books including God Bless The Child (1964), Kinfolks (1996) and Breaking Away (2003). She also wrote several groundbreaking young adult books in the early 1960's and 1970's. These books were always authentic to the teenage experience. She portrayed her characters with genuine warmth, making the inner city environment of her books a familiar place that readers could relate to even when portraying gangs and ghetto life.
The Soul Brothers and Sister Lou (1968) was praised for its authentic portrayal of growing up in hostile surroundings and for its affirmation of black culture. The Soul Brother and Sister Lou is about a juvenile gang led by Louretta Hawkins, a fourteen year old who forms a successful music group to avoid the pressures of gang warfare and police harassment. In 1981, Lattany published its sequel, Lou in the Limelight.
While The Soul Brothers and Sister Lou has remained in print from some time, her other two books about young people are more difficult to find. In 1971, Boss Cat was released, followed by Guests in the Promised Land in 1973. Both are collections of stories about teens searching for values and direction. I particularly enjoyed the stories in Guests for the portrayal of unusual and strong black characters.
Also of note here is that her second novel titled, The Landlord, became a movie directed by Norman Jewison for Mirisch Productions in 1970.
The film can be viewed below (via Youtube).
The Landlord tells the story of a man searching for his identity. Enders, the protagonist, is a wealthy, insensitive white man, and the landlord of a residential building in the inner city ghetto. At first, he plans to evict the present occupants and construct his own luxurious home; however, he soon develops personal relationships with the tenants and eventually overcomes his character faults.