The first volume of a proposed four-volume set covering every conceivable type of Afro-American literature, from poetry to novels and slave narrative to spirituals. The general Introduction here gives a useful and interesting historical, political, and social background to the entire sweep of black American literature. Jackson (Professor Emeritus, English/Univ. of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) outlines six literary periods: the Age of Apprenticeship, 1746-1830; the Age of Abolitionists, 1830-1895; the Age of the Negro Nadir, 1895-1920; the Age of the Harlem Renaissance, 1920-1930; the Age of Richard Wright, 1930-1960; and the Age of the Black Militant. The history proper begins with 16-year-old Lucy Terry's ""Bars Fight,"" a 1746 poem about a Native American ambush on Colonists in Massachusetts. What follows is broken up into logical genre and content categories that make the historical narrative easy to follow. Jackson presents clear plot summaries, appropriate quotes from the texts, and concise reviews of previous criticism. He is also tough-minded, facing squarely the facts of American racism, evincing a touch of lightly humorous cynicism about American society and ""the robust vitality of one institution, color caste."" It is clear that the underlying creative tension in much of African-American writing is the paradox of the authors' strong identification with America while also being victims of America's racist/economic discrimination. Thus the sound of protest runs through the literature ""like an agonized sentinel's cry."" Although Jackson's prose is at times too convoluted, his book fascinates--and ends strongly, with a comprehensive bibliographical essay placing African-American literature in the largest possible historical, sociological, political, anthropological, and psychological context. An auspicious beginning to an ambitious project.