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Article

Khwezi Mkhize

South African-born poet, journalist, essayist, and novelist, was born on 19 March 1919, in Vrededorp, a slum in Johannesburg, though he later became an adopted citizen of Britain. His father was James Henry Abrahams Deras (or De Ras), an Ethiopian itinerant who settled in Johannesburg as a mine laborer. His mother, Angelina DuPlessis, was a Coloured woman whose first husband was a Cape Malay resident, with whom she had two children. His parents met and married in Vrededorp. Abrahams grew up as a Coloured, “a by-product of the early contact between black and white” (Abrahams, 1981 p 10 which made him aware of the social and political consequences of racial formation in South Africa His father died when he was still young Upon his father s death his family was thrown into poverty Abrahams later wrote that his mother went to work in the homes of white folk ...

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Greg Miller

As a teenager James Baldwin abandoned the pulpit after a year and a half but it would be fair to say that he always remained a preacher For Baldwin the life of an artist was a higher vocation and he plunged into that life with inexhaustible at times desperate fervor While he insisted that the writer s primary responsibility is to his or her craft he was equally adamant that the writer has an obligation to serve as witness for society in doing so the writer plays an essential role in the construction of a better future Baldwin certainly demanded of himself this double purpose and when the two are in accord often in his essays occasionally in his fiction it is easy to see his work as among the most important in twentieth century American literature For many though Baldwin s early promise as a novelist was never fully ...

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Justin David Gifford

pimp-turned-novelist, autobiographer, essayist, and central figure of the black crime fiction movement that began in the 1960s, was born in Chicago, Illinois, as Robert Lee Maupin Jr., the only child of Mary Brown, a hairdresser, and Robert Maupin Sr., a hustler and one-time cook for Chicago mayor William “Big Bill” Thompson. In 1919, the year of the bloodiest race riots in Chicago's history, Robert Maupin Sr. tossed his infant son against a wall and abandoned the family. Beck survived, and Mary Brown supported her infant son by working as a door-to-door hairstylist. In 1924 she met Henry Upshaw the owner of a cleaning and pressing shop the only black business in Rockford Illinois Remembered by Beck as the only father I had ever really known Iceberg Slim 23 Upshaw provided Beck and his mother with a relatively stable middle class life However ...

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Patrick Bellegarde-Smith

Dantès Bellegarde was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti in 1877. His family had long been at the center of Haitian politics. Bellegarde's mother was Marie Boisson and his father Jean-Louis Bellegarde. His maternal great-grandfather, Jacques Ignace Fresnel, was named judge by Jean-Jacques Dessalines, a leader of the Haitian Revolution, who became the first leader of the independent state in 1804 and soon proclaimed himself Emperor Jean-Jacques I. This same great-grandfather was later minister of justice under President Jean-Pierre Boyer, who ruled all of Haiti from 1820 to 1843. Bellegarde's paternal grandfather, Jean-Louis de Bellegarde, was a duke and marshal in Haiti's second empire during the rule of Faustin Soulouque, who declared himself emperor and ruled from 1847 to 1859. Bellegarde's aunt, Argentine Bellegarde (1842–1901), was a noted educator and an early feminist. Bellegarde married Cécile Savain (1875–1965 ...

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Carine Bourget

Moroccan writer, was born on 1 December 1944 in Fez, Morocco. His father was a merchant, and his mother an illiterate housewife whose life is narrated in his Sur ma mère (2008; On My Mother). Both parents were devout Muslims whom Ben Jelloun credited for creating a nurturing environment. After attending the local Qurʾanic school until the age of six, Ben Jelloun received a bilingual French-Arabic education in a Franco-Moroccan elementary school. In 1955, his family moved to Tangier. Ben Jelloun’s secondary schooling was mostly French; he attended the Lycée Regnault, the oldest French high school in Morocco. After receiving his high school degree in 1963, he studied philosophy at the Muhammad V University in Rabat.

Morocco’s post-independence history was marked by the Lead Years (1960s–1980s), a period of severe political repression that spanned most of King Hassan II’s reign. Suspected of having organized student demonstrations in 1965 ...

Article

William P. Toth

writer and journalist, was born George Harold Bennett in Buckingham, Virginia, the seventh of eight children born to Charles E. Bennett Sr. and Minnie P. (Bryant) Bennett, of whom little else is known. His family moved north to Orange, New Jersey, during the Great Migration, though he often spent his childhood summers in Buckingham. At age sixteen, Bennett worked part time as a features writer for the Newark (N.J.) Herald News. He attended Orange High School, graduating as class valedictorian, and had dreams of becoming a concert pianist.

After high school Bennett joined the air force and was stationed in Korea, where he was a writer for the Public Information Division and an editor for a military newspaper. When he was discharged in 1952, he continued his journalism career as the fiction editor for African American News in Baltimore Maryland and then became a partner ...

Article

Arna Bontemps was born in Alexandria, Louisiana, to parents of Creole descent who eventually converted to the Seventh-Day Adventist faith. While Arna was young, the Bontemps family moved to Los Angeles, California. The childhood loss of his mother and the stern upbringing by his pragmatic father affected him deeply. His father hoped, mistakenly, that his son would make the family trade of masonry his life's work. Educated at Seventh-Day Adventist institutions, Bontemps graduated from Pacific Union College in 1923. In 1924 he took a teaching job at the Harlem Academy in New York City.

Literary notice and success came early to Bontemps. His creativity and social conscience were excited by the cultural vitality he found in New York in the 1920s. By 1926 his poetry had appeared in two of the most important journals of the period, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People ...

Article

Robert E. Fleming

writer, was born in Alexandria, Louisiana, the son of Paul Bismark Bontemps, a bricklayer, and Maria Carolina Pembroke, a schoolteacher. He was reared in Los Angeles, where his family moved when he was three. He graduated from Pacific Union College in Angwin, California, in 1923.Bontemps then moved to Harlem, New York, where the Harlem Renaissance had already attracted the attention of West Coast intellectuals. He found a teaching job at the Harlem Academy in 1924 and began to publish poetry. He won the Alexander Pushkin Prize from Opportunity, a journal published by the National Urban League, in 1926 and 1927 and The Crisis (official journal of the NAACP) Poetry Prize in 1926. His career soon intersected that of the poet Langston Hughes, with whom he became a close friend and sometime collaborator. In Harlem, Bontemps also came to know Countée Cullen, W ...

Article

Gregory Byala

South African writer and translator, was born in Vrede in the Orange Free State on 29 May 1935. The son of a magistrate, Brink spent his childhood in several towns, including Jagersfontein, Sabie, and Lydenburg. Although his family spoke Afrikaans at home, Brink’s mother, an English teacher, developed in him an early feel for what would eventually become his second literary language.

Brink entered the University of Potchefstroom in 1953. Earning a scholarship to Paris, he undertook postgraduate research at the Sorbonne from 1959 to 1961. In interviews and biographical pieces, Brink regards this stretch of years as seminal to his development as a writer, not merely because it granted him a new vantage from which to assess his homeland, but also because it permitted him unprecedented social freedom to mix with people on new and equal terms.

Following the Sharpeville massacre in 1960 Brink s ...

Article

Jason Miller

poet and community activist. Gwendolyn Brooks was born in Topeka, Kansas, to David Anderson Brooks, a janitor, and Keziah Wims Brooks, a former schoolteacher. The house in Kansas belonged to Brooks's grandmother, and soon the family moved to their home in Chicago, Illinois, where Gwendolyn grew up in the city's South Side with her parents and younger brother, Raymond. For most of her life she remained associated with the South Side. Brooks attended Forrestville Elementary School, and it was during these earliest years of her education that her mother began to encourage in her an interest in poetry and verse recital.

Brooks attended Hyde Park High School for a time but later transferred from that mostly white school first to an all black school and later to an integrated one Though her home life afforded her some stability and happiness Brooks was keenly aware of the ...

Article

Ann McCarthy

novelist, playwright, screenwriter, memoirist, folklorist, and educator, was born in Bolton, North Carolina, to Dorothy and Cecil Culphert Brown. His father was in prison until Brown was thirteen, so he and his brother Donald Ray were raised until then by his Uncle Lofton, who recognized and nurtured young Cecil's talent for academics and his facility with words. Brown describes this part of his life as a kind of idyll haunted by the mysterious but terrible situation of his father.

When he was fourteen years old Brown reluctantly moved with his brother and father to Green Swamp, North Carolina, to grow tobacco. Considerably less supportive of Cecil's bookishness, Culphert Brown beat him for reading when he should have been plowing It was around this time that Brown first encountered the Stagger Lee story which would be the focus of much of his scholarly research Friends of his father would ...

Article

Roanne Edwards

Lydia Cabrera, along with Fernando Ortiz, is widely considered one of the two most important twentieth century researchers and writers on Afro-Cuban culture. She wrote more than a dozen volumes of investigative work on the subject, including her pioneering El monte (1954), subtitled “Notes on the Religion, the Magic, the Superstitions and the Folklore of Creole Negroes and the Cuban People,” and Reglas de congo (1980), a book on Bantu (known as congo in Cuba) rituals. According to Ana María Simo, author of Lydia Cabrera: An Intimate Portrait, Cabrera's “is the most important and complete body of work on Afro-Cuban religions” of its time. Cabrera also wrote four volumes of short stories inspired by Afro-Cuban legends and beliefs. Her fiction is rich in metaphor and symbolism and has been compared stylistically with the writings of Spanish poet and playwright Federico García Lorca ...

Article

Jeremy Rich

French philosopher and novelist, was born on 7 November 1913 in Mondovi, Algeria. His family belonged to the working classes of the pied noir European settler community in the French colony of Algeria. Although pied noir people enjoyed great legal and political privileges over the vast majority of Muslim Algerians due to the French colonial government, Camus’ family demonstrated that Algerians of European descent were not all living in affluence. His mother, Catherine Hélène Sintés, was of Spanish descent, like many other pied noirs and worked as a maid She was illiterate and a stroke had left her partially deaf His father Lucien Auguste Camus had been an agricultural worker before joining the French military on the onset of war with the Central Powers in World War I He died in the first battle of the Marne in the opening months of the conflict and his body never was ...

Article

Alice Drum

writer, professor, and activist, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the daughter of John Cary, a junior high school science teacher, and Carole Hamilton, a one time hairdresser and elementary school special education teacher. Cary's mother took an active role in guiding her early education in public schools in the Philadelphia suburbs. In 1972 in a move that had tremendous significance personally and academically for the young teenager Cary with her mother s encouragement entered the prestigious St Paul s Preparatory School in New Hampshire Historically an all male all white institution St Paul s in the 1970s was actively seeking to change its elitist image by admitting girls and African Americans Although Cary had eagerly sought admission to St Paul s her experiences there were mixed While she was successful academically and socially she often felt isolated never entirely a part of St Paul s established world ...

Article

Mohamed Jouay

Moroccan writer, was born in Bni Chiker in northern Morocco on 15 July 1935 The Choukri family was forced by drought and famine to emigrate from the impoverished Rif Mountains in search of better prospects in Tetouan and Tangier two principal cities in the north of Morocco Choukri s father a heavy drinker and a deserter from the Spanish Army subjected his family to both physical and emotional abuse In an act of atrocious cruelty he killed his starving son and Choukri accused him of killing the mother too All of Choukri s eight brothers and sisters perished because of hunger maltreatment or neglect As a result Choukri renounced his father and decided to sever all ties with the past He left for Tangier where he worked in various menial jobs and spent his time in the alleyways and brothels of Tangier the city was teeming at the time ...

Article

Christopher Williams

scholar and activist, was born John Henry Clark in Union Springs, Alabama, the first of five children to John Clark and Willella (Willie) Mays, sharecroppers. Later Clarke changed the spelling of his name, dropping the “y” in Henry and replacing it with “ik” after the Norwegian playwright, Henrik Ibsen. He also added an “e” at the end of Clarke.

Clarke s great grandmother Mary who lived to be 108 inspired him to study history The young Clarke sat on her lap listening to stories and it was through her he later said that he first became aware of the word Africa Clarke grew up in the Baptist church and wanted to satisfy his intellectual curiosity regarding the Bible and its relationship to African people Like a detective he searched the Bible looking for an image of God that looked like him His dissatisfaction with what he found later ...

Article

Sola Olorunyomi

Nigerian writer in the Yoruba language, was born Daniel Olorunfemi Fagunwa at Oke-Igbo, Western Nigeria (present-day Ondo State), to Joshua Akintunde and Rachael Osunyomi Fagunwa. Originally followers of traditional Yoruba religion, the Fagunwas converted to Christianity, and this abiding influence, most probably, led D. O. Fagunwa to change his middle name from “Orowole” (“the Oro cult enters the house”) to “Olorunfemi” (“God loves me”). Fagunwa received his primary school education at St. Luke’s School, Oke-Igbo (1916–1924), after which he taught in the same school for a year, as a pupil-teacher. Subsequently, he went on for further studies from 1926 to 1929, trained as a teacher at St. Andrew’s College, Oyo, and on completion obtained his first posting, to St. Andrew’s Practicing School, Oyo, where he worked between 1930 and 1939.

In 1936 Fagunwa submitted for competition a manuscript entitled Ogbójú Ode Nínú Igbó Irúnmalè The ...

Article

Kimani Njogu

Kenyan writer, publisher, political activist, and supporter of writing in indigenous languages, epitomizes the history of struggle against oppression in Kenya. As a young man, he started engaging the British at Alliance High School, and was subsequently expelled. Later in his life, he was very active in generating, publishing, and distributing popular anticolonial songs. Some of those songs featured prominently in the trial of Jomo Kenyatta at the Kapenguria courts. In 1940 during World War II, he joined the colonial army as a clerical officer, and on returning to Kenya in 1946, he teamed up with friends to found African Book Writers Ltd. He published Uhoro wa Ugurani (On Marriage), a fictional work on how returning soldiers were reshaping the institution of marriage, because they had more money than those who had remained behind. In 1948 he published a political booklet written in Kiswahili, Roho ya Kiume na Bidii ...

Article

David Dabydeen

African‐CaribbeanBritish teacher, writer, and novelist. Born in Springlands, Berbice, British Guiana (now Guyana). She trained as a teacher in Georgetown and moved to England in 1951. Once in England, she became friends with other Caribbean migrant writers such as E. R. Brathwaite and Andrew Salkey. Her initial experiences in England were education‐related. In 1968 she became deputy head of Beckford primary school, and later its head. She was London's first black headteacher. Her experiences as a teacher are recorded in her 1976 publication Black Teacher. Gilroy joined London University's Institute of Education as well as the Inner London Education Authority's Centre for Multicultural Education. She was involved in educating and aiding immigrant children and children with birth defects. Apart from teaching, she also obtained a doctorate in counselling psychology. She began writing fiction in the 1980s and her first novel, Frangipani House ...

Article

Jennifer Curry

New Yorker columnist and author of popular nonfiction, was born in Fareham, England, the youngest of three sons born to Graham M. L. Gladwell, a British mathematician, and Joyce (Nation) Gladwell, a Jamaican-born family therapist. His parents met while attending university in England in the 1950s; during that time interracial couples were not common, and Joyce Gladwell later wrote of the couple's struggle for acceptance, as well as of her own experiences growing up a “brown face” in Jamaica, in her book Brown Face, Big Master, which was published in 1969. That same year the Gladwell family relocated to Elmira, Canada, which is just outside Toronto, after Graham Gladwell—who has authored numerous mathematical texts—accepted a teaching position at the University of Waterloo.

In “Black Like Them,” a 1996 article written for the New Yorker Gladwell described Elmira as a close knit sleepy town in which ...