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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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Julia A. Clancy-Smith

Algerian writer, was the illegitimate daughter of an impoverished, illiterate Berber peasant woman. A Muslim by birth, she converted to Christianity, produced one of the first, if not the first, autobiographies written by an Algerian woman, became a naturalized French citizen, and raised two children who became well-known French literati: Marguerite Taos Amrouche (known as Taos Amrouche), a poet, singer, and novelist, and Jean Amrouche, a writer and poet. But the circumstances of her early life were unpromising at best.

Amrouche was born in a remote village in the rugged mountains of Kabylia in northeastern Algeria in 1882 When the villagers discovered that Fadhma s mother Aïni was pregnant out of wedlock they attempted to kill her as an adulteress as custom cruelly dictated But plucky Aïni placed herself under the protection of the local French colonial magistrate and laid charges against fellow villagers including male family members thus ...

Article

Mary Jane Lupton

autobiographer, poet, educator, playwright, essayist, actor, and director, was born Marguerite Annie Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri, on 4 April 1928. Her pen name derives from having been called “Maya” (“My”) by her brother Bailey and from having being married for nearly three years to Tosh Angelos, a Greek sailor whom she met while she was a salesgirl in a record store. After the marriage to Angelos ended in divorce, she performed as a calypso dancer at The Purple Onion, a San Francisco night club, where she took the stage name that she still uses.

Maya Angelou s mother Vivian Baxter was a blackjack dealer and a nurse her father Bailey Johnson Sr was a doorman a cook and a dietician for the United States Navy Their marriage ended in divorce When Maya was three and Bailey was four the children with name tags on their wrists were sent ...

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Stefanie K. Dunning

Maya Angelou was born Marguerite Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1928. Because her brother Bailey could not say her whole name as a child, Marguerite became Maya. Angelou's life is synonymous with her work; she has published a series of five autobiographies, her most famous being I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1970). In each of these five works, Angelou writes about particular and important parts of her life. Yet not only does each book elucidate periods in Angelou's own life, but these books also paint a picture of the time she is writing about within the black community. Angelou's work demonstrates that the personal is political and that the events that shape and inform an individual life are often related to large political movements and events that affect an entire community.

Long before the publication of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings ...

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Lisa Clayton Robinson

The wit, wisdom, and power of Angelou's work have made her one of the most beloved contemporary American writers. Angelou was born Marguerite Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri. Later she chose a new name for herself by combining her childhood nickname, Maya, with a version of her first husband's last name. Her family moved to California soon after her birth, but her parents divorced when she was three, and she was sent to Stamps, Arkansas, to be raised by her paternal grandmother. When Angelou was seven, her mother's boyfriend raped her. The trauma of this made Angelou unable to speak for five years. During this period she began to read widely.

Angelou returned to California during high school and took drama and dance lessons. As a teenager, she became San Francisco's first female streetcar conductor. She gave birth at age sixteen to her only child, Guy Johnson To ...

Article

Carolyn Wedin

author and performer. Born Marguerite Ann Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri, to Bailey Johnson and Vivian Baxter Johnson, Angelou was given her shortened first name, Maya, by her brother Bailey. She later modified the name of her first husband, Tosh Angelos, to whom she was married from 1952 to 1955, to form her last name. Her parents divorced soon after her birth, and in 1930 she and her brother were sent to Stamps, Arkansas, where they were raised for most of the next ten years by their paternal grandmother, Anne Henderson (or “Momma”). After Angelou's graduation with honors in 1940 from Lafayette County Training School, she and her brother were put on a train for San Francisco, where they were to live with their recently remarried mother. In 1944 the unmarried sixteen-year-old Angelou gave birth to her only child, Clyde Johnson, later Guy Johnson ...

Article

Sholomo B. Levy

writer, poet, and performer, was born Marguerite Annie Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri, the second of two children of Bailey Johnson, a doorman and a naval dietician, and Vivian Baxter Johnson, a card dealer who later became a registered nurse. Her parents called her “Rita,” but her brother, Bailey, who was only a year older, called her “My Sister,” which was eventually contracted to “Maya.” When Maya was three years old, she and Bailey were sent to Stamps, Arkansas, to live with their paternal grandmother, Annie Henderson, whom Maya often referred to as “Mother.”Mrs. Henderson was a strong independent black woman who owned a country store in which Maya lived and worked Maya was a bright student and an avid reader she absorbed the contradictory messages of love emanating from the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church and of hatred revealed in the pervasive mistreatment of ...

Article

Hédi Abdel-Jaouad

Tunisian poet, critic, and essayist, was born in Majel Bel Abbès, near Kassérine, Tunisia, where his father was employed with the railway system. His family originates from Gabes, in southeast Tunisia. Bekri’s mother died when he was ten years old, which affected both his personal and literary journeys. He attended the Lycée of Sfax, where he was active in various literary and artistic circles. At the age of eighteen he published his first poems, in the school’s literary journal. He then attended the University of Tunis, where he majored in French literature. During the turbulent years following May 1967, the university was a hotbed of political activism. Bekri was arrested for his political opinions in 1972 and was sentenced and jailed in 1975. Upon his release in 1976 he left for France and has since resided in Paris where he was granted political asylum Bekri completed a ...

Article

Theresa Leininger-Miller

writer and artist, was born in Giddings, Texas, the daughter of Joshua Robin Bennett and Mayme F. Abernathy, teachers on an Indian reservation. In 1906 the family moved to Washington, D.C., where Gwendolyn's father studied law and her mother worked as a manicurist and hairdresser. When her parents divorced, her mother won custody, but her father kidnapped the seven-year-old Gwendolyn. The two, with Gwendolyn's stepmother, lived in hiding in various towns along the East Coast and in Pennsylvania before finally settling in New York.

At Brooklyn's Girls' High (1918–1921) Bennett participated in the drama and literary societies—the first African American to do so—and won first place in an art contest. She attended fine arts classes at Columbia University (1921) and the Pratt Institute, from which she graduated in 1924 While she was still an undergraduate her poems Nocturne and Heritage were published in ...

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

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

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

Joycelyn K. Moody

Lucille Sayles Clifton was born in Depew, New York, to Samuel L. and Thelma Moore Sayles. Her father worked for the New York steel mills; her mother was a launderer, home-maker, and avocational poet. Although neither parent was formally educated, they provided their large family with an appreciation and an abundance of books, especially those by African Americans. At age sixteen, Lucille entered college early, matriculating as a drama major at Howard University in Washington, D.C. Her Howard associates included such intellectuals as Sterling A. Brown, A. B. Spellman, Chloe Wofford (now Toni Morrison), who later edited her writings for Random House, and Fred Clifton, whom she married in 1958.

After transferring to Fredonia State Teachers College in 1955 Clifton worked as an actor and began to cultivate in poetry the minimalist characteristics that would become her professional signature Like other prominent Black Aesthetic ...

Article

Marilyn Demarest Button

educator, administrator, writer, and activist, was born in Saint Paul, Minnesota, the daughter of Thomas Cornelius Cuthbert and Victoria Means. She attended grammar and secondary school in her hometown and studied at the University of Minnesota before transferring to Boston University, where she completed her BA in 1920.

Following her graduation, Cuthbert moved to Florence, Alabama, and became an English teacher and assistant principal at Burrell Normal School. Promoted to principal in 1925, she began to lead students and faculty in bold new perspectives on gender equality and interracial harmony.

In 1927 Cuthbert left Burrell to become one of the first deans of Talladega College in Talladega, Alabama. In her essay, “The Dean of Women at Work,” published in the Journal of the National Association of College Women (Apr. 1928 she articulated her belief that covert sexism at the administrative level of black colleges limited their ...

Article

John Edgar Tidwell

During the Depression and World War II, Frank Marshall Davis was arguably one of the most distinctive poetic voices confronting W. E. B Du Bois's profound metaphor of African American double consciousness. Complementing a career that produced four collections of poetry was one as a foremost journalist, from 1930 to 1955. Through the “objective” view of a newspaperman and the “subjective” vision of a poet, Davis struggled valiantly to harmonize Du Bois's dilemma of the color line.

Frank Marshall Davis was born on 31 December 1905 in Arkansas City, Kansas,“ … a yawn town fifty miles south of Wichita, five miles north of Oklahoma, and east and west of nowhere worth remembering” (Livin’ the Blues His mention of interracial schools suggested a harmonious small town life the reality however barely concealed deeper racial tensions Housing jobs movie theaters and all facets of life were tacitly divided ...

Article

Kelly Baker Josephs

poet and educator, was born Toinette Webster in Hamtramck, Michigan, the daughter of Benjamin Webster, a mortician, and Antonia Banquet Webster a systems analyst Derricotte was raised as part of the black middle class in Hamtramck a Detroit suburb As her poetry indicates she was conscious of the importance of separating herself from those less fortunate with the veil of respectability to which the black middle class clung As she remembers Most of the people who lived in the neighborhood I grew up in had just escaped the ghettoes of the city and the sense of the absolute vulnerability of the poor was more than a memory it was palpable Derricotte 53 Although her extended family was a rainbow of colors Derricotte s immediate family particularly her matrilineal family was light enough to pass for white which she occasionally did with her grandmother when shopping in downtown ...

Article

Jennifer Drake

writer, was born in Toledo, Ohio. Since the beginning of her career Evans has been reticent about revealing personal information, saying that her work speaks for her. It is known that she attended public schools in Toledo and went to the University of Toledo to study fashion design before taking up writing; it is also known that she is divorced and is the mother of two sons. She has resided for most of her adult life in Indianapolis, Indiana, where she has been actively involved in community organizations including the Fall Creek Parkway YMCA, the Marion County Girls Clubs of America, the Indiana Corrections Code Commission, and the Statewide Committee for Penal Reform.

Two childhood events are significant for Evans. In “My Father's Passage,” an essay published in the groundbreaking anthology that she edited, Black Women Writers (1950–1980) (1984), she credits her father and Langston Hughes ...

Article

Virginia C. Fowler

Nikki Giovanni emerged from the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s to become one of the most widely admired and emulated poets and speakers of her time. Acting on her belief that poetry is “the culture of a people” and that it should, like food, be available to everyone, Giovanni for more than thirty-five years crisscrossed the country to weave her tapestry of poetry and lecture before audiences of every kind.

Nikki Giovanni was born Yolande Cornelia Giovanni Jr. in Knoxville, Tennessee her mother s hometown Just two months after Giovanni was born her parents took the family north to Cincinnati Ohio to find better employment and a freer environment Like many children whose parents were a part of the Great Migration however Giovanni and her sister returned South in the summer staying in Knoxville with their maternal grandparents andabsorbing many of the traditions and values associated with southern ...

Article

Grant Christison

South African writer and politician, was born somewhere within the territory of present-day Namibia. His Zulu sobriquet was “Nongamu”; in Swaziland he was known as “Longamu.” His father, Joseph Grendon (1834–1926), was an Irishman who served the British Army in India (1854–1860) before beginning a career (1860–1878) as trader and big-game hunter in precolonial southwest Africa. Robert’s mother was a Herero woman, known to us only as Maria (d. 1870?). According to a contemporary source, Robert and his elder siblings were “the grandchildren of a great chief in Damaraland” (Anonymous 1876, 40). Maria’s descendants claim that she was a daughter of Maharero (1820?–1890). She died when Robert was a small boy, after which her children were fostered (1870–1872) by Carl Hugo Hahn and his wife, Emma Sarah, at their Otjimbingwe mission station.

By late 1875 the children had been placed in a Cape Town orphanage, but in 1877 ...