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Evan Mwangi

Caribbean poet, historian, dramatist, and cultural theorist, was born Lawson Edward Brathwaite to Hilton Brathwaite, a warehouse clerk, and Beryl Gill on 11 May 1930 in Bridgetown, the capital of Barbados. He was later given the name “Kamau,” a common name in central Kenya, by the writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s mother, when Brathwaite visited Kenya as a guest of the University of Nairobi in the 1970s. For his early education, Braithwaite attended the Harrison College, an elite school in Barbados, beginning in 1945. He started writing poetry at an early age, publishing some of it in the school magazine, The Harrisonian, which he cofounded, and later in the audacious magazine Bim, edited by Frank Collymore, an eminent man of letters in the British Caribbean. Some of this early poetry was later collected in Brathwaite’s Other Exiles (1975).

In 1949 Brathwaite won the Barbados Scholarship to attend ...

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Lisa Clayton Robinson

Many critics in the English-speaking Caribbean consider Edward Kamau Brathwaite the most important West Indian poet. Although Brathwaite is also a scholar and educator, he is best known for his poetry, which makes use of West Indian dialect and asks questions about roots and inheritance, matters of concern to Africans across the diaspora. (As Brathwaite puts it in one well-known line, “where is the nigger's home?”) Ghanaian author Kofi Awoonor has called Brathwaite “a poet of the total African consciousness.”

Brathwaite was born Lawson Edward Brathwaite in Bridgetown, Barbados, in 1930. He attended Harrison College, where he published his earliest work in the school paper that he and several friends cofounded. In 1949 Brathwaite won the prestigious Barbados Island Scholarship to Cambridge University in England, where he received a B.A. degree in history in 1953 and a certificate in education in 1955.

While at Cambridge Brathwaite published ...

Article

Adebe DeRango-Adem

was born Barbara Theresa Christian in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, one of six children of Alphonso Christian, a judge, and Ruth (maiden name unknown).

Christian was admitted to Marquette University in Wisconsin at the age of fifteen, graduating cum laude with a B.A. in 1963. She chose to continue studying literature at Columbia University in New York City, in part because of its proximity to Harlem and resonance with the legacy of the Harlem Renaissance writers, who were still largely foreign to the American literary canon during her term of study. Harlem was also a fertile center for political activism in the 1960s civil rights era and central to the creation of a new black intellectual elite whose activities centered around the bookstore run by Lewis Micheaux, brother of black filmmaker Oscar Micheaux. Christian was also said to have met Langston Hughes personal secretary in ...

Article

Kaavonia Hinton

poet, critic, and teacher, was born James Andrew Emanuel in Alliance, Nebraska, the fifth of seven children of Cora Ann Mance and Alfred A. Emanuel, a farmer and railroad worker. Emanuel's early years were spent listening to his mother read the Bible, the poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar, the Saturday Evening Post, and Booker T. Washington's Up from Slavery. An avid reader, Emanuel borrowed Western, adventure, and mystery stories from the public library. He also memorized contemporary poems. By junior high school he was writing his own detective stories and poetry. During his young adult years he worked various jobs—elevator operator, baling machine operator, and weighmaster—before being named the class valedictorian and graduating from high school in 1939.

By age twenty Emanuel was working in Washington, D.C., as the confidential secretary to Gen. Benjamin O. Davis assistant inspector general of ...

Article

educator, literary and cultural critic, and leading scholar in African and African American studies, was born Louis Smith Gates in Keyser, West Virginia. Gates, nicknamed “Skip” by his mother at birth, grew up in nearby Piedmont, the son of Henry Louis Gates Sr., a mill worker and janitor, and Pauline Coleman Gates, a homemaker and seamstress. Born four years before the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education and encouraged by his parents, he excelled in Piedmont's integrated schools, including the Davis Free School and Piedmont High School, as did his older brother Paul, known as “Rocky,” who would become Chief of Oral Surgery at Bronx Lebanon Hospital.

At age fourteen Gates experienced two cataclysmic events in his young life the first a misdiagnosed slipped epithesis a hip injury that led to three surgeries in a year and the second his joining the Episcopal ...

Article

Tomeiko Ashford Carter

literary critic and Black Arts proponent, was born in Newport News, Virginia, the son of Addison Gayle Sr., a Communist Party spokesperson, and Carrie (Holloman) Gayle. Gayle was born during the Depression, and his parents divorced early in his life. Despite his mother's well-paying job at a nearby military base during World War II, Gayle and his immediate family remained well acquainted with poverty. He grew up in a black enclave and rarely saw whites. Still, he envied the apparent success that he believed all whites had.

In his autobiography Wayward Child: A Personal Odyssey, Gayle maintains that he was penalized by many of his high school teachers for being racially unmixed, poor, and seemingly arrogant. They despised him because he excelled on state exams and because he boasted about reading works by the Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky and the African American writer Richard Wright Gayle ...

Article

Bobby Donaldson

One of the chief advocates of the Black Aesthetic, Addison Gayle, Jr., was born in Newport News, Virginia, on 2 June 1932. Inspired by the growing example of Richard Wright, young Gayle became a fastidious reader and hoped that a writing career would enable him to over come the strictures of poverty and racism. By the time he graduated from high school in 1950, Gayle had completed a three-hundred-page novel.

Unable to attend college or secure profitable employment, Gayle joined the air force. During his short stint, he wrote copious drafts of his novel, short stories, and poetry and submitted them for publication. After an honorable discharge and several rejection letters from publishers, Gayle reluctantly returned to Virginia.

In 1960, Gayle enrolled in the City College of New York and received his BA in 1965. The following year he earned an MA in English ...

Article

Adam W. Green

writer and educator, was born in Demopolis, Alabama, to Henry Haskins, a funeral business worker, and Julia Brown Haskins a homemaker With the South still deeply segregated and blacks unable to use the public libraries Haskins relied on his mother to buy solo volumes of an encyclopedia from the local supermarket to sate his literary appetite before a white friend of his mother s started to check out books from the library on his behalf He attended a segregated elementary school in Demopolis and though he credited the love of his family and friends for his future humanitarianism Haskins later recalled that Alabama in the forties was a terrible place For the most part it seemed to me my childhood was a constant series of being told where to go and what to do in order to not aggravate the white power structure in Allen Following his ...

Article

Nicole Sealey

intellectual, feminist, educator, cultural critic, social activist, and poet, was born Gloria Jean Watkins in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, to Veodis Watkins, a custodian, and Rosa Bell Watkins, a housekeeper. One of seven children, hooks grew up in a poor family in which poetry was a well-respected art form. On stormy nights the Watkins family would host talent shows in their living room. As a youth, hooks would recite poems by such authors as Langston Hughes and James Weldon Johnson. By the age of ten, hooks was already writing and reading her own work.

Hooks attended Booker T. Washington Elementary, a segregated black school. Her teachers, mostly single black women, nurtured and fostered her young mind. With the integration of public schools in the 1960s, however, black students were bused to white schools. Hooks soon learned that the white teachers at Crispus Attucks ...

Article

Cynthia Hoehler-Fatton

Kenyan scholar, postcolonial theorist, and literary critic, was born in Seme, in central Nyanza Province, Kenya. He attended Ndiru and Ambira primary schools as a child, and the Church Mission Society (CMS) school at Maseno from 1949 to 1952. He studied at Makerere University College in Uganda from 1953 to 1956, where he was awarded the Makerere Arts Research Prize for his essay, “The Place of Folk Tales in the Education of Luo Children.” The historian B. A. Ogot, who was also a student at Makerere at the time, observes that for Owuor, this essay marked “the beginning of a distinguished career during which he made enormous contributions to the study of Luo oral literature” (Ogot, 2001 p 43 Anyumba came of age during the 1950s a period some Luo scholars refer to as the the Luo Renaissance when rising Luo intellectuals and educated citizens were actively ...

Article

Michael Rodriguez

poet, author, and university professor, was born Sterling Dominic Plumpp near Clinton, Mississippi, to Cyrus Hampton, a laborer, and Mary Emmanuel Plumpp. He lived with his grandparents on a sharecropper's cotton plantation until he was fourteen years old, at which time he moved to Jackson following the death of his grandfather The years that followed his time in Clinton were fraught with a constant sense of displacement and relocation both spiritually and physically The harsh early years of the sharecropper s life coupled with an itinerant adolescent home life led the young Plumpp early on to distrust the institutions that he felt were destructive forces to himself and the black community His high school education in Mississippi church schools led him to move away from the black church and to his conversion to Catholicism and he graduated with honors and accepted a full scholarship to ...

Article

Michael Adams

educator, literary critic, and biographer, was born in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, to Jerome Rampersad, a journalist, and Evelyn De Souza Rampersad, a telephone operator at the American naval base. His parents divorced shortly after his birth, and the boy was shuffled between relatives until he began living with his father as a teenager.

Young Rampersad became interested in literature after a neighbor loaned him F. Scott Fitzgerald'sThe Great Gatsby and Thomas Wolfe'sLook Homeward, Angel. Wolfe's novel was a particular revelation, speaking to Rampersad's sense of being a misunderstood outsider in his community. While in high school Rampersad joined the Little Carib Theater workshop of the poet-playwright Derek Walcott, the future Nobel laureate, acting in Shakespearean plays and other productions.

After high school Rampersad did not consider higher education because he could not afford it He continued acting taught high school English geography ...

Article

Gary Ashwill

Taught by Alice Moore Dunbar-Nelson at his Wilmington, Delaware, high school, J. Saunders Redding earned an advanced degree in English at Brown University (1932) and was a professor at various colleges and universities, including More-house, Hampton, and Cornell. In 1949, his stint as a visiting professor at Brown made him the first African American to hold a faculty position at an Ivy League university. He wrote many books and articles on African American culture and other topics, including To Make a Poet Black (1939), a landmark history of African American literature; No Day of Triumph (1942), an autobiographical account of a journey through southern black communities; and Stranger and Alone (1950), a novel, as well as several more general historical and sociological works. He also edited with Arthur P. Davis an important anthology, Cavalcade Negro American Writing from 1760 to the ...

Article

Kimberly Welch

Redding, J. Saunders (13 October 1906–02 March 1988), African-American educator, historian, and literary critic, was born in Wilmington, Delaware, the son of Lewis Alfred Redding, a schoolteacher, and Mary Ann Holmes. As graduates of Howard University, Redding’s parents maintained a modest middle-class environment for their children; his father was secretary of the local Wilmington branch of the NAACP. Redding graduated from high school in 1923 and entered Lincoln University in Pennsylvania that year, with no discernible career ambitions. In 1924 he transferred to Brown University, where he received his bachelor’s degree in 1928.

After graduation Redding became an instructor at Morehouse College in Atlanta where in 1929 he married Esther Elizabeth James The Reddings had two children Redding felt that his liberal political beliefs which his conservative colleagues believed were too radical were a major factor in the Morehouse College administration s decision to fire him in ...

Article

Kimberly Welch

African American educator, historian, and literary critic, was born Jay Saunders Redding in Wilmington, Delaware, the son of Lewis Alfred Redding, a schoolteacher, and Mary Ann Holmes. As graduates of Howard University, Redding's parents maintained a modest middle-class environment for their children; his father was secretary of the local Wilmington branch of the NAACP. Redding graduated from high school in 1923 and entered Lincoln University in Pennsylvania that year, with no discernible career ambitions. In 1924 he transferred to Brown University, where he received his bachelor's degree in 1928.

After graduation Redding became an instructor at Morehouse College in Atlanta, where in 1929 he married Esther Elizabeth James. The Reddings had two children. Redding felt that his liberal political beliefs, which his conservative colleagues believed were “too radical,” were a major factor in the Morehouse College administration's decision to fire him in 1931 ...

Article

Jay Saunders Redding grew up in a middle-class family in Wilmington, Delaware. He received his Ph.B. in 1928 and his M.A. in 1932 from Brown University. Redding taught English at a number of colleges and universities, including Morehouse College (1928–1931), Louisville Municipal College (1934–1936), and Southern University in Louisiana (1936–1938), where he was department chair.

In 1939, Redding published his first book, To Make a Poet Black, in which he trained a critical eye on African American literature and produced a unique study. As a result of this scholarship he received a fellowship from the Rockefeller Foundation to study the life of blacks in the South. The product of his study was the semiautobiographical book No Day of Triumph (1942 After publishing this book Redding gained a reputation as a scholar of and spokesperson for both the accomplishments and tribulations ...

Article

Jennifer Burton

and important figure in the 1960s black arts movement. Eugene Redmond was born 1 December 1937 in St. Louis, Missouri. Orphaned at age nine, he was raised by his grandmother and “neighborhood fathers,” made up of members of the Seventh Day Adventist Church and friends of his older brother. During high school he worked on the newspaper and yearbook, performed in school and church plays, and composed for neighborhood singing groups.

From 1958 to 1961Redmond served as a U.S. Marine in the Far East, acquiring a speaking knowledge of Japanese. He was an associate editor of the East St. Louis Beacon from 1961 to 1962. In 1963 Redmond co-founded a weekly paper in East St. Louis, the Monitor, working at different times as a contributing editor, executive editor, and editorial page editor.

At Southern Illinois University he was the first African American student editor of the university ...

Article

Sibyl Collins Wilson

poet, editor, and educator, was born in St. Louis, Missouri, to John Henry Redmond and Emma Jean Redmond. In 1946, when he was nine years old, Redmond and his siblings were orphaned and left to be raised by his grandmother, Rosa A. Quinn. Active in the Seventh Day Adventist Church (SDA), she created a circle of support for the children consisting of church and community members who acted as male role models. In 1958, he enlisted in military service as a Marine and from 1958 to 1961 served in the Far East, where he learned Japanese. When his tour of duty ended, he returned to his native St. Louis and served as associate editor of the East St. Louis Beacon in 1961 and 1962 before cofounding the Monitor, a weekly East St. Louis paper.

While he was working at the Monitor Redmond attended ...

Article

Christopher Harter

writer, poet, and educator, was born in the Republic of Panama, the son of Herbert Hamilton Thomas, a pharmacist and chemist, and Luzmilda (Gilling) Thomas, a community organizer. Thomas's family emigrated from Panama to New York City in 1948. Having spoken only Spanish until that time, Thomas was teased by other children for his poor English. The trauma of being derided for his lack of language skills led to Thomas's intense interest in learning to read and write English. He has cited his early attempts to master the language as the spark for his interest in poetry. In a 1981 interview, Thomas said, “I had to write the language down before talking” (Rowell, 19).

Thomas attended Queens College, where he earned his BA in 1967 He later did graduate study and worked as a librarian at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn While at ...

Article

Alice Knox Eaton

literary critic, educator, poet, was born Darwin Theodore Troy Turner in Cincinnati, Ohio, to Darwin Romanes Turner, a pharmacist, and Laura Knight, a teacher. His grandfather, Charles H. Turner, was the first African American psychologist. A gifted and precocious student, Turner enrolled in the University of Cincinnati at the age of thirteen. By 1949, when Turner was eighteen, he had received his bachelor's degree with Phi Beta Kappa honors and a master's degree in English and American Drama. That same year, he married Edna Bonner. He taught English at Clark College in Atlanta from 1949 to 1951 and at Morgan State College in Baltimore from 1952 to 1957, while earning his PhD in English from the University of Chicago in-1956. From 1957 to 1970 Turner held teaching and administrative positions at Florida A M North Carolina Agricultural and ...