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Baye Yimam

Ethiopian intellectual, novelist, playwright, and poet, was born on 1 July 1933 in Gojjam Province, Ethiopia. He was one of the prominent literary figures in modern Ethiopian literature, the author of some twenty-three books between 1956 and 1977; two are in English and the rest in Amharic, his native language. The works comprise eight novels, five plays, three poetry collections, and another five on various subjects, including translation of biographies and works on land tenure.

His mother Yirgedu Belay died young leaving him to be raised by his father Gubegna Ambaye It was her expressed wish that Abbe should go to school which Ambaye fulfilled by sending him to a church school as was usual He attended different schools in Gojjam and Begemeder for twelve years and attained a high level of excellence in the traditional curriculum which included Geez poetry hymnody and liturgical dance all rooted in the ...

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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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Marian Aguiar

Christina Ama Ata Aidoo was born in Abeadzi Kyiakor, Ghana, into a Fante family she once characterized as “a long line of fighters.” Encouraged by her liberal-minded father, Aidoo pursued an English degree at the University of Ghana in Legon. As a student, she won a short-story prize, but her interests centered on drama as a means of bringing to life the rich oral traditions of the Fante. She worked closely with leading Ghanaian dramatist Efua Sutherland and became familiar with a Fante dramatic style that blossomed in the 1930s.

Aidoo's first play, The Dilemma of a Ghost, was staged in 1964 by the Student s Theatre at the University of Ghana With this play Aidoo earned her lasting reputation as a writer who examines the traditional African roles of wife and mother The play like many of her later works also demonstrated her willingness to grapple ...

Article

Mary Krane Derr

poet, writer, educator, and chiropractor, was born Jewel Christine McLawler in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She was the oldest of six children born to William McLawler, a minister, and Alma Bazel McLawler, a gospel songwriter. During her childhood, Jewel McLawler's elders, especially the religious poet Frances Theresa Smith, her grandmother on her mother's side, encouraged her to cultivate her precocious intelligence. As a preschooler Jewel learned to read, memorize poetry, and excel in math. The Pittsburgh Courier, a leading black newspaper, reported on her rapid progression through school.

At age twelve, Jewel graduated from McCosh Elementary School on Chicago's South Side. At sixteen she finished Englewood High School and married her first husband. She had two children with him: a son, Kim Allan, and a daughter, Marcianna called Marci She returned to school at age thirty two when she found herself ...

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Margaret Ann Reid

Johari Amini, born Jewel Christine McLawler to William and Alma (Bazel) McLawler on 13 January 1935 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, changed her name after her consciousness-raising by Haki R. Madhubuti (then Don L. Lee), whom she met as a thirty-two-year-old freshman at Wilson Junior College. Johari is Swahili for “Jewel,” and Amini is Swahili for “honesty and fidelity.” Amini believes that the meaning of a name becomes an inherent part of the person carrying that name, and she wanted names that would reflect her personality and her values of honesty and fidelity—values that she lived by and that she wanted her writings to convey.

Amini's meeting Madhubuti was the beginning of a long literary and political association which is demonstrated in her poetic style as well as in her social criticism She was a staff member of the Institute of Positive Education and she was assistant then associate editor ...

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Evan Mwangi

Ghanaian novelist, translator, poet, and essayist, was born to an interethnic Fante-speaking couple in the twin harbor city of Sekondi-Takoradi on the coast of western Ghana in 1939. His mother, Esi Bosoma Inse, was Akan, while his father was from the Ewe ethnic group. His name is also given as George Aryee Quaye Armah. His parents, both teachers, divorced after his father, under pressure from his family and clan, decided to take a second wife. Too small to join his father as required by traditions, the young Armah lived with his mother for about two years, accompanying her to the school where she taught and quietly sitting beside her in class. At age five, he was separated from his mother and sent to live with his father in Asankrangwa, a tiny rural town. When his father died in 1947 in a traffic accident Armah s defiant mother took ...

Article

Richard Watts

Jean Louis Baghio’o is the pen name of Jean-Louis Victor, a native of the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, once colonized by France. His novels and poems deal with the complex racial and cultural legacy of French colonialism in the Caribbean.

Unlike the more revolutionary works of his friends and fellow writers Léon-Gontran Damas, Léopold Sédar Senghor, and Jacques Rabemananjara, Baghio’o’s writings explore the lives of the mulatto, or mixed-race, middle class. His most important work, Le Flamboyant à fleurs bleues (The Blue-Flame Tree, 1973 describes four centuries of such a family s life on Guadeloupe focusing on the nineteenth century when the family acquires land and enters into direct rivalry with the white plantation owners who were formerly its masters Baghio o uses this family with its mixture of Africans East Indians Carib Indians and Europeans as a metaphor for the Creoles of Guadeloupe who must fight to ...

Article

Richard A. Bradshaw

poet, short-story writer, and novelist, was born Pierre Makombo Bamboté at Ouadda on the River Pipi in the Haute-Kotto region of the French colony of Ubangi-Shari on 1 April 1932. The most prolific and best-known man of letters from the Central African Republic (CAR), he studied in Central Africa and then in France, where he obtained graduate degrees in international affairs, sociology, and journalism. Soon after returning to the CAR, he was appointed director of information (15 January 1965–11 January 1966), then director of the National Museum Boganda at Bangui. He then joined the foreign service and was appointed chargé d’affaires at the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on 7 March 1970 before moving to Canada, where he taught at Laval University in Quebec. He sought asylum in Canada in 1973 during the rule of President Jean Bedel Bokassa and he still lives there today ...

Article

Billie Gastic

writer, poet, and activist, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Sun Fairchild Beam, a security guard, and Dorothy Saunders Beam, a teacher and school guidance counselor. Beam attended Philadelphia's public schools as well as the St. Joseph School for Boys (Clayton, Delaware), Malvern Preparatory (Paoli, Pennsylvania), and St. Thomas More (Philadelphia). In 1972, while still a teenager, Beam was honored with the Philadelphia School District's Volunteer Service Award. He later attended Franklin College in Franklin, Indiana, where he studied journalism and earned his BA in 1976. As an undergraduate Beam was active in the local Black Student Union and was a member of the Franklin Independent Men. He was also active in college journalism and radio programming and was awarded the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Award for Broadcasting in 1974.

After graduation Beam remained in the Midwest where he pursued a master s degree ...

Article

Peter Hudson

While Louise Bennett was not the first writer to use Jamaican dialect, the facility with which she reproduces it in her writing and performances has marked her as a pioneer. Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Bennett was the daughter of baker Augustus Cornelius Bennett, who died when she was seven years old, and dressmaker Kerene Robinson. Bennett, known as Miss Lou, studied social work and Jamaican folklore at Friends' College, Highgate, Jamaica. In 1945 she received a British Council Scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, England.

Bennett began writing in dialect in the late 1930s, inspired by the language she heard spoken by Jamaicans on the streets of Kingston. Soon after she began writing, she staged public performances of her poems. In 1942 her first collection of poetry, Dialect Verses, was published. Starting in 1943 Bennett contributed a weekly column to ...

Article

Born in a Jamaican village, James Berry worked in America as a teenager but moved to London in 1948. He worked in the International Telegraphs Department of the Post Office from 1951 until 1977, when the award of a C. Day Lewis Fellowship allowed him to write full-time. His work reflects the transcultural insecurity of being “black British,” on the one hand rehabilitating West Indian folklore and dialect, on the other graphically describing the immigrant experience. In Lucy's Letter and Loving (1982), the speaker, Lucy, is an uneducated Jamaican woman, who feels alienated in Britain. Chain of Days (1985) was written, it seems, in the spirit of the younger performance and “dub” poets who followed in Berry's wake, but Berry had long been a powerful reader of his work in its own, generally more restrained terms. Other volumes of his verse include Fractured ...

Article

Ghirmai Negash

avant-garde Eritrean novelist, playwright, and painter-cum-sculptor, was educated in Eritrea, Ethiopia, and at the American University of Beirut, Lebanon, from which he graduated in 1963 with a degree in public administration and political science. Beyene Haile lived in Addis Ababa until Eritrean independence. In 1992, he moved to Asmara, where he worked as a management consultant and trainer while still pursuing his artistic career.

Beyene Haile is the author of three Tigrinya-language novels and a play. His 1965 debut novel, Abiduʾdo Teblewo? Madness differs from conventional Tigrinya writing in at least three fundamental ways First it takes an intellectual and artist as its main character and tells his story with compelling force and narrative skill Wounded by life the central character of the novel a bohemian artist called Mezgebe uses his art to heal his wounds and those of others in a manner that borders on insanity Another ...

Article

Geoffrey Roper

Moroccan Arabic writer, journalist, and diplomat (not to be confused with the francophone writer Abdelmajid Benjelloun, born in 1944), was born in Casablanca. At the age of five months, he was taken by his parents to Manchester, where his father worked as a merchant. He attended primary school there, and became the darling of a small community of immigrants. The loss of both his mother and his sister while he was still young had a profound effect on him, reinforced by his reading of Charles Dickens; the emotional consequences of this loss can be found in his writings.

He returned to Morocco with his father at the age of nine They took up residence in Fez where Bin Jallun received his secondary education and then enrolled in the ancient Islamic university of the Qarawiyin The pervasive atmosphere there was one of traditional Arabic learning and culture and this made a ...

Article

Rei Magosaki

poet and author, was born in Hampton, Virginia, the youngest daughter of Herbert Marshall Birtha, whose occupation is not known, and Jessie (Moore) Birtha, a librarian. She was named after her great‐grandmother, Rebecca Burford, who had been a slave, and was possibly of Irish, Cherokee, and Catawba heritage. When she was three, Birtha's family moved to Salisbury, Maryland, but she mainly grew up in the Germantown section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where the family moved in 1951. Birtha's mother introduced her daughters to the works of major African American writers, but she also grew up with such children's book classics as those written by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Edith Nesbitt, and Edward Eager; her favorite book was A Little Princess (1905) by Frances Hodgson Burnett She took her first creative writing class at the public Philadelphia School for Girls where she won a ...

Article

Charles L. James

Born in Alexandria, Louisiana, the first child of a Roman Catholic bricklayer and a Methodist schoolteacher, Arna Wendell Bontemps grew up in California and graduated from Pacific Union College. After college he accepted a teaching position in Harlem at the height of the Harlem Renaissance, and in 1926 and 1927 won first prizes on three separate occasions in contests with other “New Negro” poets. The same years marked his marriage to Alberta Johnson and the start of a family of six children.

Bontemps's first effort at a novel (Chariot in the Cloud, 1929), a bildungsroman set in southern California, never found a publisher, but by mid-1931, as his teaching position in New York City ended, Harcourt accepted God Sends Sunday (1931 his novel about the rise and notoriety of Little Augie This tiny black jockey of the 1890s whose period of great luck ...

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

Navneet Sethi

poet, anthologist, and librarian during the Harlem Renaissance. Born in Alexandria, Louisiana, from age three Arna Wendell Bontemps grew up in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. After attending public schools there, he attended Pacific Union College in Angwin, California, graduating in 1923.

After college Bontemps, who had already begun writing, moved to New York City and became a teacher in Harlem. Like his contemporary Arthur A. Schomburg, Bontemps excavated the rich cultural heritage of the African American community and won recognition quite early. Opportunity magazine awarded Bontemps its Alexander Pushkin poetry prize twice: in 1926 for the poem “Golgotha Is a Mountain” and in 1927 for “The Return.” Also in 1927 his poem “Nocturne at Bethesda” won The Crisis magazine's first-ever poetry contest. In 1926 he married Alberta Johnson; they had six children.

Bontemps's first published novel for adults, God Sends Sunday (1931 ...

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

Kenny Jackson Williams

Although she was born on 7 June 1917 in Topeka, Kansas—the first child of David and Keziah Brooks—Gwendolyn Brooks is “a Chicagoan.” The family moved to Chicago shortly after her birth, and despite her extensive travels and periods in some of the major universities of the country, she has remained associated with the city's South Side. What her strong family unit lacked in material wealth was made bearable by the wealth of human capital that resulted from warm interpersonal relationships. When she writes about families that—despite their daily adversities—are not dysfunctional, Gwendolyn Brooks writes from an intimate knowledge reinforced by her own life.

Brooks attended Hyde Park High School, the leading white high school in the city, but transferred to the all-black Wendell Phillips, then to the integrated Englewood High School. In 1936 she graduated from Wilson Junior College These four schools gave her a perspective on racial ...

Article

William R. Nash

Gwendolyn Brooks, American poet, novelist, activist, and teacher, stands out for her social engagement, her professional generosity, and her literary accomplishment. In a career that spanned six decades, Brooks concerned herself with portraying the lives of American blacks, especially people hampered by social and economic circumstances. Throughout her corpus, Brooks demonstrates sensitivity to the particulars of black life in America; when tracking the work chronologically, one sees evolving her sense of the black poet's most appropriate response to a racially charged society.

Brooks was born on 17 June 1917 in Topeka, Kansas, to David and Keziah Wims Brooks her parents were residents of Chicago s South Side who had returned home for the birth of their first child They subsequently moved back to Chicago where Brooks lived for most of her life Despite her family s poverty which necessitated both of her parents foregoing career aspirations Brooks grew up ...