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Geoffrey Roper

Russian-Swiss writer and traveler in North Africa, was born in Geneva on 17 February 1877, the illegitimate daughter of Aleksander Trofimovskiĭ, a Russian ex-priest, anarchist, and horticulturalist, and Madame de Moerder (née Eberhardt), a general’s wife. She was educated mainly by her father, who taught her several languages, including Arabic. Among other things, she read the Qurʾan with him and subsequently acquired a love of classical Arabic and Islam. She later claimed to have been born and brought up a Muslim, but this, like much else in her account of herself, was a fantasy.

In her youth, inspired by the novels of Pierre Loti, she dreamed of escaping to an exotic Muslim environment. The deserts of North Africa especially attracted her, and in 1896 she entered into correspondence with Eugène Latord a French officer in southeast Algeria who fed her imagination with accounts of life there At this ...

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Marian Aguiar

In a 1965 interview, Nadine Gordimer assessed her political consciousness with a self-scrutiny that characterized much of her political writing: “I have come to the abstractions of politics through the flesh and blood of individual behavior. I didn’t know what politics was about until I saw it all happening to people.” In her novels and short stories, Gordimer has captured the “flesh and blood of individual behavior” in minute and sentient detail, chronicling daily life in South Africa under Apartheid and portraying the human face of resistance.

Gordimer grew up in a small gold mining town near Johannesburg South Africa the daughter of a Lithuanian Jewish father and an English mother Although she read voraciously as a child she was removed from school at age ten because of a perceived heart ailment and had little formal schooling Trailing her mother to afternoon teas the lively Gordimer spent her time observing ...

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Stephen Clingman

South African novelist, short story writer, essayist, and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, was born on 20 November 1923 in the small gold mining town of Springs east of Johannesburg Both her parents were Jewish immigrants her father Isidore was a watchmaker and jeweler from the Lithuanian Latvian border her mother Nan came from England Her father with his foreign accent and ways was disparaged in the family he also absorbed the dominant racial models of the time while her mother took more readily to anglicized colonial mores Gordimer grew up in a nonreligious environment though she attended a convent school for the sake of its superior education Early on she was a dancer and sometimes a truant exploring the physical possibilities of veld and mine dumps with innate energy and relish At the age of eleven however her mother withdrew her from school on the putative ...

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Godwin Siundu

Much of Nadine Gordimer’s writing has been inspired by apartheid, once a political ideology and practice in her native South Africa. Apartheid as a system of social engineering was blatant in its exploitation of race as a basis of segregation and oppression, often grading people on the basis of their supposed intelligence or lack of it, borne solely out of their racial belonging. The struggles to implement this system by the Afrikaner political elite and the persistent attempts at resisting and subverting this system are what dominate the themes and style of Nadine Gordimer’s writings.

Nadine Gordimer was born to Isidore and Nan Gordimer 20 November 1923 in Springs, South Africa. She was schooled at the Convent of Our Lady of Mercy and studied for a year at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. Among her earliest writings are Face to Face a collection of short stories that was ...

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Jeremy Rich

Togolese writer and traveler, was born in the southern coastal town of Anecho, located 70 kilometers (44 miles) from the Togolese capital of Lomé. His father, a member of the Ouatchi ethnic community who followed indigenous spiritual traditions, was married to a number of wives. Kpomassie had over twenty siblings and half-siblings. Although his father was a bokonon priest who claimed he could heal, he had trouble accomplishing miracles and eventually promised his son to a priestess for training in return for help. Angry with his father and uninterested in working with the priestess, Kpomassie started to explore other options. He did not have many to choose from. In comparison to other internationally known Togolese writers, Kpomassie had a far more limited formal education. He only attended six years of primary school. In 1957 Kpomassie stumbled on a book about Inuit communities in Greenland The relative freedom of young ...

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Jennifer Keegan

French-Mauritian writer and Nobel Prize winner, was born on 13 April 1940 in Nice, France, to Raoul and Simone Le Clézio. His father, a native Mauritian of French descent, was a medical officer in British Guyana and then Nigeria. Le Clézio’s mother went to Nice to visit her parents at the start of World War II; Le Clézio lived in Nice until he was seven. As a child, Le Clézio read voraciously in his grandparents’ library, devouring dictionaries and encyclopedias, as well as classics of English, Spanish, and French literature. He began writing at the age of seven, while on the boat to see his father in Nigeria. After spending two years in Nigeria, Le Clézio returned to Nice in 1950.

Le Clézio s childhood experiences of war and colonialism were to exert a lasting influence on his imagination and writing He would remember living in occupied France during ...

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Kurt J. Werthmuller

renowned Egyptian author and Nobel laureate for literature in 1988, was born on 11 December 1911 to a middle-class, conservative Muslim family in the Gamiliyya quarter of Old Cairo. He was named for the pioneering Coptic obstetrician Naguib Mikhail Mahfouz, who conducted his mother’s difficult delivery; and he spent the first twelve years of his life with his parents and six siblings in al-Gamiliyya, a traditional hara neighborhood alley in which rich poor and middle class alike resided and rubbed shoulders on a daily basis Among his family Mahfouz s father was stern but gentle natured and while his mother fulfilled her conservative roles she also led a relatively free daily life and often toted along the young Mahfouz on excursions to explore historical sites around Cairo It was their traditional neighborhood which provided the setting and template and colorful characters for many of his most famous and ...

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Leyla Keough

On presenting the Nobel Prize for Literature to Naguib Mahfouz in 1988, the Swedish Academy of Letters announced, “Through works rich in nuance—now clear-sightedly realistic, now evocatively ambiguous—[Mahfouz] has formed an Arabian narrative art that applies to all mankind.” The academy stated that Mahfouz’s body of writing “speaks to us all” by addressing universal themes such as injustice, the desire for freedom, and the place of the individual in society.

Critics have described Mahfouz’s literary career as a journey through the history of the European novel. For over four decades he wrote approximately one book a year. Scholars claim his early works resemble the romanticism of Victor Hugo. Mahfouz fully admits the influence of Sir Walter Scott in Radubi (1943), in which he uses the history of ancient Pharaonic Egypt as an allegory for the later British occupation. His best-known work, the three-volume Cairo Trilogy (1956–1957 ...

Article

Joshunda Sanders

short story writer and essayist, was born in Savannah, Georgia, to James Allen McPherson, a master electrician, and Mable Smalls McPherson, a domestic servant.

McPherson grew up attending segregated public schools and sometimes played hooky from school to read at the “colored” branch of the local Carnegie library. As a teenager, he worked as a dining car waiter on passenger trains—an exclusively African American profession that figures prominently in some of his work. “The well-known short story, ‘A Solo Song: For Doc’ (from his first collection, 1969's Hue and Cry), for example, is a character study of two railroad waiters of different generations. McPherson continued to work on the trains of the Great Northern Railroad while attending Morris Brown College, a private, predominately African American institution in Georgia” (in “James Alan McPherson,” Contemporary Black Biography, no. 70 [2009 He was able to ...

Article

Jon Wallace

and winner of the Pulitzer Prize in fiction for Elbow Room (1978). James Alan McPherson was born in Savannah, Georgia, son of James Allen and Mable (Smalls) McPherson. He attended Morgan State University (1963–1964), Morris Brown College (BA, 1965), Harvard University (LLB, 1968), and the University of Iowa (MFA, 1969). He has taught English at the University of Iowa Law School (1968–1969), the University of California, Santa Cruz (1969–1970), Morgan State University (1975–1976), the University of Virginia (1976–1981), and the University of Iowa Writer's Workshop (1981—).

McPherson published his first book of short stories, Hue and Cry (1969 shortly after graduating from Harvard Law School which may explain his lawyerly approach to storytelling Like a good counsel he knows how to make the strongest rhetorical case for each of his ...

Article

Kimberly Burnett

writer and editor. Born Chloe Anthony Wofford in 1931, Toni Morrison grew up in Lorain, Ohio, and had an older sister and two younger brothers. Her parents, George and Ramah Wofford, who had migrated to the steel-mill town from the South, provided Morrison with a background in African American folklore as well as an understanding of the importance of maintaining black community. After graduating from high school, Morrison left Lorain in 1949 to attend Howard University, a historically black university in Washington, D.C.; during her time as an undergraduate, Morrison had the opportunity to travel throughout the South with the Howard University Players. After changing her first name to Toni, Morrison graduated from Howard in 1953 with a BA in English and a minor in classics. By 1955 Morrison had completed her MA degree at Cornell University and begun teaching at Texas Southern University Two years ...

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Furaha D. Norton

In her bestselling novels as well as her nonfiction Toni Morrison has created a sweeping panorama of the diasporic black experience in America In novels whose settings range from the American rural South and the industrial and urban North to the western frontier and which cover historical periods from the colonial era through the contemporary period she has used African American history myth and folklore as well as sharp insight into human behavior and motivation to create stories and characters that establish the black experience in America as one of tremendous nuance and complexity In her often fragmented nonlinear narratives the specters of slavery and ongoing racial oppression and inequality are ever present along with astonishing resilience and humanity Morrison s work has inspired an entire generation of students and scholars and has changed how readers understand race and history in literature the postmodern novel and how writers use folklore ...

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Kristine A. Yohe

If Toni Morrison were to draw a map of her journeys of personal and creative exploration the result would show many overlapping trajectories Although Morrison has lived most of her life in the Northeast and Midwest her parents origins in the South particularly Georgia and Alabama have deeply influenced her cultural awareness After growing up in Lorain Ohio Morrison attended college in Washington D C had an extended stay in the Caribbean her former husband s home did graduate work and editing in upstate New York taught for a time in Houston Texas and even traveled to Stockholm Sweden to receive the Nobel Prize yet she has lived in New York City or its vicinity for the bulk of her adult life Likewise her literary works span the country and even the hemisphere the settings frequently drawn from her own experiences in the Midwest the South the Caribbean Florida New ...

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Nellie Y. McKay

Toni Morrison's many achievements include a Nobel Prize for literature in 1993, a Pulitzer Prize (1987), and the National Book Critics Circle and American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Awards (1977). Born and raised in Lorain, Ohio, Morrison was christened Chloe Anthony Wofford, a name she later changed. She studied English at Howard University (B.A., 1953) and Cornell University (M.A., 1955). She taught briefly at Texas Southern and Howard Universities, edited textbooks, and in 1968, with two sons from a short-lived, late-1950s marriage, moved to New York City as a senior editor at Random House, where she promoted the careers of several now well-known black writers. From 1971 to 1988 Morrison taught at the State University of New York at Albany then became Robert F Goheen Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University By the late 1990s she had ...

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Lisa Clayton Robinson

I'm interested in how men are educated, how women relate to each other, how we are able to love, how we balance political and personal forces, who survives in certain situations and who doesn't and, specifically, how these and other universal issues relate to African Americans. The search for love and identity runs through most everything I write.

In this comment from a 1992 interview Toni Morrison gives one description of the complex range of issues she explores in her work Morrison is widely recognized as one of the most influential American writers and her novels are taught in literature history women s studies and African American studies courses across the United States and around the world She has received numerous honorary degrees prizes and awards including the Nobel Prize in Literature Above all Morrison is known for her rich lyrical prose which fuses the rhythms and imagery of ...

Article

Valerie Smith

novelist and Nobel laureate, was born Chloe Ardelia Wofford in Lorain, Ohio, a poor, ethnically diverse steel town. She was the second of four children of George Wofford, who worked, variously, as a welder in a steel mill and as a road construction and shipyard worker, and Ella Ramah Willis. Both of Morrison's parents had migrated north, seeking better opportunities and to escape racial and economic oppression in the South. Her maternal grandparents had come to Ohio from Alabama and Kentucky; her father was originally from Georgia. Like many African American migrants, her family eventually realized that the North was not free of racism and poverty. Yet Morrison's childhood in Lorain taught her to value a community in which people shared the limited resources available to them. She also learned to appreciate the value of storytelling at an early age.

Morrison converted to Catholicism when she was ...

Article

From “Quiet as it's kept,” the phrase that begins the narrative of The Bluest Eye(1970), her first novel, to “Look where your hands are. Now,” the final phrase of Jazz (1992), her sixth novel, Toni Morrison has distinguished herself as an author, editor, and critic who has transformed the American literary landscape with her presence in the African American literary tradition. When she won the 1993 Nobel Prize in Literature, the Swedish Academy referred to her as one “who, in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality.” Indeed, in her Nobel lecture, delivered on 7 December 1993 in Stockholm she eloquently demonstrated that the visionary force and poetic import of her novels reflect her worldview and understanding of how language shapes human reality Through her own use of the spoken and written word she ...

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Carolyn C. Denard

Born Chloe Anthony Wofford in Lorain, Ohio a steel mill town on the shore of Lake Erie Morrison was the second of four children Her father was a welder in the steel mills and her mother was a homemaker Morrison s parents and maternal grandparents migrated to Lorain from the South in the early 1900s Her maternal grandparents were sharecroppers in Greenville Alabama who had lost their land in the late 1890s and were never able to get out of debt Her father s family had been sharecroppers in Cartersville Georgia and his painful memoirs of racial strife left him with a bitter attitude toward whites Morrison was thus brought up with a strong distrust of whites and an understanding that the only tangible or emotional aid on which she could depend would come from her own community Group loyalty was among the earliest values she was taught as ...

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Shelle Sumners

Suzan-Lori Parks is one of a small handful of African American women, among them Lorraine Hansberry and Ntozake Shange, who have achieved professional success as playwrights in American theater. She was born in Fort Knox, Kentucky, but because her father was a colonel in the U.S. Army, she lived in several states and attended junior high school in Germany. Parks began writing at an early age, with little thought to becoming a playwright. During her undergraduate studies at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts, Parks took a creative writing class taught by African American novelist James Baldwin She read her character laden stories aloud in his class with a theatricality that prompted Baldwin to suggest that she try writing for the theater In describing her creative potential he called Parks an utterly astounding and beautiful creature who may become one of the most valuable artists of ...

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Harry Elam

playwright, was born at Fort Knox, Kentucky, to Francis McMillan, an educator, and Donald Parks, an army officer and, later, professor. From her parents Parks gained cultural exposure, a love for literature, and an understanding of the value in education. Her ability as a writer surfaced early on, and she began writing stories at age five. With her father in the army, Parks spent her childhood years in a variety of different locales, including six American states and West Germany. Rather than the traditional American schools attended by the children of most servicemen, Parks attended a German high school.

Parks then entered Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts, graduating cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa in 1985 with a BA in English and German. While at Mount Holyoke, she studied creative writing with the celebrated writer James Baldwin Impressed with her ability as well as ...