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Cherene Sherrard-Johnson

In 1982, Houston Baker wrote “[O]nce I had abandoned my graduate school plans to write definitive critiques of British Victorian literature and turned to black American literature, ‘cultural nationalism’ became the ideologically determined project in my intellectual life.” Thus, Baker began a groundbreaking career that would take him through the cultural nationalism of the Black Arts movement, the post-structuralist and deconstructionist discourse of the 1980s, and black feminist criticism in the 1990s to studies of masculinity, rap, and the Academy. With works like Blues, Ideology, and Afro-American Literature: A Vernacular Theory, Baker shaped black aesthetic discourse, becoming one of the most incisive theorists of African American literature and culture.

Born in 1943, Houston Baker was educated at Howard University (BA in 1965) and the University of California–Los Angeles, where he received his PhD in 1968 He has taught at Cornell Yale Duke ...

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Michael Awkward

In an October 1985Pennsylvania Gazette profile, Houston A. Baker, Jr., speaks of his intellectual journey from graduate studies in late-Victorian literature to the then relatively uncharted field of African American literature as “a great awakening and a conversion experience rolled into one.” Baker's blues journey home has resulted in the field's richest, most consistently probing body of work, and has established him as one of a handful of preeminent scholars of American literature to have emerged in the wake of the civil rights movement struggles of the 1960s.

Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Baker matriculated at Howard University, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and then earned a PhD in English at the University of California at Los Angeles in 1968. After brief stints at Yale University, the site of his conversion, and the University of Virginia, Baker moved to the University of Pennsylvania in 1974 ...

Article

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

Elaine Savory

Kamau Brathwaite, born Edward Lawson in Barbados in 1930, has had a very distinguished career as a poet, historian, and cultural theorist. His historical work contributed greatly to the understanding of creolization as a process and his term “nation language” has been enormously important in the recognition of the wide range of Creole languages in the Caribbean. But he has also been a critical intellectual and creative force in bringing subordinated African cultural elements to the fore in Caribbean culture. His own adoption of an African name is a powerful symbol of his conscious affiliation with Africa.

Although the majority of the population of Barbados is of African descent African thought and culture were only present in subordinated cultural practices after the systematic erasure of ancestral memories of African slaves by the plantation system and British colonial education Educated at Cambridge in history Brathwaite then worked in the ...

Article

Keith Clark

A distinguished writer and teacher, Joanne M. Braxton has published important poetry and criticism while maintaining the significance of historical and communal ties.

Joanne Margaret Braxton was born in Lakeland, Maryland, on 25 May 1950 to Mary Ellen Weems Braxton and Harry McHenry Braxton, Sr. The second of four children, she graduated from Northwestern Senior High School in Hyattsville, Maryland. Braxton found her poetic voice as an undergraduate at Sarah Lawrence College; after graduating, she entered Yale University, where she earned her PhD in American Studies in 1984. Braxton wrote her dissertation on black women's autobiography under the tutelage of scholars Charles Davis and John Blassingame.

Braxton has enjoyed a fruitful publishing career. Sometimes I Think of Maryland (1977), a volume of poetry, reflects the centrality of folkloric and familial traditions; Gwendolyn Brooks hailed it for its economy courage and genuine expression of youthful energy ...

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

Ross Michael Nedervelt

was born in St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands, to Alphonso Christian, a judge, and his wife, Ruth. She was raised in an unconventional family, as her parents held academic learning in high esteem. Her father believed that all six of his children should receive an equal education, regardless of the patriarchal social norms discouraging women from further education. Encouraged by her father, she became an accomplished student and avid reader. Yet, as she read through numerous books, she became quite concerned by the absence of Caribbean and African American women within the stories. At the age of 15, she traveled to the United States for the first time. She enrolled in Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and graduated with her bachelor’s degree in 1963 Her parents pressed her to go on to medical school and become a doctor but Christian decided to pursue her emerging passion for literature and ...

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

Simon Gikandi

Henry Louis Gates Jr. has been the dominant figure in the study of African American literature and culture since the 1980s He has had a long and profound interest in Africa its history culture and institutions Through his writings documentaries and electronic publications he has been central in shaping debates about the continent in the American academy and public culture A prolific writer social commentator and builder of institutions Gates has influenced a range of debates on African and African American life from the meaning of blackness in the cultures of slavery the nature and form of the canon of black letters in the modern period and the relationship between the continent and its diaspora in Europe and the Americas Gates has done more than any other critic in the post civil rights era to bridge the gap between forms of knowledge that are produced in elite and exclusive ...

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Richard Newman

As a staff writer for The New Yorker magazine and a frequent public speaker, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., emerged as a national spokesperson on racial issues in the mid-1990s. He attempted to refocus the nation's public policy debate by emphasizing that both the black middle class and the black underclass had grown considerably since the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. As he stated on “The Two Nations of Black America,” the program he wrote and hosted for Frontline (WGBH-TV, 1998), “The class divide within our community is black America's most urgent social problem.”

Gates was born in Keyser, West Virginia, the son of Pauline Coleman and Henry Louis Gates, Sr. He grew up in Piedmont a small town of about 2 000 people 10 percent of whom were black Gates s father worked as a laborer in the local paper mill and as a ...

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Kenneth W. Warren

Arguably the most influential black literary scholar of the 1980s, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., who earned his PhD at Cambridge University, has been the recipient of a MacArthur Prize Fellowship and the American Book Award. In his early textual scholarship, Gates achieved prominence by establishing Harriet E. Wilson's Our Nig, or Sketches from the Life of a Free Black (1859) as the first novel published in the United States by an African American. At the same time, Gates, along with such other scholars as Robert Stepto and Dexter Fisher, who together coedited Afro-American Literature: The Reconstruction of Instruction (1979), were laying the groundwork for a critical approach to African American literature that sought to focus on its literariness, breaking with, as Gates argued, the social realist preoccupation of critics of previous generations.

Central to Gates s establishment of this intended break was first ...

Article

OluwaTosin Adegbola

critic, writer, educator, documentarian, and commentator. Told by a doctor when he was fourteen years old that his problem was that he was an overachiever, because he was a black boy who wanted to be doctor, Gates has spent a good deal of his lifework trying to dispel doubts about the intellectual capacities of African Americans. He has accomplished this by earning high scholarly achievements and becoming a strong voice for a multicultural approach to education.

Born and raised in West Virginia, Gates graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor's degree in history from Yale University, then attended Clare College, Cambridge, in England on fellowships. There he was mentored by Wole Soyinka a Nigerian playwright and later a Nobel laureate who convinced Gates to study especially African American literature and its lineage from and similarities to the literary traditions of Africa and the Caribbean ...

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

Robert Fikes

Born into a large family in a racially segregated middle-class section of Demopolis, Alabama, where he was not allowed to visit the town's public library, James S. Haskins was deeply affected by the swirl of events related to the mid century civil rights movement He received his bachelor s degree in history at Alabama State College but limited career opportunities in the South in the early 1960s led him to seek employment in New York City Two years of selling newspaper advertisements and working as a Wall Street stockbroker brought him to the realization that he was better suited for a career in education and thus he applied for a position in the New York City public school system After teaching music at several locations he found a job teaching a special education class at P S 92 Obsessed with the plight of his inner city pupils he was ...

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 ...

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Lisa Clayton Robinson

Merle Hodge is one of the best-known Caribbean women writers. She was born and raised in Trinidad, and after graduating from high school in 1962 she received the Trinidad and Tobago Girls' Island Scholarship to study in England. There she received a B.A. degree in French from University College, London, in 1965, and an M.Phil degree in 1967. Her master's thesis was on the poetry of French Guianese Négritude writer Leon Damas, and she later wrote several more scholarly studies of his work.

After graduation Hodge spent several years working as a baby-sitter and a typist as she traveled across Europe, and during her travels she completed her first novel. Crick Crack, Monkey (1970 tells the story of Tee a young girl who is forced to choose between her mother s family and her father s after her mother s death The choice is ...

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 ...