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Evan Mwangi

Algerian writer and singer who brought Kabyle folk music of the rural Berber community to international audiences and one of the earliest modern Algerian female novelists, was born Marie-Louise Amrouche in Tunisia to a family of Roman Catholic converts who had fled Algeria to escape persecution. Her mother, Fadhma Amrouche, also a writer and musician, was an early influence. Amrouche adopted the nom de plume Marguerite Taos to underscore the influence of her mother; Marguerite was her mother’s Christian name, which the latter was not allowed to use by the Catholic Church, ostensibly because she had not been baptized properly.

Despite her exile, the family returned to Algeria on prolonged visits, from which Amrouche and her brother Jean Amrouche, a poet, got acquainted with the oral literature of their native Kabyle Berber people. Amrouche obtained her brevet supérieur in Tunis in 1934 and went to France the following year ...

Article

Christina Accomando

William Attaway was born 19 November 1911, in Greenville, Mississippi, to Florence Parry Attaway, a teacher, and William Alexander Attaway, a physician and founder of the National Negro Insurance Association. When he was five, his family moved to Chicago, taking part in the Great Migration that he later chronicled as a novelist. The family moved to protect the children from the corrosive racial attitudes of the South.

Attaway's early interest in literature was sparked by Langston Hughes's poetry and by his sister who encouraged him to write for her theater groups. He attended the University of Illinois until his father's death, when Attaway left school and traveled west. He lived as a vagabond for two years, working a variety of jobs and writing. In 1933 he returned to Chicago and resumed his schooling, graduating in 1936. Attaway's play Carnival (1935 was produced at the ...

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George P. Weick

writer, was born in Greenville, Mississippi, the son of William S. Attaway, a medical doctor, and Florence Parry, a teacher. His family moved to Chicago when Attaway was six years old, following the arc of the Great Migration, that thirty‐year period beginning in the last decade of the nineteenth century during which more than 2 million African Americans left the South for the burgeoning industrial centers of the North. Unlike many of these emigrants, who traded the field for the factory and the sharecropper's shack for the ghetto, the Attaways were professionals at the outset, with high ambitions for themselves and their children in their new homeland.

Attaway attended public schools in Chicago, showing no great interest in his studies until, as a high school student, he encountered the work of Langston Hughes He became from that point on a more serious student and even tried his hand ...

Article

DaMaris B. Hill

storyteller, librarian, and author, was born Augusta Braxton in Baltimore, Maryland, the only child of two educators, Winford J. and Mabel Braxton. Her father later became a wood craftsman, and her mother retired from formal teaching to raise her daughter. Baker skipped at least two grades in elementary school and might have skipped more—she explained later in an interview with Robert V. Williams—if her father hadn't insisted that she be educated among her peers. Baker's maternal grandmother, Augusta Fax Gough, was an integral part of-Baker's childhood and found that the only means of quieting the young Baker was to entertain her through storytelling. These beloved experiences with storytelling would become the catalysts for a career in storytelling and would inspire Baker to write children's literature.

At age sixteen Baker was admitted to the University of Pittsburgh She did well with the academic material despite ...

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Cynthia A. Young

writer, director, producer, was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi. His parents’ names are unknown, but his father is believed to have been in military service at the time, while his mother worked as a nurse's aide. At the age of three, his family moved to the Watts section of Los Angeles, seeking jobs in California's postwar economy. Unfortunately, the end of World War II also meant the end of well-paid wartime jobs, and the Burnetts struggled to find work. Soon after the move, his parents parted, leaving Burnett to be raised by his grandmother.

Burnett's teenage years from 1957 to 1963 overlapped with the civil rights era, which by the early 1970s had profoundly transformed the United States. In Watts and other inner-city ghettos, the struggle to overturn de jure segregation and discrimination promised to address the institutional racism that cut off Watts from the prosperity and progress evident elsewhere ...

Article

The award-winning author of over a dozen plays and novels focusing on the plight of the poor, the role of community, and the struggle of blacks against racism, sexism, and classism, Alice Childress was born in Charleston, South Carolina. She was raised in Harlem, New York, by her grandmother Eliza Campbell, who inspired Childress's early love of art and concern for the poor. Childress attended Public School 81, Julia Ward Howe Elementary School, and Wadleigh High School, which she left after three years.

Childress's playwriting career began in 1943 with her eleven-year association with the American Negro Theatre, where she was instrumental in the organization's development. Childress's plays include Florence (1949), Wine in The Wilderness (1966), and Moms (1987). She was the first black woman to win an Obie Award, for Trouble in Mind (1955 Although best known ...

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Aisha X. L. Francis

activist, actor, and author of plays, essays, screenplays, and fiction. Alice Herndon Childress was born in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1916. When she was five, her parents separated. They sent Childress to Harlem, New York, to live with her maternal grandmother, Eliza Campbell White. From her grandmother, she gained a love of education, books, writing, and theater. Her formal education ended in her second year of high school, when her grandmother died. In the years that followed, Childress explored theater and writing while working multiple jobs. She gave birth to one daughter, Jean R. Childress, in 1935.

In 1941, she began her theatrical career, acting and working behind the scenes with the famed American Negro Theatre (ANT) in Harlem. Her apprenticeship with ANT lasted until 1952. During this time, she performed in numerous productions, including Theodore Brown's Natural Man written ...

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Evan Mwangi

Moroccan novelist, dramatist, and radio commentator and producer, was born on 15 July 1926 in the French Moroccan town of Mazagan (present-day el-Jadida), near Casablanca. His father was a fairly liberal tea merchant who regarded European education as a vestibule to a better Moroccan society. As a young boy Chraïbi received his early education in a local qurʾanic school, but when the family moved to Casablanca a little later, he joined a French school. In 1946 he left for Paris to study chemical engineering, graduating in 1950. However, he abandoned his graduate studies in neuropsychiatry just before receiving his doctorate. He traveled across Europe and to Israel, settling in France with his first wife, Catherine Chraïbi (née Birckel), and their children.

From 1952 Chraïbi devoted himself to literature and journalism, and in 1954 he began writing for the National Radio and Television Broadcasting System Ranging from epics to comedy ...

Article

SaFiya D. Hoskins

playwright, screenwriter, novelist, filmmaker, educator, was born Kathleen Conwell in Jersey City, New Jersey, daughter of Frank and Loretta Conwell. Her father was employed as a mortician prior to being appointed as the principal of a New Jersey school. Conwell attended Skidmore College in Sarasota Springs, New York, where in 1963 she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy and Religion. Upon graduating from college she became active with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee's (SNCC) initiative to advance voter registration in the South, where African Americans had been historically discouraged from voting. Conwell attended graduate school in Paris, France, where in 1966 she earned a Master of Arts degree in French Literature and Cinema through the Middlebury College program at the Sorbonne.

Upon completing her graduate studies in Paris Conwell returned to New York where she had attended college and promptly began working ...

Article

Natasha Baafi

screenwriter, director, producer, and novelist, was born in Long Island City, New York. Although Dash grew up in New York City, she often visited the South Carolina Sea Islands. Her father and his family were raised in the Gullah culture, and Dash ate Gullah cooking and heard the Gullah language spoken among them. She was inspired by her uncle, St. Julian Bennett Dash—a tenor saxophone player who introduced Dash to his Bolex and the camera equipment he used to document his tours with his band—to make films. The young Dash explored the equipment and began to experiment with photography.

Dash's film career got an early start when she enrolled in a film production workshop at the Studio Museum of Harlem in 1968 At first she thought she had enrolled in a course in photojournalism but she soon learned that it was a motion picture workshop She had accidentally ...

Article

Virginia Whatley Smith

W. E. B. Du Bois argued in The Souls of Black Folk (1903) that African Americans possessed a unique “double consciousness” because of their “twin rooted” heritage of being both African and American. For William Demby, this dichotomy of racial and national oppositions became an asset rather than a handicap. Born 25 December 1922 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Demby spent his formative years in a middle-class, multiethnic neighborhood where its three African American families resided harmoniously with first-generation immigrants. Individualism prevailed concomitantly with nationalism so that people felt proudly ethnic, but still American, recalls Demby. He never felt divided because of nationalistic practices of discriminating against blacks.

Demby's parents, however, experienced the color problem that Du Bois predicted would be facing the twentieth century. William Demby and Gertrude Hendricks had been aspiring architectural and medical students to Philadelphia s colleges but were denied entrance They lived during the ...

Article

Jenny Murray

Algerian writer and filmmaker, was born Fatma Zohra Imalhayène in Cherchell, Algeria, on 30 June 1936 to Tahar Imalhayène and Bahia Sahraoui. Her father was a teacher in the French colonial school in Mouzaïaville in the Mitidja region, and her mother was a descendant of the Berkani tribe. Djebar attended the school where her father taught, and from 1946 to 1953 she studied classics and English at the French secondary school in Blida. In October 1953, after passing the Baccalauréat examination, she enrolled in the Lycée Bugeaud in Algiers for the hypokhâgne, the first year of a preparatory course for entrance examinations to the École Normale Supérieure. Djebar moved to Paris in October 1954 to complete Première Supérieure in literature Greek and Latin at the Lycée Fénelon The following year she was offered a place at the prestigious École Normale Supérieure de Sèvres and from May to ...

Article

Klara Szmánko

poet, novelist, film producer, activist, and radio talk show host, was born in Chicago, Illinois. His father, Sam Greenlee Sr., was a chauffeur, and his mother a singer and dancer. Greenlee, who identifies himself as a second-generation immigrant from the Deep South, has claimed that he made up for his “non-education in Chicago ghetto non-schools at three universities: Wisconsin, Chicago and Thessalonikki, Greece” (Afterword, Blues for an African Princess). Greenlee received his BS degree in Political Science from the University of Wisconsin in 1952. He studied at the University of Chicago between 1954 and 1957 and at the University of Thessalonikki for one year (1963–1964 Greenlee professes fluency in Greek Indonesian and Malay and a much more limited knowledge of Arabic French and Italian the languages he mastered while working as a foreign service officer in Iraq Pakistan Indonesia and Greece ...

Article

Kofi Natambu

actor, playwright, screenwriter, director, and novelist, was born William Harrison Gunn in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the only child of William Gunn, a songwriter, musician, comedian, and unpublished poet, and Louise Alexander, an actress, theater director, and community activist. Gunn grew up in a middle-class neighborhood and attended integrated public schools in Philadelphia, graduating from high school in 1952.

After serving two years in the U.S. Navy, Gunn moved to New York City's East Village in 1954, intending to become an actor. At twenty, he won critical acclaim in 1954 for his portrayal of the young boy in the New Theatre Company's revival of Take a Giant Step. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s he continued to appear in plays on and off Broadway, including The Immoralist with James Dean and productions of Antony and Cleopatra and Troilus and Cressida in 1956 and 1957 ...

Article

Justin David Gifford

author, professor of creative writing, actor, television host, and key figure in the black crime fiction movement of the 1960s and 1970s, was born in Newark, New Jersey, the son of Gladys Pruitt Heard, a blues singer, and Nathan E. Heard, a laborer. Heard was raised by his mother and maternal grandmother, and, at the age of fifteen, he dropped out of high school. Heard spent much of the 1950s and 1960s in reform school and then in New Jersey State Prison at Trenton for armed robbery and parole violation.

Like his fellow African American crime writers Chester Himes and Donald Goines, Heard began his literary career while behind bars. It was while he was serving eight years in prison for armed robbery in the early 1960s that Heard began reading the fiction of the Tarzan author Edgar Rice Burroughs and other ...

Article

Jessica Falconi

Angolan poet, storyteller, and political activist who also wrote under the pseudonym “Orlando Távora,” was born in Luanda on 28 September 1924. His father, José Trindade Martins, along with his mother, Maria Cecilia Amaral, were both Portuguese from the Trás-os-Montes region in northern Portugal, who had settled in Angola around 1912, where his father worked as a trader and businessman. His full name was António Jacinto do Amaral Martins.

Jacinto spent his early years in the small settlement of Cambombo and, a little later, in Golungo alto in the province of Cuanza Norte in northern Angola, eventually settling in Luanda with his family. There, he attended the Liceu Salvador Correia, the institution which most Angolan intellectuals attended and which functioned as a cultural gathering place.

There, Jacinto began to dedicate himself to the collection of Angolan oral literature. In 1946 he wrote his first work of fiction ...

Article

Steven R. Carter

Born in Mobile, Alabama, Woodie King, Jr., moved to Detroit with his parents, Woodie and Ruby King, when he was five. From 1955 to 1968 to help out his family, which was supported by his mother's housework, King worked as a model for church fans and calendars. He attended Michigan's Will-O-Way School of the Theatre on scholarship from 1958 to 1962, studying every element of the theater while immersing himself in black literature. In 1959, he married casting agent Willie Mae Washington with whom he would have three children. From 1959 to 1962, King wrote drama criticism for the Detroit Tribune.

Both at Will-O-Way and at Wayne State University and the Detroit School of Arts and Crafts, where he did postgraduate study in theater, King lamented the lack of acting opportunities for blacks and, with Ron Milner cofounded the Concept East Theatre As its manager ...

Article

Christopher Phelps

writer and activist, was the second of two sons born to Reverend W. D. Lester, a Methodist minister, and Julia (Smith) Lester in St. Louis, Missouri. When he was two years old the family moved to Kansas City, Kansas. His father, seeking dignity, invariably wore a suit and tie, teaching his sons that separate “colored” facilities were demeaning and never to be used. The family spent its summers in the South at the rural home of Lester's maternal grandmother in Pine Bluff, Arkansas.

Lester's early precocity manifested itself in his love for reading and a propensity to challenge teachers. A childhood spent deep within the folds of the black community did not shield him from terror and anger. He later wrote that under segregation, “Hope was the name some dreamer bestowed on a daughter, … change was what the white man at the store might give you ...

Article

Teishan Latner

novelist, journalist, playwright, actor, civil rights activist, was born in Greer, South Carolina, the first child of Hudson and Annie Mae Mayfield. While he was still a boy, the family moved to Washington, D.C., where he attended the city's segregated public schools. Mayfield evinced an early interest in drama and literature, avidly reading Ernest Hemingway and Richard Wright, and won awards in his high school drama club. Ironically, given his later distinguished journalism career, Mayfield was denied an entry-level job at the Washington Post shortly after his sixteenth birthday because, a receptionist told him, “we don’t hire any colored copy boys” (Mayfield 1984). Graduating from the city's Dunbar High School in 1946, Mayfield enlisted in the U.S. Army but received a medical discharge a year later. Mayfield instead devoted himself to theater, traveling to New York in 1947 to attend classes including ...

Article

Margaret E. Wright-Cleveland

writer, film producer, and director. Oscar Micheaux was the most prolific African American filmmaker of the twentieth century, having produced thirty-eight films between 1913 and 1948. He also wrote seven novels, including three best sellers. Though Micheaux experienced foreclosures and bankruptcy, ultimately he was financially successful. He worked only for himself, as a homesteader, book publisher, and filmmaker, and marketed his own novels and films broadly. His silent films are more critically respected than his sound films, though his use of light-skinned African American actors and caricature is controversial.

Micheaux was the fifth of eleven children born to the former slaves Bell Willingham Micheaux and Calvin Swan Micheaux in Metropolis, Illinois. He had no formal education beyond high school, working as a Pullman porter before purchasing a relinquished homestead in the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota in 1906 Even though he lost land to ...