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Jennifer Burton

and leading innovator in experimental artistic movements of the 1940s through the 1970s. Born 25 February 1926 in Cleveland, Ohio, Russell Atkins began studying piano at age seven with his mother. From childhood, he exhibited talent in painting, drawing, music, and writing. By age thirteen he had won several poetry contests. Atkins published his first poem in 1944 in his high school yearbook. With the support of prominent literary figures, Atkins published his poetry in journals and newspapers, including Experiment (1947–1951) and the New York Times (1951).

Atkins continued his studies of music, performance, and the visual arts through Cleveland College, Cleveland Music School Settlement, Cleveland Institute of Music, Karamu Theatre, and Cleveland School of Art. Musical training is a key to Atkins's poetic style since musical structures are central in his writing.

In 1950 Atkins cofounded what is probably the oldest black-owned literary magazine, Free ...


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 ...


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 ...


Karen R. Bloom

Melba Joyce Boyd was born on 2 April 1950 to John Percy Boyd and Dorothy Winn, since divorced, in Detroit, Michigan. She is married with two children. Boyd received her BA in English from Wayne State University in 1971 and an MA in English from the same institution in 1972. She served as a teacher at Cass Technical High School (1972–1973), an instructor at Wayne County Community College (1972–1982), and assistant editor of the Broadside (1972–1977; 1980–1982). In 1979, Boyd received her doctorate in English from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. She taught at the University of Iowa (1982–1988) and Ohio State University (1988–1989) before becoming the director of Afro-American Studies at the University of Michigan at Flint in 1989 She is currently on the faculty at Wayne State University Among other awards ...


Joan R. Sherman

The son of Lethia (Stark) and James Campbell was born in Pomeroy, Ohio, and graduated from Pomeroy High School in 1884. He taught school in Ohio and participated in Republican politics there. In West Virginia (1890–1894) Campbell served as principal of Langston School (Point Pleasant) and of the newly opened Collegiate Institute (Charleston), an agricultural and mechanical arts school for African American youths. He married Mary Champ, a teacher, in 1891. Moving to Chicago, Campbell joined the staff of the Times-Herald and contributed articles and poems to several periodicals. His promising career was tragically cut short when he died of pneumonia in Pomeroy at age twenty-eight.

Campbell published two poetry collections: Driftings and Gleanings (1887) and Echoes from the Cabin and Elsewhere (1895 the latter contains what some have judged to be the finest group of dialect poems of ...


Carol P. Marsh-Lockett

Pearl Cleage was born in Detroit, Michigan, and was educated at Howard University, Spelman College, and Atlanta University. Early in her life her family encouraged an African American view of the world. Her father, Jaramogi Abebe Azaman (Albert Cleage), founded and developed Black Christian Nationalism. She also came under the direct influence of the political and intellectual ferment of the 1960s and 1970s.

Cleage's writing is highly political, often polemical, with a fierce commitment to the liberation of African Americans, particularly African American women. While she ultimately advocates the healthy solidarity of the African American community, she also broaches the taboo topics of sexism and violence against women in the African American community. She refuses to subordinate discussions of gender to race and sometimes makes the link between the two. Her writings, therefore, both invite political discussion and inspire literary analysis.

Her first books, We Don t Need ...


Michael E. Greene

Charles E. Cobb Jr., was born in Washington, D.C., in 1943. The son of a Methodist minister, he lived in several eastern states before enrolling in the African American program at Howard University in 1961. He left in 1962 to work for five years with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in several southern states, and was involved in the tense struggle for voting rights in Mississippi.

Cobb's first volume of poetry, In the Furrows of the World (1967), illustrated with his own photographs, grew out of his civil rights work and his 1967 visit to Vietnam. The poems were written in lyrical free verse with little capitalization or punctuation, and expressed concern, anger, and hope. Some of the poems, like “Nation,” spoke with quiet eloquence of a time when African Americans would have a proud sense of self and nationhood.

After his SNCC years ...


Alice Knox Eaton

poet, journalist, and activist, was born in Washington, D.C., the oldest of four children of Charles E. Cobb Sr., a Methodist minister, and Martha Kendrick Cobb. His father's ministry kept the family on the move, and they lived in Kentucky, North Carolina, Massachusetts, and other states. Cobb attended Howard University in 1961 and 1962, leaving after his freshman year for Mississippi to organize and register black voters as a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Five years in southern cities with SNCC provided Cobb with a sense of purpose, of “determining and doing a work that is mine … living a life that is mine” (“Whose Society Is This?,” quoted in Williams). In his first volume of poetry, In the Furrows of the World (1967 Cobb chronicles the often violent struggles of the civil rights movement with poems and photos of protests lynchings ...


William C. Fischer

journalist, poet, and clergyman, was born in Chain Lake Settlement, Cass County, Michigan, a colony first settled by fugitive slaves in the 1840s. His parents were James Richard Carruthers (the spelling was later changed by Corrothers), a black soldier in the Union army, and Maggie Churchman, of French and Madagascan descent, who died when Corrothers was born. Corrothers was legally adopted by his paternal grandfather, a pious and respected man of Cherokee and Scotch-Irish origins, who raised young Corrothers in relative poverty. They lived in several roughneck towns along the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, where Corrothers attended school and became aware of racial hostility. When he was just a boy family members introduced him to a rich vein of African American folk tales that he would later draw upon for a number of his dialect sketches.

Working in his teens variously as a sawmill hand hotel menial coachman ...


James Robert Payne

Born in Louisville, Kentucky, son of the poet Joseph Seamon Cotter, Sr., Joseph Seamon Cotter, Jr., in his brief life established himself as an accomplished and innovative voice amid the lively post-World War I American poetry scene. Avoiding the dialect poetic style of his father and of the family friend Paul Laurence Dunbar, the younger Cotter experimented widely with modern free verse and traditional forms before his untimely death from tuberculosis at age twenty-three. Cotter's best-known work is his collection The Band of Gideon (1918), which was followed by the sonnet series “Out of the Shadows” (1920) and “Poems” (1921), the latter two published posthumously in the A.M.E. Zion Quarterly Review.

After graduation from Louisville Central High School in 1911, Cotter enrolled at Fisk University, where he worked on the Fisk Herald a monthly published by the university ...


Luca Prono

radical journalist and poet, was born in Arkansas City, Kansas, to parents about whom little is known except that they separated only a year after his birth. During his childhood Davis became familiar with the horrors of Jim Crow violence. Arkansas City had a contradictory policy on segregation that allowed discrimination against African Americans while, at the same time, tolerating racially integrated schools. Davis attended Arkansas City High School and then Friends University in Wichita. He was also able to receive formal education in journalism, studying at Kansas State Agricultural College (later Kansas State University) from 1924 to 1926 and from 1929 to 1930. During his college years Davis also started writing poetry, which provided him with an alternative way of writing about the social and racial injustices he had seen and faced.

Between his two periods at Kansas State Davis worked in Chicago where he started to ...


John Edgar Tidwell

During the Depression and World War II, Frank Marshall Davis was arguably one of the most distinctive poetic voices confronting W. E. B Du Bois's profound metaphor of African American double consciousness. Complementing a career that produced four collections of poetry was one as a foremost journalist, from 1930 to 1955. Through the “objective” view of a newspaperman and the “subjective” vision of a poet, Davis struggled valiantly to harmonize Du Bois's dilemma of the color line.

Frank Marshall Davis was born on 31 December 1905 in Arkansas City, Kansas,“ … a yawn town fifty miles south of Wichita, five miles north of Oklahoma, and east and west of nowhere worth remembering” (Livin’ the Blues His mention of interracial schools suggested a harmonious small town life the reality however barely concealed deeper racial tensions Housing jobs movie theaters and all facets of life were tacitly divided ...


Alice Knox Eaton

writer, performer, and teacher, was born Barbara Davis in Hampton, Virginia, the youngest of four children of Willie Louise Barbour and Collis H. Davis. Her parents were educators at Hampton University, the traditionally black college once attended by Booker T. Washington. Her mother died in 1955, when Davis was only seven years old. Davis graduated from the Putney School in Vermont in 1966, received her bachelor's degree from Barnard College in 1970, and did graduate work at both Columbia University and the University of Pennsylvania.

By the age of twenty Davis was publishing and performing her poetry. While living in San Francisco in the mid-1970s, she wrote and performed with Ntozake Shange, Jessica Hagedorn and other spoken word artists all members of a group called the Third World Artists Collective During this time she also worked as a reporter for the San Francisco ...


Stephanie C. Palmer

short fiction writer, poet, diarist, journalist, and public speaker. Known mostly for her local-color short stories of New Orleans Creole life and romantic poems in conventional verse forms, Alice Dunbar-Nelson also worked as a teacher, journalist, editor, political campaigner, and clubwoman. Dunbar-Nelson struggled throughout her life with opposing forces: racial uplift expectations about the proper behavior and ambitions for a light-skinned, well-bred woman; the lure of urbanity; and recognition of the inadequacy of current strategies for civil rights. She believed that literary writing should remain separate from race work, but in her journalism, her diary, and some of her fiction and plays, one finds both pathos about being stuck between white and black worlds and frank reflections on the personal and ideological conflicts in the political and social organizations with which she worked.

She was born Alice Moore in 1875 in New Orleans where ...


Lisa Clayton Robinson

Poet Langston Hughes referred to Jessie Redmon Fauset as one of “the three people who midwifed the so-called New Negro literature into being,” a statement that reveals how influential Fauset was as an editor during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and 1930s. Fauset was also the era's most prolific black novelist, publishing four books between 1924 and 1933. In both capacities, Fauset helped shape one of the most important movements in African American literature.

Fauset was born in what is now Lawnside, New Jersey, and grew up in Philadelphia. She hoped to attend Bryn Mawr College, but instead of admitting a black student, Bryn Mawr arranged for Fauset to receive a scholarship to Cornell University. There, Fauset became the first black woman in the country to be elected to Phi Beta Kappa, the academic honorary society. She began corresponding with the noted black intellectual W ...


Carolyn Wedin

educator, editor, and author. Jessie Fauset was born in Snow Hill Center Township, Camden County, New Jersey, to Annie Seamon and Redmon Fauset, an African Methodist Episcopal (AME) minister; she was their seventh child. After the death of Annie Seamon Fauset, Redmon married Bella Huff, a widow with three children, and the couple had three children together. Throughout her life Jessie remained close to her sister Mary Helen (Helen Fauset Lanning), with whom she lived in Harlem during the 1920s and 1930s; to her half brother Arthur Huff Fauset, also a published writer; and to her stepbrother Earl Huff, in whose Philadelphia home she died.

Based on the life depicted in her four novels and on the assumption that she was born in Philadelphia, early critics of Jessie Fauset such as Robert Bone assumed that as “an authentic old Philadelphian” (The Negro ...


Bobby Donaldson

minister, educator, and author, was born in Augusta, Georgia, to David Floyd, a minister, and Sarah Jane Nickson. He attended Augusta's Ware High School, the only publicly funded African American high school in Georgia. Following his graduation in 1886, Floyd enrolled at Atlanta University and received a bachelor's degree in 1891 and a master's degree three years later. Morris Brown College in Atlanta awarded him an honorary doctorate degree in June 1902. While at Atlanta University, Floyd explored his interests in writing and literature and also took courses in printmaking. During the summer months, he earned additional income teaching in the rural schools of Jones and Forsyth counties. Upon graduation, Floyd returned to Augusta and assumed editorship of the Augusta Sentinel newspaper, an organ established by his former Ware High School principal, Richard R. Wright Sr. In 1892 Floyd joined six ...


Wallace Hettle

sailor, poet, Civil War soldier, and newspaper correspondent, first appears in the historical record in 1856 as a nineteen-year-old sailor on a whaling vessel out of New Bedford, Massachusetts. His birthplace is uncertain. His marriage certificate and seaman's papers say he was born in Troy, New York, yet no Gooding family appears in the census records for Troy. In Seneca, New York, a state census in 1850 records the presence of a James Goodin (with no final g who might have been Gooding s father and who probably worked as a rail or canal laborer in upstate New York Whatever Gooding s early background his education whether self directed or formal was exceptional The letters he published during the Civil War reveal his grounding in history and the classics If he did grow up in Troy Gooding received the benefits of membership in a black community ...


Sarah Jane Clarke, one of the first women in the United States to work as a newspaper reporter on a regular basis, was born in Pompey, New York. She was the daughter of the physician Thaddeus C. Clarke and Deborah Baker Clarke. Sarah Jane was a descendant of Jonathan Edwards, the noted theologian and preacher of the Great Awakening. Clarke became an advocate for women's rights, the antislavery movement, and prison reform. Clarke also wrote poetry and several volumes of moralistic children's stories.

Clarke began using the pseudonym Grace Greenwood—the surname being derived from the girls' academy she had attended—in 1844 to publish poems, children's stories, and political essays for the Saturday Evening Post, Harper's Monthly, Ladies' Home Journal, and the New York Times. She was hired as an editorial assistant for Godey's Lady's Book in 1849 but was fired after a year ...


Vanessa Agard-Jones

culinary anthropologist, poet, performing artist, and journalist, was born Verta Mae Smart in Fairfax, South Carolina, the daughter of Frank Smart. She grew up in Monk's Corner, South Carolina, and as a teenager moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where she attended Kensington High School. Grosvenor married twice, first to Robert S. Grosvenor and later to Ellensworth Ausby, and had two children.

Grosvenor's early life in the South Carolina Lowcountry was enormously influential in her later career, grounding her in a cultural milieu that was thoroughly Geechee (or Gullah) in language (her first language was the Creole known as Gullah), in ritual, and perhaps most importantly to her later work, in food. Geechee communities of the American South have retained African linguistic and cultural practices.

At the age of thirty-two, in 1970, Grosvenor published her culinary memoir Vibration Cooking or The Travel Notes of a ...