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Ariel Bookman

Nigerian novelist, poet, dramatist, educator, and political activist, was born Christopher Uchechukwu Andrew Abani, on 27 December 1966, in Afikpo, Nigeria. Abani’s life has been dramatically shaped but not defined by the political violence associated with the Nigerian state. Born in the Igbo heartland of southeast Nigeria to an Igbo father and British mother, Abani was six months old when the Biafran War began. His mother fled to Britain with him and his siblings, an experience that he would later narrate in poetic form in Daphne’s Lot (2003). Returning to Nigeria after the war, Abani demonstrated precocious literary talent, publishing his first short story at age ten and finishing his first novel, Masters of the Board (1984), at sixteen. The novel, a political thriller, imagines a Nazi plot to return to power by using unwitting Third World governments as its pawns.

Abani was arrested in ...

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Mary T. Henry

bishop, civil rights leader, and educator, was born in Columbia, South Carolina, to Rev. Eugene Avery Adams and Charity Nash Adams. He and his three siblings, Avery, Charity, and Lucy Rose, were raised in a spiritual and intellectually stimulating home. His father, an African Methodist Episcopal (AME) minister and social activist, in the 1920s organized the first African American bank in Columbia and the first modern statewide civil rights organization in South Carolina. None of these activities went unnoticed by young John and they helped to define his later focus and commitments. Adams was educated in the segregated Columbia school system and graduated from Booker T. Washington High School. His undergraduate work was completed at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he earned an AB degree in History in 1947 After studying at Boston University School of Theology he received a bachelor of ...

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Malin Pereira

poet,‐educator, and cultural critic, was born in Harlem, New York, to Clifford Leopold Alexander Jr., a lawyer, political adviser, and business consultant, and Adele (Logan) Alexander, a historian, educator, and writer, and was raised in Washington, D.C. Alexander's childhood was characterized by the privileges of the black professional elite, which included travel, education, and involvement in the ongoing struggle for civil rights. She later described her father as a “race man” who worked to make things better for blacks. He was, according to one of her poems, Hajj Bahiyah “Betty” Shabazz's lawyer. Her mother published on African American history. Alexander's poems and essays about her childhood describe loving parents, a connected extended family, and the creation of an enduring sense of racial affiliation.

Alexander received her BA from Yale in 1984, an MA from Boston University in 1987 and a PhD from the University ...

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Miguel Algarín was born in Santurce, Puerto Rico. His family emigrated from Puerto Rico to the Lower East Side of Manhattan, New York, when he was nine years old. The Lower East Side's Latin urban landscape served as the foundation for his literary career. Algarín obtained his B.A. in romance languages from the University of Wisconsin in 1963 and his M.A. in English literature from Pennsylvania State University in 1965. He completed his doctoral studies in comparative literature at Rutgers University. He served as an instructor at Brooklyn College and New York University before becoming an assistant professor and chair of the Puerto Rican Studies department at Rutgers University. He is currently a professor emeritus at Rutgers.

While Algarín is a popular educator he is best known as one of the most active authors in the Puerto Rican poetic movement that flourished in New York City in the ...

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Mary Hughes Brookhart

Born in Columbus, Ohio, Samuel Allen (also known as Paul Vesey) studied creative writing under James Weldon Johnson at Fisk where he graduated magna cum laude in 1938. He received his JD from Harvard in 1941. Until 1968 when he formally left law for literature, he was active in both fields.

He was drafted into the U.S. Armed Services in 1942 and served as an officer, though under the constraints of the segregated system, until 1946. From 1946 to 1947 he was deputy assistant district attorney in New York City. The following year he studied humanities at the New School for Social Research. In 1948 he went to Paris on the GI Bill, and after studying French, studied at the Sorbonne. He was employed variously with the U.S. Armed Forces from 1951 to 1955 as historian claims officer and civilian attorney in Wiesbaden Germany and in ...

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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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Mary Jane Lupton

autobiographer, poet, educator, playwright, essayist, actor, and director, was born Marguerite Annie Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri, on 4 April 1928. Her pen name derives from having been called “Maya” (“My”) by her brother Bailey and from having being married for nearly three years to Tosh Angelos, a Greek sailor whom she met while she was a salesgirl in a record store. After the marriage to Angelos ended in divorce, she performed as a calypso dancer at The Purple Onion, a San Francisco night club, where she took the stage name that she still uses.

Maya Angelou s mother Vivian Baxter was a blackjack dealer and a nurse her father Bailey Johnson Sr was a doorman a cook and a dietician for the United States Navy Their marriage ended in divorce When Maya was three and Bailey was four the children with name tags on their wrists were sent ...

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Stefanie K. Dunning

Maya Angelou was born Marguerite Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1928. Because her brother Bailey could not say her whole name as a child, Marguerite became Maya. Angelou's life is synonymous with her work; she has published a series of five autobiographies, her most famous being I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1970). In each of these five works, Angelou writes about particular and important parts of her life. Yet not only does each book elucidate periods in Angelou's own life, but these books also paint a picture of the time she is writing about within the black community. Angelou's work demonstrates that the personal is political and that the events that shape and inform an individual life are often related to large political movements and events that affect an entire community.

Long before the publication of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings ...

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Lisa Clayton Robinson

The wit, wisdom, and power of Angelou's work have made her one of the most beloved contemporary American writers. Angelou was born Marguerite Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri. Later she chose a new name for herself by combining her childhood nickname, Maya, with a version of her first husband's last name. Her family moved to California soon after her birth, but her parents divorced when she was three, and she was sent to Stamps, Arkansas, to be raised by her paternal grandmother. When Angelou was seven, her mother's boyfriend raped her. The trauma of this made Angelou unable to speak for five years. During this period she began to read widely.

Angelou returned to California during high school and took drama and dance lessons. As a teenager, she became San Francisco's first female streetcar conductor. She gave birth at age sixteen to her only child, Guy Johnson To ...

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Carolyn Wedin

author and performer. Born Marguerite Ann Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri, to Bailey Johnson and Vivian Baxter Johnson, Angelou was given her shortened first name, Maya, by her brother Bailey. She later modified the name of her first husband, Tosh Angelos, to whom she was married from 1952 to 1955, to form her last name. Her parents divorced soon after her birth, and in 1930 she and her brother were sent to Stamps, Arkansas, where they were raised for most of the next ten years by their paternal grandmother, Anne Henderson (or “Momma”). After Angelou's graduation with honors in 1940 from Lafayette County Training School, she and her brother were put on a train for San Francisco, where they were to live with their recently remarried mother. In 1944 the unmarried sixteen-year-old Angelou gave birth to her only child, Clyde Johnson, later Guy Johnson ...

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Sholomo B. Levy

writer, poet, and performer, was born Marguerite Annie Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri, the second of two children of Bailey Johnson, a doorman and a naval dietician, and Vivian Baxter Johnson, a card dealer who later became a registered nurse. Her parents called her “Rita,” but her brother, Bailey, who was only a year older, called her “My Sister,” which was eventually contracted to “Maya.” When Maya was three years old, she and Bailey were sent to Stamps, Arkansas, to live with their paternal grandmother, Annie Henderson, whom Maya often referred to as “Mother.”Mrs. Henderson was a strong independent black woman who owned a country store in which Maya lived and worked Maya was a bright student and an avid reader she absorbed the contradictory messages of love emanating from the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church and of hatred revealed in the pervasive mistreatment of ...

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Marcelino Arozarena is considered one of the founders of poesía negra, or black poetry, in the Caribbean. Born in Havana, Cuba, he published his first poems in the 1920s in the Havana literary journal La Palabra, directed by Communist leader Juan Marinello. Arozarena's famous poem, “Caridá,” asks why Caridad, a mulatto woman (of both African and European descent), has not shown up at a dance. The poet draws on the techniques of negrista or “blackist” poets, such as mimicking musical rhythms, using jitanjáfora (words whose sounds echo their meanings), and folkloric images of Afro-Cuban music and dance.

Arozarena was part of the first wave of negrista poets, which also included his fellow Cubans Ramón Güirao, Alejo Carpentier, and Regino Pedroso; Puerto Rican poet Palés Matos; and Mexican poet José Zacarías Tallet Together with these authors Arozarena helped spark a literary movement ...

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Ama Mazama

scholar and author, was born Arthur Lee Smith Jr. in Valdosta, Georgia. He was the first son of Lillie Wilkson, a domestic worker, and Arthur L. Smith, a railroad worker. The family grew over the years and eventually included sixteen children.

Valdosta, a small southern town also known as the Azalea City, was the arena in which young Arthur first saw the abuses and injustices suffered by black people under segregation. He picked cotton during the summer to help his family, a task representing for him not only the injustices of the present but also the awful, backbreaking conditions that his ancestors had to endure for hundreds of years during slavery. While shining shoes at age eleven, he was spat upon by a white man, an experience he would later recall in describing his growing determination to fight against racism.

Identified early in life as possessing exceptional intellectual ...

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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 ...

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Joanne H. Edey-Rhodes

educator, poet, and community activist, was born in Okolona, Chickasaw County, Mississippi, the only child of former slaves Mary Johnson Threat and George W. Threat. Though illiterate, her mother understood the value of education. She took in laundry and sold eggs and vegetables to save for her daughter's education. After completing studies at the Okolona Public School in 1894, Battle continued her education at Rust College in Holly Springs, Mississippi, graduating with an AB degree in 1900. She was teaching away from home when she learned that Wallace Battle had come to Okolona to establish an industrial school. Although she was in line to become principal of a Greenwood, Mississippi, school she chose to return home in 1902 to help with the development of the Okolona Industrial School. She married the school's founder the following year. They had five children.

Along with her role ...

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Mamie E. Locke

James Madison Bell was born in Gallipolis, Ohio. His parents' identities are unknown. At age sixteen, in 1842, he moved to Cincinnati. While there, in 1848, he married Louisiana Sanderlin (or Sanderline), with whom he had several children, and also learned the plastering trade from his brother-in-law George Knight. Bell worked as a plasterer during the day and attended Cincinnati High School for Colored People at night. Founded in 1844 by Reverend Hiram S. Gilmore, the school had a connection to Oberlin College and was said to have given impetus to the sentiment found in Uncle Tom's Cabin and the cause of human freedom. Through his studies Bell was thoroughly indoctrinated into the principles of radical Abolitionism.

In 1854 Bell moved his family to Chatham, Ontario, Canada where he felt he would be more free under the authority of the British government ...

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Mamie E. Locke

abolitionist, poet, and lecturer, was born in Gallipolis, Ohio. His parents' identities are unknown. At age sixteen, in 1842, he moved to Cincinnati. While there, in 1848, he married Louisiana Sanderlin (or Sanderline), with whom he had several children. He also learned the plastering trade from his brother-in-law, George Knight. Bell worked as a plasterer during the day and attended Cincinnati High School for Colored People at night. Founded in 1844 by Reverend Hiram S. Gilmore, the school had a connection to Oberlin College and was said to have given impetus to the sentiment found in Uncle Tom's Cabin and the cause of human freedom. Through his studies Bell was thoroughly indoctrinated into the principles of radical abolitionism.

In 1854 Bell moved his family to Chatham Ontario Canada feeling that he would be freer under the authority of the British government While ...

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Joan R. Sherman

The “Bard of the Maumee,” Ohio's first native African American poet, was born in Gallipolis where he spent his first sixteen years. From 1842 to 1853, Bell worked as a plasterer in Cincinnati and there married Louisiana Sanderlin with whom he had several children. He plied the plasterer's trade in Canada West, Ontario (1854–1860); there he became a friend of John Brown's, raised funds for Brown's 1859 raid, and later dedicated The Day and the War to “The Hero, Saint and Martyr of Harpers Ferry.” For the next thirty years, until he settled in Toledo in 1890, Bell pursued the trades of plasterer and poet-lecturer in San Francisco (1860–1865 and many other cities north and south He championed abolitionism and black educational and legal rights served as a prominent lay worker for the African Methodist Episcopal AME Church and briefly worked in Republican ...

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Theresa Leininger-Miller

writer and artist, was born in Giddings, Texas, the daughter of Joshua Robin Bennett and Mayme F. Abernathy, teachers on an Indian reservation. In 1906 the family moved to Washington, D.C., where Gwendolyn's father studied law and her mother worked as a manicurist and hairdresser. When her parents divorced, her mother won custody, but her father kidnapped the seven-year-old Gwendolyn. The two, with Gwendolyn's stepmother, lived in hiding in various towns along the East Coast and in Pennsylvania before finally settling in New York.

At Brooklyn's Girls' High (1918–1921) Bennett participated in the drama and literary societies—the first African American to do so—and won first place in an art contest. She attended fine arts classes at Columbia University (1921) and the Pratt Institute, from which she graduated in 1924 While she was still an undergraduate her poems Nocturne and Heritage were published in ...