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Article

Kate Tuttle

A member of the Igbo ethnic group, Elechi Amadi was born in a small southeastern Nigerian village near Port Harcourt. In 1959 he graduated with a degree in physics and mathematics from the University College of Ibadan, a prestigious college attended by other well-known Nigerian writers, such as Chinua Achebe, John Pepper Clark, Christopher Okigbo, and Wole Soyinka. After working as a land surveyor, Amadi taught science for three years at missionary schools in Ahoada and Oba. In 1963 he joined the Nigerian Army; he taught the Ikwerri dialect of Igbo at a military school in Zaria.

His first book, The Concubine, blended acute psychological detail and precise observation to tell the story of a young village woman's battle with spiritual forces. The book's publication in 1966 coincided with the proclamation of an independent state—Biafra—in Igbo-dominated southeastern Nigeria Amadi s allegiance to the Federal ...

Article

Christopher Wise

Malian diplomat, ethnographer, devout Muslim, and defender of traditional African culture, was born in 1901 in Bandiagara, Mali, capital of the Toucouleur Empire of the Macina Fulani, which was founded by the Tidjaniya jihadist al-Hajj ʿUmar Tal. At the time of Bâ’s birth, the French had been in control of Bandiagara for nearly a decade. His father, Hampâté, a Fulani militant from Fakala, died two years after Bâ was born. His mother, Kadidja Pâté, was the daughter of Pâté Poullou, a close personal companion of al-Hajj ʿUmar Tal. After her husband’s death, Kadidja remarried Tidjani Amadou Ali Thiam, a Toucouleur Fulani and Louta chief, who became Bâ’s adoptive father. At an early age, Bâ became intimate with Tierno Bokar Tall, the renowned “sage of Bandiagara,” who was his lifelong teacher, spiritual guide, and personal mentor. In 1912 Bâ was enrolled in the French colonialist School of the Hostages remaining ...

Article

Peter Hudson

While Louise Bennett was not the first writer to use Jamaican dialect, the facility with which she reproduces it in her writing and performances has marked her as a pioneer. Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Bennett was the daughter of baker Augustus Cornelius Bennett, who died when she was seven years old, and dressmaker Kerene Robinson. Bennett, known as Miss Lou, studied social work and Jamaican folklore at Friends' College, Highgate, Jamaica. In 1945 she received a British Council Scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, England.

Bennett began writing in dialect in the late 1930s, inspired by the language she heard spoken by Jamaicans on the streets of Kingston. Soon after she began writing, she staged public performances of her poems. In 1942 her first collection of poetry, Dialect Verses, was published. Starting in 1943 Bennett contributed a weekly column to ...

Article

John Edgar Tidwell

Sterling Allen Brown was born on 1 May 1901 into what some have called the “smug” or even “affected” respectability of Washington's African American middle class. He grew up in the Washington world of racial segregation, which engendered a contradiction between full citizenship and marginalized existence. The son of a distinguished pastor and theologian, Brown graduated with honors from the prestigious Dunbar High School in 1918. That fall, he entered Williams College on a scholarship set aside for minority students. By the time he left in 1922, he had performed spectacularly: election to Phi Beta Kappa in his junior year, the Graves Prize for his essay “The Comic Spirit in Shakespeare and Molière”, the only student awarded “Final Honors” in English, and cum laude graduation with an AB degree.

At Harvard University from 1922 to 1923 Brown took an MA degree in English In retrospect he ...

Article

Lisa Clayton Robinson

Through his long career as a writer, anthologist, critic, scholar, and educator, Sterling Allen Brown became one of the most influential individuals in the field of African American literary studies. He was born into Washington, D.C.'s educated black middle class. His father, an ex-slave, was a prominent pastor and professor of religion at Howard University, and his mother had been valedictorian of her class at Fisk University. Brown attended the well-known Dunbar High School, where Jessie Fauset and Angelina Weld Grimké were among his teachers, and graduated with honors in 1918. He then accepted a scholarship to Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. At Williams, Brown was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, earned the distinction of being the only student awarded final honors in English, and graduated with a bachelor's degree cum laude in 1922 From there he went to Harvard University to pursue a master ...

Article

Roanne Edwards

Lydia Cabrera, along with Fernando Ortiz, is widely considered one of the two most important twentieth century researchers and writers on Afro-Cuban culture. She wrote more than a dozen volumes of investigative work on the subject, including her pioneering El monte (1954), subtitled “Notes on the Religion, the Magic, the Superstitions and the Folklore of Creole Negroes and the Cuban People,” and Reglas de congo (1980), a book on Bantu (known as congo in Cuba) rituals. According to Ana María Simo, author of Lydia Cabrera: An Intimate Portrait, Cabrera's “is the most important and complete body of work on Afro-Cuban religions” of its time. Cabrera also wrote four volumes of short stories inspired by Afro-Cuban legends and beliefs. Her fiction is rich in metaphor and symbolism and has been compared stylistically with the writings of Spanish poet and playwright Federico García Lorca ...

Article

N. Gregson Davis

Aimé Césaire (1913–2008) was a major literary figure, statesman, and intellectual leader, both in the francophone Antilles and in the international arena, from the middle of the twentieth century. As a young social activist, he played a formative role in the articulation of the seminal concept of négritude, a neologism that he is credited with having invented. As literary artist he has achieved global recognition for his poetry and lyric drama in signal ways; for example, his lyric volume Corps Perdu (Lost Body) was published in a deluxe edition with illustrations by Pablo Picasso in 1950; several of his poetry collections won literary prizes in metropolitan France (e.g., the Prix René Laporte for Ferrements [1960], and the Grand Prix National de la Poésie for moi, laminaire … [1982]). La Tragédie du roi Christophe The Tragedy of King Christophe a play based ...

Article

Dianne Johnson

Clifton said plainly:

I am a woman and I write from that experience. I am a Black woman and I write from that experience. I do not feel inhibited or bound by what I am. That does not mean that I have never had bad scenes relating to being Black and/or a woman, it means that other people’s craziness has not managed to make me crazy. At least not in their way because I try very hard not to close my eye to my own craziness nor to my family’s, my sex’s, nor my race’s.

(quoted in Evans, 1984)

This statement is an apt introduction to Clifton’s considerable body of work, both for adults and for young people, comprising fiction, poetry, essays, autobiography, and interviews. She is one of the prolific writers of picture books created out of an African American consciousness and experience. She is also a 1980 ...

Article

Cynthia Bryant

playwright, short fiction writer, and novelist, was born Joan Cooper in Berkeley, California, the daughter of Joseph and Maxine Rosemary Cooper. Unapologetically protective of her private life, little is known about Cooper's personal information, including her birth date. At least two explanations have surfaced in separate interviews regarding her use of “California” as part of her professional name. One is that its incorporation is the result of an observation made earlier in her career that her works resembled those of Tennessee Williams a twentieth century American writer who appropriated the name of his father s home state as his own Another explanation is that because Cooper has kept her personal life so closely guarded she felt the need to give the public something of herself thus she gave them California In addition to Northern California Cooper has resided in various areas of the United States ...

Article

Dickson D. Jr. Bruce

Born in Michigan, James D. Corrothers was raised in the predominantly white community of South Haven by his paternal grandfather, a man of Cherokee and Scotch-Irish ancestry. He moved to Muskegon at age fourteen, supporting himself and his grandfather. Shortly thereafter he moved to Indiana, then to Springfield, Ohio, working as a laborer. There, in his teens, he began his literary career, publishing a poem, “The Deserted School House”, in the local newspaper.

Corrothers's literary career received a boost when, at eighteen, he relocated to Chicago. Working in a white barber shop, he met journalist-reformer Henry Demarest Lloyd and showed him some poems. Lloyd arranged for their publication in the Chicago Tribune, getting Corrothers a custodial job in the Tribune offices Corrothers was soon asked to do an article on Chicago s African American elite He was chagrined when the story appeared rewritten by a white reporter ...

Article

Rayford W. Logan

Maude Cuney was born in Galveston, Texas, the daughter of Norris Wright and Adelina (Dowdy) Cuney. After graduation from the Central High School, Galveston, she received a musical education at the New England Conservatory of Music, Boston, Massachusetts. Later she studied under private instructors such as Emil Ludwig, a pupil of Russian pianist and composer Anton Grigoryevich Rubinstein, and Edwin Klare, a pupil of Hungarian pianist and composer Franz Liszt. She then served for a number of years as director of the Deaf, Dumb and Blind Institute of Texas and at Prairie State College in Prairie View, Texas. In 1906 she returned to Boston and married William P. Hare, who came from an old and well-known Boston family. She died there in 1936 and was buried in Galveston in the grave between her father and mother in Lake View Cemetery (Houston Informer ...

Article

Lynda Koolish

Maud Cuney-Hare is remembered for her literary accomplishments as a gifted playwright, biographer, and music columnist for the Crisis. Born in Galveston, Texas, on 16 February 1874, to teacher and soprano Adelina Dowdie and Norris Wright Cuney, an important Texas political figure who was the (defeated) Republican candidate for the 1875 Galveston mayoral race, Maud Cuney-Hare was educated in Texas and became musical director at the Deaf, Dumb and Blind Institute in Austin, Texas. She held other church and college teaching positions before returning to Boston and devoting her life to performance, scholarship, and literary pursuits. She championed the 24 May 1917 Cambridge, Massachusetts, restaging of Angelina Weld Grimké's Rachel (1916), which, according to critic Robert Fehrenbach was the first time a play written by an Afro American that dealt with the real problems facing American Blacks in contemporary white racist society was ...

Article

Jerry W. Ward

Thomas Covington Dent, who prefers to be known as Tom Dent, was born on 20 March 1932 in New Orleans, Louisiana, the son of Dr. Albert Dent, president of Dillard University, and Jessie Covington Dent, a concert pianist. During his formative years in New Orleans, Dent wrestled with the sense of African American identity and the sense of place that seems to be the legacy of southern writers. Thus, it is not surprising that issues of political and cultural history are so germinal in his mature works.

After completing his early education in New Orleans, Dent earned his BA in political science from Morehouse College in 1952. Some of his earliest writing appeared in the campus newspaper, the Maroon Tiger, for which he served as editor during his senior year. After doing graduate work at Syracuse University, he served in the U.S. Army (1957–1959 and ...

Article

Felicia A. Chenier

black theater organizer, writer, director, folklorist, chorographer, and educator, was born in Houston, Texas, the only daughter of Gerthyl Rae and Harvey G. Dickerson, an army officer. As a military child Dickerson traveled extensively with her parents and brother, Harvey. After graduating high school in Syracuse, New York, Dickerson studied at Howard University in Washington, D.C. While there she studied theater and was mentored by noted educator and writer Owen Dodson, who was then the Drama Department chair. Noteworthy of her experiences at Howard is her discovery of writings by Zora Neale Hurston. After receiving a bachelor of fine arts (BFA) from Howard in 1966, Dickerson received a master of fine arts (MFA) from Adelphi University in Long Island, New York, in 1968 During the same year she returned to Howard as an assistant professor of drama and staged her directorial ...

Article

Cheikh Anta Diop is regarded as one of the greatest scholars of the twentieth century. A central figure in African-centered scholarship, his intellectual range and work spanned many disciplines. At the 1966 World Festival of the Arts in Dakar, Senegal, Diop shared with the late W. E. B. Du Bois an award as the writer who had exerted the greatest influence on black thought. He is most known for his work to reaffirm the African character of ancient Egypt through scientific study and to encourage African scholars to use ancient Egypt as a source of valuable paradigms to enrich contemporary African life and contribute to new ways of understanding and improving the world.

Cheikh Anta Diop was born in Diourbel Senegal a town that has a long tradition of Muslim scholarship and learning fostered by the Mouride Brotherhood He began his education at the age of four in ...

Article

Lisa Clayton Robinson

He sang of life, serenely sweet,

With, now and then, a deeper note,

From some high peak, nigh yet remote,

He voiced the world's absorbing beat.

He sang of love when earth was young,

And Love, itself, was in his lays.

But ah, the world, it turned to praise

A jingle in a broken tongue.

Paul Laurence Dunbar wrote this poem, “The Poet,” three years before his death in 1906 at the age of thirty three Its words may express his own regrets about the direction of his literary career Dunbar was the most famous African American poet and one of the most famous American poets of his time His career brought him international fame and by any measure was a tremendous success Although Dunbar felt his best work was his poetry in standard English he was celebrated almost exclusively for his folk poetry about African Americans written in ...

Article

Charles W. Jr. Carey

author, was born in Dayton, Ohio, the son of Joshua Dunbar, a plasterer, and Matilda Burton Murphy, a laundry worker. His literary career began at age twelve, when he wrote an Easter poem and recited it in church. He served as editor in chief of his high school's student newspaper and presided over its debating society. While still in school, he contributed poems and sketches to the Dayton Herald and the West Side News, a local paper published by Orville Wright of Kitty Hawk fame, and briefly edited the Tattler, a newspaper for blacks that Wright published and printed. He graduated from high school in 1891 with the hope of becoming a lawyer, but, lacking the funds to pursue a college education, he went instead to work as an elevator operator.

Dunbar wrote and submitted poetry and short stories in his spare time His first ...

Article

Joanne M. Braxton

Paul Laurence Dunbar published in such mainstream journals as Century, Lipincott's Monthly, the Atlantic Monthly, and the Saturday Evening Post. A gifted poet and a precursor to the Harlem Renaissance, Dunbar was read by both blacks and whites in turn-of-the-century America.

Dunbar, the son of two former slaves, was born in Dayton, Ohio, and attended the public schools of that city. He was taught to read by his mother, Matilda Murphy Dunbar, and he absorbed her homespun wisdom as well as the stories told to him by his father, Joshua Dunbar who had escaped from enslavement in Kentucky and served in the Massachusetts 55th Regiment during the Civil War Thus while Paul Laurence Dunbar himself was never enslaved he was one of the last of a generation to have ongoing contact with those who had been Dunbar was steeped in the oral tradition during his formative ...

Article

Gloria Grant Roberson

On hearing the news of Frederick Douglass's death on 20 February 1895, Paul Laurence Dunbar wrote a poetic tribute that began “A hush is over all the teeming lists.” As a poet and Douglass's friend, Dunbar joined the nation in grieving the beloved abolitionist-orator, who had personally touched Dunbar's life with kind regard. Though years apart in age, Douglass and Dunbar were both devout servants of their people. Born in 1872 to Matilda and Joshua Dunbar in the home of his maternal grandmother in Dayton, Ohio, Dunbar later became a nationally recognized African American author of poems, stories, and novels that served to uplift his race. In similar ways Douglass and Dunbar used the oral and written word to promote racial pride.

In a letter to his mother dated 6 June 1893 Dunbar wrote about his first meeting with the great civil rights orator To the young ...

Article

Elsie A. Okobi

Ibo novelist, was born on 26 September 1921 in Minna, northern Nigeria (Niger State), to Ogbuefi David Anadumaka Ekwensi and Agnes Uso Ekwensi, who were from Nkwelle in eastern Nigeria (Anambra State). Ekwensi’s father was an elephant hunter and a great storyteller; from him, Ekwenski learned the Ibo folklore that would later enrich his stories. Ekwensi grew up among Fulani children, learning to speak Hausa, in addition to Ibo, which was spoken at home. He was known to have married at least twice: Eunice Anyiwa in 1952, with whom he had five children, and Maria in 1969.

Ekwensi was sent to Government College in Ibadan in Yorubaland where he absorbed the Yoruba culture and language He continued his studies at Achimota College Ghana then at Yaba High College Lagos and he studied forestry at the School of Forestry Ibadan He worked in the forestry department at Ibadan from ...