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Ondra Krouse Dismukes

writer, editor, and scholar, was born in New York City to Dorothy L. Babb and Lionel S. Duncan, both of whom were immigrants from the Republic of Panama. Her parents were part of the larger West Indian community, the “diggers” as many were called, who built the Panama Canal. Babb shared a close relationship with her mother, who instilled in her the value of an education.

Babb attended the Bronx High School of Science, a high school specializing in math and sciences and with some of the best English teachers, whose influence Babb credits for choosing this profession. After graduating from high school in 1973, she enrolled in Queens College of the City University of New York. She graduated with honors in 1977 earning a bachelor s degree in English with a minor concentration in Romance Languages Babb went on to attend graduate school ...

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Florence M. Coleman

educator, literary scholar, and biographer of the English novelist Daniel Defoe, was one of five sons born to Helena Burch in Saint George's, Bermuda. Nothing is known of his father. Charles Burch was educated in the elementary and secondary schools of Bermuda. Burch met and married Willa Carter Mayer, who at one time served as a professor of education at Miner Teacher's College in Washington, D.C. She also served as a supervisory official of the public schools of the District of Columbia and authored Clinical Practices in Public School Education (1944). Whether or not they had children is not known.

Burch attended Wilberforce University in Wilberforce, Ohio, from which he was awarded a BA in 1914. Four years later, he earned a MA from Columbia University. Fifteen years later in 1933 he was awarded a PhD in English from Ohio State University He taught ...

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Brenna Sanchez

Englishprofessor, civil rights activist, and scholar of African American literature, was born Mary Fair and raised in Montgomery, Alabama. Little information is available about her family. Burks bucked the Jim Crow system of segregation even as a child in the 1930s, using whites-only elevators, restrooms, and other facilities in what she later called “my own private guerilla warfare” (Bolden, 241). At age eighteen she earned a bachelor's degree in English Literature from Alabama State College, and a year later earned her master's degree from the University of Michigan. She returned to Montgomery to teach English at the Alabama State Laboratory High School and, later, at Alabama State College. Burks married the principal of Alabama State Laboratory High School, Nathaniel Burks. The couple would have one son, Nathaniel W. Burks Jr.

She became head of the Alabama State College English department and later earned her doctorate from Columbia ...

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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 ...

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Tiffany Adams

folklorist, writer, and educator, was born Daryl Cumber in Richmond, Virginia, the only child of Allen Whitfield Cumber, a proprietor of a restaurant and tavern, and Veronica Bell, a teacher. Raised in Charles City, Virginia, she earned her B.A. degree in English in 1957 from Virginia State College (now known as Virginia State University), a historically black institution located just outside of Richmond in Petersburg, Virginia. In 1958 she married Warren Dance and had three children, two sons and one daughter. She continued to pursue her English studies at Virginia State College and earned her M.A. in English there in 1963.

Dance taught at both Virginia Union and Armstrong High School of Richmond before earning her Ph.D. in English in 1971 at the University of Virginia which was by then an integrated institution Although Dance and her family had deep roots in Virginia ...

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Dorsia Smith Silva

educator and writer, was born in Hampton, Virginia and raised in a middle-class family. After receiving his bachelor's degree in American literature from Dartmouth College in 1939, Davis attended the University of Chicago and became a great enthusiast of the Harlem Renaissance. His master's thesis on the Harlem Renaissance was acclaimed by his professors and marked the beginning of his reputation as a dedicated scholar. Davis graduated with a master's degree in American Studies in 1942 and then entered the army to serve his country in World War II. While he steadily rose to the rank of a captain, he decided to return to academia as an instructor in American Civilizations and doctoral student in American literature at New York University in 1948 Being in a new academic setting inspired Davis to pursue a variety of literary interests such as the historical and cultural influences of poetry ...

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R. Baxter Miller

scholar and educator, was born in Washington, D.C., the daughter of James Stanley Dykes and Martha Ann Howard. Eva graduated from M Street High (later Paul Laurence Dunbar High School) in 1910. As valedictorian of her class, she won a $10 scholarship from Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority to attend Howard University, where in 1914 she graduated summa cum laude with a BA in English. After a year of teaching Latin and English at the now defunct Walden University in Nashville, Tennessee, and for another year elsewhere, she was urged by James Howard, a physician and uncle on her mother's side, to enter Radcliffe College in 1916. Subsequently, she earned a second BA in English, magna cum laude, in 1917. Elected Phi Beta Kappa, she received an MA in English in 1918 and a PhD in English philology in 1921 Her dissertation was titled ...

Article

Richard Newman

William Plummer French was born February 19, 1943 in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, the son of Frank J. French, vice-president of Allied Chemical Co. and Bettina Plummer French. He worked at University Place Book Shop in New York, owned by Walter Goldwater, and became fascinated with African American books and literature, a field the shop specialized in to serve two major collectors, Arthur Schomburg and Arthur Spingarn.

Self-taught by the books in the store, French became probably the country's most knowledgeable expert on African American books and bibliography. He compiled two biographical pamphlets on black poetry, and in 1979 co-edited Afro-American Poetry and Drama, 1760–1975. Pre-deceased by his wife, the painter Garland Eliason, French died in New York of a stroke on January 14, 1997 survived by his son Will A book collecting prize at the Department of Afro American Studies at ...

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

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 ...

Article

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 ...

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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 ...

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Malin Pereira

educator and writer, was born Sandra Yvonne Govan in Chicago at the all-black Provident Hospital to Tanzel R. Govan, a bus driver with the Chicago Transit Authority, and Sarah D. Wilson Govan, a lunchroom manager for the Chicago board of education. Both of Govan's parents were from the South. They met and married in Louisiana, and following Tanzel Govan's service in World War II they settled in Chicago, where they raised Sandra and her older brother. Govan was born with dislocated hips and did not walk until age four. In stories about her childhood she describes a loving and strict upbringing with occasional difficulties because of physical challenges and ever-present racism. She was a precocious child who loved to read and was doted upon—as well as firmly held in line—by her neighborhood community.

Govan earned a BA in English and history at Valparaiso University in 1970 ...

Article

Casey Wells

the first African American to apply to the all‐white University of Virginia, educator and part‐time writer, was born Alice Carlotta Jackson in Richmond, Virginia, to James Edward Jackson, Sr. and Clara Louise Kersey Jackson. Her father was a local pharmacist in the Jackson Ward district of Richmond.

Alice Jackson received her education at two American Baptist Home Mission schools, Hartshorn Memorial College and Virginia Union University, both historically black educational institutions in Richmond. After Hartshorn closed its doors in 1930, Jackson attended Virginia Union University. In 1934, she completed a Bachelor of Arts degree in English at Virginia Union University and also took a few other classes at Smith College in Massachusetts. In 1935 she applied for admission to the all white University of Virginia graduate school She was the first known African American to try to be admitted into a graduate or professional school in ...

Article

Frances Smith Foster

scholar, teacher, editor, and author, was born Nellie Yvonne Reynolds in New York City, the daughter of Harry, a taxi driver, and Nellie Reynolds, a homemaker. Graduating cum laude from Queens College in 1969 with a BA in English, McKay was accepted into the PhD program at Harvard University for British and American Literature.

McKay was part of the first cohort of African American graduate students determined to include the literatures, histories, and religions of African Americans in their research and study. However, McKay often reminisced about Harvard not having any black literature class and how her graduate colleagues taught one another. Not only did they have to teach one another but they also had to create their own bibliographies and share the few extant copies of the books. McKay dedicated her life to filling this void.

In 1973 she began teaching at ...

Article

Mildred T. Nichols

university professor, was born in Brooklyn, New York, the last of seven children born to Charles F. Nichols and Julia E. King, who were Plymouth Church of the Brethren missionary immigrants from Christ Church, Barbados. Reared in a tradition of rigorous and Calvinistic Bible study, his gift for learning became obvious during childhood. His father, anticipating future job discrimination, enrolled him in a vocational school to learn the printing trade. Soon after, he was accepted at the prestigious Boys High School, where he excelled and was the salutatorian of the 1938 class. Nichols attended Brooklyn College on a State of New York university scholarship and a Rachel Herstein scholarship administered by the NAACP. He was a member of the debate team and the glee club, and graduated cum laude in 1942 with a BA in English.

Except for unskilled jobs in the garment district Nichols was unable to ...

Article

Michael Adams

educator, literary critic, and biographer, was born in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, to Jerome Rampersad, a journalist, and Evelyn De Souza Rampersad, a telephone operator at the American naval base. His parents divorced shortly after his birth, and the boy was shuffled between relatives until he began living with his father as a teenager.

Young Rampersad became interested in literature after a neighbor loaned him F. Scott Fitzgerald'sThe Great Gatsby and Thomas Wolfe'sLook Homeward, Angel. Wolfe's novel was a particular revelation, speaking to Rampersad's sense of being a misunderstood outsider in his community. While in high school Rampersad joined the Little Carib Theater workshop of the poet-playwright Derek Walcott, the future Nobel laureate, acting in Shakespearean plays and other productions.

After high school Rampersad did not consider higher education because he could not afford it He continued acting taught high school English geography ...

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Theodore O. Mason

Born in 1941 in Trinidad, Arnold Rampersad received a BA and MA from Bowling Green State University and an MA and PhD from Harvard. He has held teaching positions at Stanford, Rutgers, and Columbia. Rampersad was Woodrow Wilson Professor of Literature at Princeton and is Sara Hart Kimball Professor Emeritus in the Humanities at Stanford University. From 1991 to 1996, he held a MacArthur Foundation fellowship. A member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society, Rampersad was a 2010 recipient of the National Humanities Medal.

Although he began his career specializing in Herman Melville, Rampersad is best known for biographies of W. E. B. Du Bois and Langston Hughes. In The Art and Imagination of W. E. B. Du Bois (1976 Rampersad sought to trace the intellectual development of one of this century s preeminent black political and social ...

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Amani Morrison

to Jessie Rowell, a gardener and storyteller, and Hosea Rowell, a farmer two generations removed from slavery. At an early age Rowell identified with his mother’s spirit of freedom and love of beauty as opposed to his father’s desire for land ownership and material gain.

Rowell lived and was educated in the segregated schools of Alabama before earning his degree in English from Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical College, also segregated, in 1961. He completed his Master of Arts degree in English at the University of Missouri at Columbia in 1962, after which he taught at Tougaloo College in Mississippi. In 1964 Rowell began pursuing a Ph.D. in English at Ohio State University, which he completed in 1972 after teaching at Mississippi Valley State College in Itta Bena, Mississippi and Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where he worked until 1977. In 1976 just before leaving Southern ...

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Adebe DeRango-Adem

literary scholar and writer of fiction, was born Hortense Jeanette Spillers in Memphis, Tennessee, the eldest child of Curtis and Evelyn (Taylor) Spillers.

She began her scholarly career at Melrose High School in Memphis, from which she graduated in 1960. She began her studies at Bennett College in Greensboro, North Carolina, to continue at Memphis State University, where she received both a B.A. in English Literature (1964) and an M.A. in English and American Literature (1966). Having grown up in a Baptist community, the African American sermon was to become a focus of her graduate work and after two years of teaching at Kentucky State College (now Kentucky State University) Spillers entered the graduate department of English and American literature of Brandeis University in the fall of 1968 There she continued her teaching throughout the period of graduate study particularly in the ...