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James V. Hatch

playwright and minister, was born in Wichita, Kansas. Little is known about his parents, although his mother is said to have been an active reformer and a poet. Anderson completed four years of school (the only formal education that he ever received) before his father moved the family to California to take a job as a janitor in the post office. The following year Anderson's mother died, and at age twelve he left home to become a newsboy, selling the Telegraph Press on the corner of Third and Market streets in San Francisco.

After working as a porter on the railroad, Anderson worked for the next fifteen years as a bellhop in various San Francisco hotels. During this period he also became a temporary convert to Christian Science. One afternoon in 1924 he saw a performance of Channing Pollack's moralistic drama The Fool and knew immediately that he ...

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 ...

Article

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

Sandra Y. Govan

A Los Angeles native and later resident of Vancouver, Washington, Steven Emory Barnes is the third African American author after 1960 to have chosen science fiction and fantasy writing as his primary profession. Barnes established himself through the 1980s as a determined and disciplined writer, one who had followed a cherished childhood dream to become a commercially successful professional writer.

The youngest child of Emory F. Barnes and Eva Mae (Reeves) Barnes, Steven Barnes grew up in Los Angeles. He attended Los Angeles High, Los Angeles City College, and Pepperdine University, Malibu, California (1978–1980 At Pepperdine he majored in communication arts but withdrew from school before completing a degree frustrated because he thought no one on the faculty could teach him about building a career as a professional writer It was not until Barnes made contact with established science fiction writer Ray Bradbury who sent the novice ...

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Casey Kayser

teacher, poet, playwright, and artistic director of a theater company, was born Nora Brooks Blakely in Chicago, one of two children of poet Gwendolyn Brooks and Henry Blakely, a poet, auto mechanic, and insurance adjuster. Blakely's mother was a leading figure in the Black Arts Movement, the poet laureate of Illinois, and the first African American to receive the Pulitzer Prize, which she did in 1950, just a year before Nora's birth. Nora's father was the author of A Windy Place, a 1974 collection of poetry, and he later founded the Perspectivists, a group of black Chicago writers. As a child, Nora displayed a natural ability and love for reading and writing, no doubt cultivated by her parents' passion for the same.

A propensity for teaching emerged early as well at the age of three Blakely rounded up the children of her South Side Chicago neighborhood and ...

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Sharon D. Johnson

director, playwright, and actress, was born in New York City, the elder of two daughters of upper-middle-class parents, Edgar E. Carroll, a dentist, and Florence Morris, a teacher, both from Jamaica, West Indies. When Carroll was three, her parents sent her and her sister Dorothy to live with their grandparents in Falmouth, Jamaica, while Carroll's father completed his dental training at Howard University. Seven years later Carroll and her sister returned to New York, where their father's dental practice was thriving. The family's town house in the Sugar Hill section of Harlem eventually became a hub of activity that included frequent gatherings of neighborhood children and black community leaders.

Raised to be an achiever Carroll absorbed this intellectually and culturally charged atmosphere Her mother made sure that Carroll took music lessons and attended diverse cultural events particularly those featuring black artists Although Carroll wanted to become an actress ...

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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Elizabeth Brown-Guillory

playwright and actress, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, and brought up in Harlem, New York, by her grandmother Eliza Campbell White. Although Alice's grandmother had little or no formal education, she had a natural creative spirit, and fostered in her granddaughter a thirst for knowledge and an appreciation for the arts by exposing her to museums, galleries, libraries, theater, and concerts. She also encouraged Alice to role-play and create stories and skits, many of which grew out of Wednesday-night testimonials at Harlem's Salem Church. These testimonials, Alice later realized, allowed poor people in their community to relieve themselves of burdens linked to race, class, and gender biases.

Alice lived on 118th Street between Lenox and Fifth avenues and attended Public School 81 and the Julia Ward Howe Junior High School She enrolled in Wadleigh High School but dropped out after two years forced to earn a living after ...

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Elizabeth Brown-Guillory

Alice Childress was never flattered by the litany of firsts that were used to refer to her works She believed that when people have been barred from something for so long it seems ironic to emphasize the first Instead Childress looked to the day when she would be the fiftieth or one hundredth African American artist to accomplish something Long regarded as a champion of the masses of poor people in America Childress wrote about the disparity between rich and poor underscoring that racism and sexism are added burdens forced upon women of color A reticent and private person Childress boldly spoke out in her works against an American government that either exploits or ignores poor people in the name of capitalism One of Childress s strongest convictions was that black authors must explore and include black history in their writings Her sagacity and commitment to preserving black culture and ...

Article

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 ...

Article

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

Steven R. Carter

Born Kathleen Conwell in Jersey City, she was the daughter of Frank and Loretta Conwell. Her father, who had worked as a mortician, became the principal of a high school now named after him and the first black New Jersey state legislator. In 1963, after receiving her BA in philosophy and religion from Skidmore College, Collins worked on black southern voter registration for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. In 1966 she earned an MA in French literature and cinema through the Middle-bury program at Paris's Sorbonne. Joining the editorial and production staff at a New York City Public Broadcasting Service station, Collins worked as a film editor and began writing stories. In 1974, soon after ending her marriage to Douglas Collins, she became a professor of film history and screenwriting at the City College of New York. Adapting Henry H. Roth's fiction for the screen in The ...

Article

Roanne Edwards

Ossie Davis was born in Cogdell, Georgia, the son of a railway engineer, and grew up in Waycross, Georgia. The harassment of his parents by the Ku Klux Klan impelled him early on to become a writer so that he could “truthfully portray the black man's experience.” At Howard University, under the tutelage of drama critic Alain Locke, Davis developed his theatrical talent, performing in a 1941 production of Joy Exceeding Glory with Harlem's Rose McClendon Players. Following his theater debut, however, he received few job offers and for nearly a year found himself living on the street.

Davis never lost his sense of purpose. After serving in the United States Army during World War II, he returned to New York, New York, where he won the title role in Robert Ardrey's play Jeb (1946). In 1948 he married fellow performer Ruby ...

Article

Samuel A. Hay

writer, actor, and director, was born in Cogdell, Georgia, the oldest of four children of Kince Charles Davis, an herb doctor and Bible scholar, and Laura Cooper. Ossie's mother intended to name him “R.C.,” after his paternal grandfather, Raiford Chatman Davis, but when the clerk at Clinch County courthouse thought she said “Ossie,” Laura did not argue with him, because he was white.

Ossie was attacked and humiliated while in high school by two white policemen, who took him to their precinct and doused him with cane syrup. Laughing, they gave the teenager several hunks of peanut brittle and released him. He never reported the incident but its memory contributed to his sensibilities and politics. In 1934 Ossie graduated from Center High School in Waycross Georgia and even though he received scholarships to attend Savannah State College and Tuskegee Institute he did ...

Article

Cassandra Jackson

Born in Cogsdell, Georgia, Ossie Davis grew up in nearby Waycross. He studied at Howard University for three years, then traveled to New York to pursue a career in the theater. With the encouragement of Alain Locke, Davis obtained a position with the Rose McClendon Players of Harlem, while writing in his spare time. The following year, he joined the U.S. Army, serving in the Medical Corps and in Special Services. While stationed in Liberia, he wrote and produced Goldbrickers of 1944, a musical variety show. Discharged in 1945, Davis returned to New York and gained the lead role in the play Jeb, which propelled his stage career. Also starring in the play was Davis's future wife, Ruby Dee, with whom he would continue to costar in plays and later in film. Among Davis's stage, film, and television credits are The Joe Louis Story ...

Article

Ruby Dee was born Ruby Ann Wallace in Cleveland, Ohio. Her father, Marshall Edward Wallace, was a porter and waiter on the Pennsylvania Railroad; her mother, Emma Wallace, was a schoolteacher. They moved to Harlem in New York City when Ruby was a baby. She was educated at Public School 119 and Hunter College, and her formal education was supplemented by instruction in classical literature and music at home. Although asked to leave Hunter College when her activities at the American Negro Theater—a Harlem group which also included Hilda Simms, Harry Belafonte, and Sidney Poitier—took up too much of her energy and time, Dee graduated in 1945 with a bachelor's degree in French and Spanish. She worked briefly as a translator for an import company, but her extracurricular activities soon became her career.

Dee s work has run the gamut of entertainment media ...

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 ...

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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 ...

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Roanne Edwards

Shirley Graham Du Bois was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, the oldest of David A. Graham and Etta (Bell) Graham's five children. Growing up, she moved with her family to various locations throughout the United States. As a teenager in Colorado Springs, Colorado, she first met W. E. B. Du Bois when he came to lecture at the local African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME). Soon after high school, she married a local man, Shadrack T. McCanns. The marriage soon ended, leaving her with two small children to support. “In quick succession I knew the glory of motherhood and the pain of deep sorrow,” she wrote later. “For the years immediately following, everything I did … was motivated by my passionate desire to make a good life for my sons.”

The nomadic quality of Graham s early life carried over into her educational experiences and into her later years ...