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Brenna Sanchez

classical singer, author, gay rights activist, and former literary assistant to writer Langston Hughes, was born in Cleveland, Ohio. Abdul's father, Hamid Abdul, was from Calcutta, India, and his mother, Bernice (Shreve) Abdul, was able to trace her ancestry back to the pre-Revolutionary War era. Abdul got his start in theater at a young age, participating in children's theater by age six. He attended John Hay High School and, after graduation, worked as a journalist for the Cleveland Call and Post. He would later go on to earn a diploma from the Vienna Academy of Music in 1962. He also studied at Harvard University, the New School for Social Research, the Cleveland Institute of Music, New York College of Music, and the Mannes College of Music.

In 1951 at age twenty two Abdul relocated to New York City There he began studying music and was ...

Article

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 ...

Article

Ai  

André Willis

Ai was born Florence Anthony in Albany, Texas, and raised in Tucson, Arizona. She officially changed her name to Florence Ai Ogawa in 1974 and began calling herself Ai (which means “love” in Japanese) in 1979. She graduated from the University of Arizona in 1969 and received a master of fine arts degree from the University of California at Irvine in 1971. In 1973 she published Cruelty, her first book of poetry, and her next book, the award-winning Killing Floor (1979), received critical acclaim. Other works include Sin (1986), Fate (1991), and Greed (1993). Her collection Vice: New and Selected Poems (1999) received the prestigious National Book Award for poetry. Dread (2003) is Ai's seventh collection of verse.

Through her poetry Ai gives people from all walks of life including prostitutes killers poor farmers ...

Article

AI  

Robert A. Lee

Born in Tucson, Arizona, the poet AI, pseudonym of Florence Anthony, looks to a complex American multicultural ancestry—a Japanese father and a mother part black, Choctaw, and Irish. Raised also in Las Vegas and San Francisco, she majored in Japanese at the University of Arizona and immersed herself in Buddhism. From 1999 she lived in Stillwater, Oklahoma and taught in the English Department of Oklahoma State University. She received awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and various universities; she also was a frequent reader-performer of her work.

So eclectic not to say peaceable an upbringing makes a striking contrast with the kind of poetry that won her ongoing attention Her particular forte was to adapt Robert Browning s dramatic monologue to her own purposes poems whose different voices speak of fracture violence revenge sexual hunger as if to emphasize the human disorder both beneath and ...

Article

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 ...

Article

LaNesha NeGale DeBardelaben

physician and public health provider, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the fourth of five children of Hillard Boone Alexander, a horse trainer, and Virginia Pace Alexander. Born enslaved in 1856 to James and Ellen Alexander in Mecklenburg, Virginia, Alexander's father migrated to Philadelphia in 1880. Alexander's mother was born enslaved in 1854 to Thomas and Jenne Pace in Essex County, Virginia. She and her brother migrated to Philadelphia in 1880. In 1882 Hillard and Virginia were married. A working-class but respectable family, the Alexanders lived in the city's Seventh Ward with their three boys, Raymond Pace Alexander, Milliard, and Schollie, and two girls, Irene and Virginia. Strong family values were instilled in the Alexander children at an early age. Church, education, and a solid work ethic were emphasized in the home. Shortly after the birth of the youngest child in 1903 ...

Article

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 ...

Article

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 ...

Article

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 ...

Article

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 ...

Article

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 ...

Article

Kenny Jackson Williams

The second book of poems by Gwendolyn Brooks, Annie Allen (1949) won the Eunice Tietjens Prize offered by Poetry Magazine and the 1950 Pulitzer Prize for poetry.

The collection is dominated by a long narrative poem, “The Anniad”. Somewhat more complex than some of her earlier poems, “The Anniad” is an exercise in various poetic techniques, employing a diction associated more often with the epic form. The protagonist is not “heroic” in the usual sense of the term, but her ability to survive is just as “heroic” as any figure from classical literature.

The poem charts the changes in a young woman as she moves from her youthful dreams to the reality of married life in the ghetto. We see Annie Allen grow from childhood to womanhood in an atmosphere conditioned by poverty, racial discrimination, parental expectations, and unhappiness. Like Maud Martha a later Brooks ...

Article

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 ...

Article

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 ...

Article

Melba Joyce Boyd

is the unifying character for six poems in Frances Ellen Watkins Harper's Sketches of Southern Life (1872): “Aunt Chloe,” “The Deliverance,” “Aunt Chloe's Politics,” “Learning to Read,” “Church Building,” and “The Reunion.” This poetry emulates the slave narrative, a literary form that characterized much of the literature written by and about African Americans during the nineteenth century. It is distinctive because Harper invented a dialect technique that used aural association and syntax rather than phonetics to create an authentic black voice. This innovation is seen in literature by African American writers of subsequent generations, a technique that effectively captures the dialect without reducing folk characters to stereotypes or caricatures.

Aunt Chloe s voice represents the agony of all slave women when the slave mistress sells Aunt Chloe s children in order to defray a debt The dramatic style of the narrative also includes other characters who ...

Article

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 ...

Article

Brad S. Born

Benjamin Banneker was born 9 November 1731in Baltimore County, Maryland, the first child of free African American parents Mary Banneker and Robert, a former slave whose freedom she had purchased and who took her surname upon marriage. Growing up on their tobacco farm, Benjamin received little formal schooling, learning to read and write from his grandmother and attending for several seasons an interracial school where he first developed his lifelong interest in mathematics. Following his parents’ deaths and three sisters’ departures from home, Banneker remained on the farm, working the crops and cultivating his intellect in relative seclusion.

In 1771, he befriended George Ellicott a Quaker neighbor whose family had developed a large complex of mills on the adjoining property With astronomical texts and instruments borrowed from Ellicott he trained himself to calculate ephemerides tables establishing the positioning of the sun moon and stars for each day ...

Article

James Smethurst

Amiri Baraka was a highly productive writer who has written poetry, drama, novels, Jazz operas, and nonfiction. He also played a crucial role as an organizer, editor, and promoter of the avant-garde literary movements of the 1950s and early 1960s and the Black Arts Movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Often controversial, Baraka became the center of a political firestorm in his home state of New Jersey in 2003 when a poem he had written was criticized as anti-Semitic.

Born Everett Leroy (later LeRoi) Jones in Newark, New Jersey, Baraka attended Newark public schools and studied chemistry at Howard University in Washington, D.C., before turning to literature and philosophy. In 1954 he left Howard and joined the United States Air Force. He became increasingly interested in literature, immersing himself in the work of American poet Ezra Pound, Irish novelist James Joyce and other modern ...

Article

Sholomo B. Levy

poet, playwright, educator, and activist, was born Everett Leroy Jones in Newark, New Jersey, the eldest of two children to Coyette Leroy Jones, a postal supervisor, and Anna Lois Russ, a social worker. Jones's lineage included teachers, preachers, and shop owners who elevated his family into Newark's modest, though ambitious, black middle class. His own neighborhood was black, but the Newark of Jones's youth was mostly white and largely Italian. He felt isolated and embattled at McKinley Junior High and Barringer High School, yet he excelled in his studies, played the trumpet, ran track, and wrote comic strips.

Graduating from high school with honors at age fifteen, Jones entered the Newark branch of Rutgers University on a science scholarship. In 1952 after his first year he transferred to Howard University hoping to find a sense of purpose at a black college that had ...