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Maxamed Dahir Afrax

Somali poet, dramatist, actor, and political activist, was born in Gabiley in northwestern Somalia in 1935. His father, Muxumed Amiin, was a soldier. His mother, Muumina Kaahin, Muxumed Amiin’s first wife, died when Cabdi, her only child, was still an infant. Cabdi’s grandmother Murriya took care of him until he was a teenager. He lived in the towns of Berbera and Arabsiyo where he attended a qurʾanic school. As a teenager he had to support himself through different kinds of hard physical labor.

In 1953 he moved to Hargeisa then the capital of the British Protectorate of Somaliland where he started composing his first poems Soon after in the same year he moved to Mogadishu the Somali capital There he was recognized as a talented poet and artist and was employed by Radio Mogadishu At the same time he joined the movement for national independence He worked for ...


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 ...


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 ...


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 ...


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 ...


Magda Romanska

playwright, poet, writer, and one of the leaders of the black revolt of the 1960s. Imamu Amiri Baraka was born Everett Leroy Jones during the Great Depression in Newark, New Jersey. He is credited as one of the most outspoken advocates of a black cultural and political revival in the 1960s. He attended Barringer High School and Rutgers University, where he pursued philosophy and religious studies, before enrolling in Howard University in Washington, D.C. It was then that he changed his name to LeRoi Jones. Baraka graduated from Howard University in 1953, and in 1954 he joined the U S Air Force in which he served for three years When an anonymous tipster suggested that he was a communist sympathizer Baraka s belongings were searched for subversive literature Because some of his books were deemed socialist Baraka was discharged from the military Shortly thereafter he ...


Alice Knox Eaton

slave narrator, novelist, playwright, historian, and abolitionist leader, was born in Lexington, Kentucky, the son of a slave mother, Elizabeth, and George Higgins, the white half-brother of Brown's first master, Dr. John Young. As a slave, William was spared the hard labor of his master's plantation, unlike his mother and half-siblings, because of his close blood relation to the slave-holding family, but as a house servant he was constantly abused by Mrs. Young. When the family removed to a farm outside St. Louis, Missouri, William was hired out in various capacities, including physician's assistant, servant in a public house, and waiter on a steamship. William's “best master” in slavery was Elijah P. Lovejoy, publisher of the St. Louis Times, where he was hired out in the printing office in 1830 Lovejoy was an antislavery editor who would be murdered seven years later for refusing ...


Wangari wa Nyatetũ-Waigwa

Ivorian writer and political activist, was born Koffi Binlin Dadié at Assinie, Ivory Coast, to Gabriel Dadié and Enuayé Ouessan. He was brought up in a Roman Catholic household, and it was upon his baptism in 1926 that he adopted the name Bernard, forsaking Koffi. Until his mid-forties Dadié lived under French colonial rule, and from 1923 to 1928 his schooling was periodically interrupted owing to his initial ambivalence toward the French education system. However, he eventually finished his elementary education in Grand-Bassam and was admitted, in 1930, to the École Primaire Supérieure de Bingerville, whose headmaster was Charles Béart. Béart nurtured his young protégés’ interest in drama, encouraging them to produce plays, some of which they wrote themselves. Here Dadié developed a love of theater, writing his first one-act play, Les villes, in 1933. Believed to be the first written play in Francophone sub-Saharan Africa, Les ...


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 ...


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 ...


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 ...


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 ...


Armando Pajalich

, South African dramatist, was born Harold Athol Lanigan Fugard in the small town of Middelburg in the semiarid South African Karoo to an Afrikaans-speaking mother and an English-speaking father. When he was three, the family moved to Port Elizabeth, where local industries and the port employed huge numbers of black laborers, who soon began a period of active resistance to exploitation and, later, apartheid. Fugard studied philosophy and social sciences at the University of Cape Town (1950–1953) but left before completing his degree to undertake an adventurous journey through Africa and to work on ships around the world. Thereafter, he gained employment in Johannesburg, working in offices distributing passbooks (1958). It was here that he discovered his passion for theater and the need to create plays and companies to stage the yet-untold stories of all peoples of South Africa.

After early experiments (No Good ...


Kate Tuttle

Athol Fugard plays deal with the personal wounds inflicted by the strict policy of racial segregation known as Apartheid, which was law for many years in his home nation of South Africa. He is best known for his plays Blood Knot and Master Harold … and the Boys, which have brought images of life under apartheid to a wide audience.

Fugard was born near Middleburg, South Africa. The child of an English father and an Afrikaner mother, Fugard grew up in Port Elizabeth, the Cape Province city where most of his plays are set. He studied philosophy and anthropology at the University of Cape Town, but left school just before graduating to hitchhike the length of Africa. He spent the next two years working on a steamship.

Returning to South Africa in 1956 Fugard married Sheila Meiring an actress whom he credits for developing his ...


Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda was born in Puerto Príncipe (now Camagüey), in central Cuba. Her father, a Spanish naval officer, died when she was young, and her mother, a wealthy white Creole (person of European descent born in the Americas), soon married another Spanish colonial official. Avellaneda received a private education and was an avid student of French literature, absorbing the great works of the romantic movement. Her tutors included José Maria Heredia, a Cuban nationalist and romantic poet, who influenced her writing significantly and introduced her to the works of the female French novelists Madame de Staël and George Sand.

Avellaneda's stepfather feared the possibility of large-scale slave uprisings in Cuba, given the precedent of the thirteen-year-long Haitian Revolution, which erupted in 1791, and the increase in slave revolts throughout Cuba. Consequently, in 1836 the family sold their property including their slaves and ...


Vivian Njeri Fisher

civil rights activist, educator, scholar, and dramatist, was born Ida Mae Holland in the Delta town of Greenwood, Mississippi. She was the youngest of four children of Ida Mae, a strong-willed, independent woman and midwife, who raised her children as a single parent. Holland never knew the true identity of her biological father.

Holland received her early education in Greenwood Mississippi but had dropped out of school before she reached the ninth grade At the age of eleven Holland experienced an incident that would change her life She was sexually assaulted while babysitting for a white family By the age of twelve the young and rebellious Holland was working as a prostitute She later noted I was always big for my age But after the rape and that White man gave me $5 I knew I was a woman And since I didn t want ...


Bernard W. Bell

Fenton Johnson was born on May 7, 1888, in Chicago, Illinois. He attended the University of Chicago, Northwestern University, and the School of Journalism at Columbia University in New York. Between 1906 and 1907 he went south to teach, but poverty and literary ambitions drove him back to Chicago. While only nineteen years old, he had several plays performed in Chicago's old Pekin Theater. The listing of The Cabaret Girl (1925) in James V. Hatch's Black Image on the American Stage (1970) suggests his continued interest in drama during the Harlem Renaissance.

But Johnson's major achievements were in poetry. A Little Dreaming (1913 his first collection reveals the influence of both English and American romanticism including the plantation tradition literature that evoked sentimental recollections of the Old South More promising than the sentimental dialect poems and the melancholic lines ...


Alison Donnell

Jamaicanpoet, playwright, and journalist born in the county parish of St Elizabeth. As the daughter of a middle‐class Baptist minister, Marson's intellectual development took place within the context of a religious home and the conservative and colonial Hampton high school, where she had won a scholarship place. When Marson left school in 1922, she directed her studies at commerce and secretarial work, and her decision to work with the Salvation Army and the YMCA in Kingston was an early indication of her commitment to ideas of social justice. Her interests in journalism were also evident, and in 1928 she founded and edited her own monthly journal, The Cosmopolitan: A Monthly Magazine for the Business Youth of Jamaica and the Official Organ of the Stenographers' Association The editorial statement of this bold and defiantly modern publication with a strong emphasis on women s issues proclaimed This ...


Teishan Latner

novelist, journalist, playwright, actor, civil rights activist, was born in Greer, South Carolina, the first child of Hudson and Annie Mae Mayfield. While he was still a boy, the family moved to Washington, D.C., where he attended the city's segregated public schools. Mayfield evinced an early interest in drama and literature, avidly reading Ernest Hemingway and Richard Wright, and won awards in his high school drama club. Ironically, given his later distinguished journalism career, Mayfield was denied an entry-level job at the Washington Post shortly after his sixteenth birthday because, a receptionist told him, “we don’t hire any colored copy boys” (Mayfield 1984). Graduating from the city's Dunbar High School in 1946, Mayfield enlisted in the U.S. Army but received a medical discharge a year later. Mayfield instead devoted himself to theater, traveling to New York in 1947 to attend classes including ...


Nita N. Kumar

poet, essayist, playwright, music critic, editor, and university teacher. Lawrence Paul Neal was one of the most influential thinkers—an activist-philosopher—of the Black Arts Movement in the 1960s, and along with LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka), envisioned and articulated the spirit of the movement, which he defined as “the aesthetic and spiritual sister of the Black Power concept.” Larry was born in Atlanta, Georgia, to Woodie and Maggie Neal and was the oldest of the five sons. While he was still young, the family moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he attended Roman Catholic High School, and went on to receive his BA in English and history from Lincoln University (1961), and MA from the University of Pennsylvania (1963), where he took graduate courses in folklore.

Among Neal's most notable contributions are his radical essay, “The Black Arts Movement,” and the book Black Fire An Anthology of ...