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28 Days of Black Writers - Booker T. Washington

Booker T. Washington was the most famous black man in America between 1895 and 1915. He was also considered the most influential black educator of the late 19th and early 20th centuries insofar as he controlled the flow of funds to black schools and colleges. Born a slave on a small farm in the Virginia backcountry, he worked in the salt furnaces and coalmines of West Virginia as a child. Determined to educate himself, he traveled hundreds of miles under great hardship until he arrived -- broke, tired, and dirty -- at Hampton Institute. 

He became a star pupil under the tutelage of General Samuel Chapman Armstrong, head of Hampton. Washington was teaching at Hampton when General Armstrong called him aside after chapel. He said he had received a letter from some "gentlemen in Alabama" asking him to recommend a white principal for a colored school they wanted to open there in the town of Tuskegee. In 1881, Washington founded Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute on the Hampton model in the Black Belt of Alabama.

Starting with a broken down building, he used his ability to win the trust of white Southerners and Northern philanthropists to make Tuskegee into a model school of industrial education. He reassured whites that nothing in his educational program challenged white supremacy or offered economic competition with whites. He accepted racial subordination as a necessary evil, at least until such time as blacks could prove themselves worthy of full civil and political rights. As far as blacks were concerned, Washington insisted that industrial education would enable them to lift themselves up by their bootstraps and escape the trap of sharecropping and debt. 

In September 1895, Washington became a national hero. Invited to speak at the 1895 Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta, Washington publicly accepted disfranchisement and social segregation as long as whites would allow black economic progress, educational opportunity, and justice in the courts. "The wisest of my race understand that the agitation of questions of social equality is the extremest folly and that progress in the enjoyment of all the privileges that will come to us must be the result of severe and constant struggle rather than artificial forcing. The opportunity to earn a dollar in a factory just now is worth infinitely more than to spend a dollar in an opera house." 

Washington further publicized himself and his program by publishing his (ghost-written) autobiography, UP FROM SLAVERY, in 1901. He also founded the National Negro Business League in 1900. Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, both men with deep racial prejudices, used Washington as an advisor because he accepted racial subordination. He was able to recommend candidates for minor political posts that traditionally were given to blacks. The industrialists who controlled the financing of many black schools in the South depended upon his advice as to which schools should receive funds. In 1903, Washington's policies received a challenge from within the black community. W.E.B. Du Bois, then a scholar at Atlanta University, attacked Washington's philosophy in the book THE SOULS OF BLACK FOLK. 

An organized resistance to Washington grew within the black intellectual community. But as far as the majority of middle-class and working-class blacks were concerned, Washington remained their man. His popularity enabled him to neutralize criticism, sometimes by devious means such as bribing newspapers to report false and unflattering reports of his critics. Because of his image as a conciliator, Washington seldom could publicly criticize injustice. Yet, behind the scenes, he did finance court cases challenging segregation and tried to mitigate some of its excesses. When Woodrow Wilson became president in 1913, Washington lost his influence in the federal government, which Wilson helped segregate further. Meanwhile, a new era had begun in the black community, and a younger generation would no longer accept white supremacy. Under the leadership of Du Bois and others, they would demand their political and civil rights. (via PBS.org)

28 Days of Black Writers - Harriet Ann Jacobs

Harriet Jacobsin full Harriet Ann Jacobs, also called Harriet A. Jacobs (born 1813, EdentonNorth Carolina, U.S.—died March 7, 1897, Washington, D.C.), American abolitionist and autobiographer who crafted her own experiences into an eloquent and uncompromising slave narrative.

Born into slavery, Jacobs still was taught to read at an early age. She was orphaned as a child and formed a bond with her maternal grandmother, Molly Horniblow, who had been freed from slavery. While still in her teens Jacobs became involved with a neighbour, Samuel Tredwell Sawyer, a young white lawyer by whom she had two children. When she refused to become her owner’s concubine, she was sent to work in a nearby plantation. In an attempt to force the sale of her children (who were bought by their father and later sent to the North), Jacobs escaped and spent the next seven years in hiding.

After escaping to the North in 1842, Jacobs worked as a nursemaid in New York City and eventually moved to Rochester, New York, to work in the antislavery reading room above abolitionist Frederick Douglass’s newspaper, the North Star. During an abolitionist lecture tour with her brother, Jacobs began her lifelong friendship with the Quaker reformer Amy Post. Post, among others, encouraged Jacobs to write the story of her enslavement.

Self-published in 1861, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl is arguably the most comprehensive slave narrative written by a woman. Jacobs’s narrative does not shrink from discussing the sexual abuse of slaves or the anguish felt by slave mothers who faced the loss of their children. Rediscovered during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, Jacobs’s autobiography was not authenticated by scholars until 1981 and had therefore often been considered a work of fiction. (via Britannica.com)

28 Days of Black Writers - Claude McKay
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Claude McKay was born in Jamaica on September 15, 1889. He was educated by his older brother, who possessed a library of English novels, poetry, and scientific texts.

In 1912, McKay published a book of verse called Songs of Jamaica (Gardner), recording his impressions of black life in Jamaica in dialect. That same year, he traveled to the United States to attend Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. He remained there only a few months, leaving to study agriculture at Kansas State University.

In 1917, he published two sonnets, “The Harlem Dancer” and “Invocation," and later used the form in writing about social and political concerns from his perspective as a black man in the United States. McKay also wrote on a variety of subjects, from his Jamaican homeland to romantic love, with a use of passionate language.

During the twenties, McKay developed an interest in Communism and traveled to Russia and then to France, where he met Edna St. Vincent Millay and Lewis Sinclair. In 1934, McKay moved back to the United States and lived in Harlem, New York. Losing faith in Communism, he turned his attention to the teachings of various spiritual and political leaders in Harlem, eventually converting to Catholicism.

McKay’s viewpoints and poetic achievements in the earlier part of the twentieth century set the tone for the Harlem Renaissance and gained the deep respect of younger black poets of the time, including Langston Hughes. He died on May 22, 1948. (via Poets.org)

28 Days of Black Writers - James Weldon Johnson

Born on June 17, 1871 in Jacksonville, Florida, James Weldon Johnson was encouraged by his mother to study English literature and the European musical tradition. He attended Atlanta University, with the hope that the education he received there could be used to further the interests of African Americans. After graduating, he took a job as a high school principal in Jacksonville.

In 1900, he wrote the song “Lift Every Voice and Sing” on the occasion of Lincoln’s birthday; the song was immensely popular in the black community, and became known as the “Negro National Anthem.” Johnson moved to New York in 1901 to work with his brother Rosamond, a composer; after attaining some success as a songwriter for Broadway, he decided in 1906 to take a job as a U.S. consul to Venezuela. While employed by the diplomatic corps, Johnson had poems published in The Century Magazine and The Independent.

In 1912, Johnson anonymously published his novel The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (French & Co.), the story of a musician who rejects his black roots for a life of material comfort in the white world. The book explores the issue of racial identity in the twentieth century, a common theme for the writers of the Harlem Renaissance.

With his talent for persuading people of differing ideologies to work together for a common goal, Johnson became the national organizer for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1920. He edited The Book of American Negro Poetry (Harcourt Brace, 1922), a major contribution to the history of African-American literature. His book of poetry God’s Trombones (Viking Press, 1927) was influenced by his impressions of the rural South, drawn from a trip he took to Georgia while a freshman in college. It was this trip that ignited his interest in the African American folk tradition.

James Weldon Johnson died on June 26, 1938 (via Poets.org)

28 Days of Black Writers - Nikki Giovanni

Yolanda Cornelia “Nikki” Giovanni was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, on June 7, 1943, and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. In 1960, she entered Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, where she worked with the school’s Writer’s Workshop and edited the literary magazine. After receiving her bachelor of arts degree in 1967, she organized the Black Arts Festival in Cincinnati before entering graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University.

Giovanni is the author of numerous children books and poetry collections, including Chasing Utopia: A Hybrid (William Morrow, 2013), Bicycles: Love Poems (William Morrow, 2009); Acolytes (HarperCollins, 2007); The Collected Poetry of Nikki Giovanni: 1968-1998 (Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2003); Quilting the Black-Eyed Pea: Poems and Not-Quite Poems (William Morrow, 2002); Blues For All the Changes: New Poems (William Morrow, 1999); Love Poems (William Morrow, 1997); and Selected Poems of Nikki Giovanni (University Press of Mississippi, 1996). In her first two collections, Black Feeling, Black Talk (Harper Perennial, 1968) and Black Judgement (Broadside Press, 1969), Giovanni reflects on the African-American identity. 

A lung cancer survivor, Giovanni also contributed an introduction to the anthology Breaking the Silence: Inspirational Stories of Black Cancer Survivors (Hilton Publishing, 2005).

Her honors include the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. Award for Dedication and Commitment to Service in 2009, three NAACP Image Awards for Literature in 1998, the Langston Hughes award for Distinguished Contributions to Arts and Letters in 1996, as well as more than twenty honorary degrees from national colleges and universities. She has been given keys to more than a dozen cities, including New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, Miami, and New Orleans.

Several magazines have named Giovanni Woman of the Year, including EssenceMademoiselleEbony, and Ladies Home Journal. She was the first recipient of the Rosa Parks Woman of Courage Award. She has served as poetry judge for the National Book Awards and was a finalist for a Grammy Award in the category of Spoken Word.

She is currently University Distinguished Professor at Virginia Tech, where she has taught since 1987. (via Poets.org)

28 Days of Black Writers - Roxanne Gay

Roxane Gay (born October 15, 1974) is an American feminist writer, professor, editor and commentator. She is an associate professor of English at Purdue University, contributing opinion writer at The New York Times, founder of Tiny Hardcore Press, essays editor for The Rumpus, and co-editor of PANK, a nonprofit literary arts collective.

She perhaps best known as the writer of the New York Times best-selling essay collection Bad Feminist (2014). She is also the author of the short story collection Ayiti (2011), the novel An Untamed State (2014), the short story collection Difficult Women (2017), and Hunger (forthcoming 2017).

After completing her Ph.D., Gay began her academic teaching career in the fall 2010 at Eastern Illinois University, where she was assistant professor of English. While at EIU, in addition to her teaching duties, she was a contributing editor for Bluestem magazine and she also founded Tiny Hardcore Press. Gay worked at Eastern Illinois University until the end of the 2013-2014 academic year, taking a job in August 2014 at Purdue University as associate professor of creative writing.

She is the author of the short story collection Ayiti (2011), the novel An Untamed State (2014), the essay collection Bad Feminist (2014), the short story collection Difficult Women (2017), and Hunger (forthcoming 2017). Gay's publication of An Untamed State and Bad Feminist in the summer of 2014 led one Time Magazine reviewer to declare, "Let this be the year of Roxane Gay." The review noted of her inclusive style: "Gay’s writing is simple and direct, but never cold or sterile. She directly confronts complex issues of identity and privilege, but it’s always accessible and insightful."

She also edited the book Girl Crush: Women's Erotic Fantasies. In addition to her regular contributions to Salon and the now defunct HTMLGiant, her writing has appeared in Best American Mystery Stories 2014Best American Short Stories 2012Best Sex Writing 2012A Public SpaceMcSweeney’sTin HouseOxford AmericanAmerican Short FictionWest BranchVirginia Quarterly ReviewNOONBookforumTimeThe Los Angeles TimesThe Nation and The New York Times Book Review. (via Wikipedia)

28 Days of Black Writers - Countee Cullen

Born on May 30, 1903, in New York City, Countee Cullen was raised in a Methodist parsonage. He attended De Witt Clinton High School in New York and began writing poetry at the age of fourteen. In 1922, Cullen entered New York University. His poems were published in The Crisis, under the leadership of W. E. B. Du Bois, and Opportunity, a magazine of the National Urban League. He was soon after published in Harper’s, the Century Magazine, and Poetry. He won several awards for his poem, “Ballad of the Brown Girl," and graduated from New York University in 1923. That same year, Harper published his first volume of verse, Color, and he was admitted to Harvard University where he completed a master’s degree.

His second volume of poetry, Copper Sun (1927), met with controversy in the black community because Cullen did not give the subject of race the same attention he had given it in Color. He was raised and educated in a primarily white community, and he differed from other poets of the Harlem Renaissance like Langston Hughes in that he lacked the background to comment from personal experience on the lives of other blacks or use popular black themes in his writing. An imaginative lyric poet, he wrote in the tradition of Keats and Shelley and was resistant to the new poetic techniques of the Modernists. He died on January 9, 1946. (via Poets.org)

28 Days of Black Writers - Paul Laurence Dunbar

Born on June 27, 1872, Paul Laurence Dunbar was one of the first African-American poets to gain national recognition. His parents Joshua and Matilda Murphy Dunbar were freed slaves from Kentucky. His parents separated shortly after his birth, but Dunbar would draw on their stories of plantation life throughout his writing career. By the age of fourteen, Dunbar had poems published in the Dayton Herald. While in high school he edited the Dayton Tattler, a short-lived black newspaper published by classmate Orville Wright.

Despite being a fine student, Dunbar was financially unable to attend college and took a job as an elevator operator. In 1892, a former teacher invited him to read his poems at a meeting of the Western Association of Writers; his work impressed his audience to such a degree that the popular poet James Whitcomb Riley wrote him a letter of encouragement. In 1893, Dunbar self-published a collection called Oak and Ivy. To help pay the publishing costs, he sold the book for a dollar to people riding in his elevator.

Later that year, Dunbar moved to Chicago, hoping to find work at the first World’s Fair. He befriended Frederick Douglass, who found him a job as a clerk, and also arranged for him to read a selection of his poems. Douglass said of Dunbar that he was “the most promising young colored man in America.” By 1895, Dunbar’s poems began appearing in major national newspapers and magazines, such as The New York Times. With the help of friends, he published the second collection, Majors and Minors (Hadley & Hadley, 1895). The poems written in standard English were called “majors," and those in dialect were termed “minors.” Although the “major” poems outnumber those written in dialect, it was the dialect poems that brought Dunbar the most attention. The noted novelist and critic William Dean Howells gave a favorable review to the poems in Harper’s Weekly.

This recognition helped Dunbar gain national and international acclaim, and in 1897 he embarked on a six-month reading tour of England. He also brought out a new collection, Lyrics of Lowly Life (Dodd, Mead and Co., 1896). Upon returning to America, Dunbar received a clerkship at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, and shortly thereafter he married the writer Alice Ruth Moore. While living in Washington, Dunbar published a short story collection, Folks from Dixie (Dodd, Mead and Co., 1898), a novel entitled The Uncalled (Dodd, Mead and Co., 1898), and two more collections of poems, Lyrics of the Hearthside (Dodd, Mead and Co., 1899) and Poems of Cabin and Field (Dodd, Mead and Co., 1899). He also contributed lyrics to a number of musical reviews.

In 1898, Dunbar’s health deteriorated; he believed the dust in the library contributed to his tuberculosis and left his job to dedicate himself full time to writing and giving readings. Over the next five years, he would produce three more novels and three short story collections. Dunbar separated from his wife in 1902, and shortly thereafter he suffered a nervous breakdown and a bout of pneumonia. Although ill and drinking too much in attempt to soothe his coughing, Dunbar continued to write poems. His collections from this time include Lyrics of Love and Laughter (Dodd, Mead and Co., 1903), Howdy, Howdy, Howdy (Dodd, Mead and Co., 1905), and Lyrics of Sunshine and Shadow (Dodd, Mead and Co., 1903). These books confirmed his position as America’s premier black poet. Dunbar’s steadily deteriorating health caused him to return to his mother’s home in Dayton, Ohio, where he died on February 9, 1906, at the age of thirty-three. (via Poets.org)

28 Days of Black Writers - Lorraine Hansberry

Lorraine Hansberry was born on May 19, 1930, in Chicago, Illinois. She wrote A Raisin in the Sun, a play about a struggling black family, which opened on Broadway to great success. Hansberry was the first black playwright and the youngest American to win a New York Critics’ Circle award. Throughout her life she was heavily involved in civil rights. She died at 34 of pancreatic cancer.

In New York, Hansberry attended the New School for Social Research and then worked for Paul Robeson’s progressive black newspaper, Freedom, as a writer and associate editor from 1950 to 1953. She also worked part-time as a waitress and cashier, and wrote in her spare time. By 1956, Hansberry quit her jobs and committed her time to writing. In 1957, she joined the Daughters of Bilitis and contributed letters to their magazine, The Ladder, about feminism and homophobia. Her lesbian identity was exposed in the articles, but she wrote under her initials, L.H., for fear of discrimination. 

During this time, Hansberry wrote The Crystal Stair, a play about a struggling black family in Chicago, which was later renamed A Raisin in the Sun, a line from a Langston Hughes poem. The play opened at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on March 11, 1959, and was a great success, having a run of 530 performances. It was the first play produced on Broadway by an African-American woman, and Hansberry was the first black playwright and the youngest American to win a New York Critics’ Circle award. The film version of A Raisin in the Sun was completed in 1961, starring Sidney Poitier, and received an award at the Cannes Film Festival. 

In 1963, Hansberry became active in the Civil Rights Movement. Along with other influential people, including Harry Belafonte, Lena Horne and James Baldwin, Hansberry met with then attorney general Robert Kennedy to test his position on civil rights. In 1963, her second play, The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window, opened on Broadway to unenthusiastic reception.

A Raisin in the Sun is considered one of the hallmarks of the American stage and has continued to find new audiences throughout the decades, including Emmy-nominated television productions from both 1989 and 2008. The play has earned accolades from Broadway as well, winning Tony Awards in 2004 and 2014, including Best Revival of a Play. (via Biography.com)

28 Days of Black Writers - Gwendolyn Brooks

Gwendolyn Brooks was born in Topeka, Kansas, on June 7, 1917, and raised in Chicago. She was the author of more than twenty books of poetry, including Children Coming Home (The David Co., 1991); Blacks (The David Co., 1987); To Disembark (Third World Press, 1981); The Near-Johannesburg Boy and Other Poems (The David Co., 1986); Riot (Broadside Press, 1969); In the Mecca (Harper & Row, 1968); The Bean Eaters (Harper, 1960); Annie Allen (Harper, 1949), for which she received the Pulitzer Prize; and A Street in Bronzeville (Harper & Brothers, 1945).

She also wrote numerous other books including a novel, Maud Martha (Harper, 1953), and Report from Part One: An Autobiography (Broadside Press, 1972), and edited Jump Bad: A New Chicago Anthology (Broadside Press, 1971).

In 1968 she was named poet laureate for the state of Illinois. In 1985, she was the first black woman appointed as consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress, a post now known as Poet Laureate. She also received an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award, the Frost Medal, a National Endowment for the Arts Award, the Shelley Memorial Award, and fellowships from the Academy of American Poets and the Guggenheim Foundation. She lived in Chicago until her death on December 3, 2000. (Poets.org)

28 Days of Black Writers - August Wilson

Famed playwright August Wilson was born on April 27, 1945, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He wrote his first play, Jitney, in 1979. Fences earned him a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award in 1987. Wilson won another Pulitzer Prize in 1990, for The Piano Lesson. In 1996, Seven Guitars premiered on the Broadway stage, followed by King Hedley II in 2001 and Gem of the Ocean in 2004. Wilson died on October 2, 2005, in Seattle, Washington.

August Wilson wrote his first notable play in 1979, Jitney, for which he earned a fellowship at the Minneapolis Playwright Center.

In 1981, Wilson married Judy Oliver. The following year, his new play, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, was accepted at the Eugene O'Neill Playwright's Conference. The year 1982 was particularly fruitful for Wilson, as it marked his introduction to Lloyd Richards, who went on to direct Wilson's first six Broadway plays.

Wilson's play Fences premiered on Broadway in 1987, earning the playwright his first Pulitzer Prize as well as a Tony Award. Joe Turner opened on Broadway in 1988.

Wilson divorced Judy Oliver in 1990. He took home another Pulitzer Prize that same year, this time for The Piano Lesson, following its Broadway premiere.

A collection of Wilson's work, entitled Three Plays by August Wilson, was published in book form in 1991. The following year brought the Broadway premiere of Two Trains Running.

In 1994, Wilson married for the third time, to a costume designer named Constanza Romero. Seven Guitars made its way to the Broadway stage two years later, followed by the birth of Wilson's and Romero's daughter, Azula, in 1997.

King Hedley II made its Broadway debut in 2001, and Gem of the Ocean premiered in Chicago roughly a year later. In 2003, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom was revived on Broadway. Gem of the Ocean premiered on Broadway in 2004, where it made a run of 72 performances. (via Biography.com)

28 Days of Black Writers - Richard Wright

Richard Wright was born in Roxie, Mississippi. His grandparents had been slaves and his father had abandoned his family when he was six. His mother worked as a cook to support the family. They suffered from extreme poverty, especially after his mother became sick. Wright wanted to write from a very young age and he was overjoyed when, at the age of 16, a local newspaper printed one of the first stories that he wrote. Although no one in his family encouraged his dream, he refused to give it up. He worked at a number of jobs in the South but was unable to accept the prejudices and insults of Jim Crow. He kept reading and thinking about becoming a writer.

In 1927, he left Memphis, Tennessee to migrate to Chicago. There, after working in unskilled jobs, he was given an opportunity to write. He joined the John Reed Club in Chicago, an organization set up by the Communist Party to recruit writers into its ranks. Wright joined the Party, and in 1937 he went to New York to write for the Daily Worker, the Party's newspaper. His first book, UNCLE TOM'S CHILDREN (1938), was greeted with critical praise. His next work, NATIVE SON (1940), the story of a black man who inadvertently kills a white woman, made him famous. The book was a best-seller and was staged successfully as a play on Broadway (1941) by the great director Orson Welles. Wright himself played Bigger Thomas, the book's main character, in a motion-picture version made in Argentina in 1951. 

In 1944 he left the Communist Party because of political and personal differences. His next book, BLACK BOY, told the wrenching story of his childhood and youth in the South, detailing the extreme poverty in which he lived, his experience of racism and white violence, and his growing awareness of literature. His books made Wright the voice for an entire generation of black Americans. After World War II, Wright settled in Paris; among his political works of that period was WHITE MAN, LISTEN! (1957). Toward the end of his life, Wright had become very much involved in the Pan-African movement. He also was engaged in a literary quarrel with a new generation of black writers including James Baldwin. Wright's autobiographical AMERICAN HUNGER, which recounts experiences with the Communist Party after moving to the North, was published after his death in 1977. (via PBS.org)

28 Days of Black Writers - Audre Lorde

Poet, essayist, and novelist Audre Lorde was born on February 18, 1934, in New York City. Her parents were immigrants from Grenada. The youngest of three sisters, she was raised in Manhattan and attended Catholic school. While she was still in high school, her first poem appeared in Seventeen magazine. Lorde received her BA from Hunter College and an MLS from Columbia University. She served as a librarian in New York public schools from 1961 through 1968. In 1962, Lorde married Edward Rollins. They had two children, Elizabeth and Jonathon, before divorcing in 1970.

Her first volume of poems, The First Cities, was published in 1968. In 1968 she also became the writer-in-residence at Tougaloo College in Mississippi, where she discovered a love of teaching. In Tougaloo she also met her long-term partner, Frances Clayton. The First Cities was quickly followed with Cables to Rage (1970) and From a Land Where Other People Live (1973), which was nominated for a National Book Award. In 1974 she published New York Head Shot and Museum. Whereas much of her earlier work focused on the transience of love, this book marked her most political work to date.

In 1976, W. W. Norton released her collection Coal and shortly thereafter published The Black Unicorn. Poet Adrienne Rich said of The Black Unicorn that “Lorde writes as a Black woman, a mother, a daughter, a Lesbian, a feminist, a visionary; poems of elemental wildness and healing, nightmare and lucidity.” Her other volumes include Chosen Poems Old and New (1982) and Our Dead Behind Us (1986). Poet Sandra M. Gilbert noted not only Lorde’s ability to express outrage, but also that she was capable of “of rare and, paradoxically, loving jeremiads.” Although her work gained wide acclaim, she was also sharply criticized. In an interview in the journal Callaloo, Lorde responded to her critics: “My sexuality is part and parcel of who I am, and my poetry comes from the intersection of me and my worlds. . . . Jesse Helms’s objection to my work is not about obscenity . . .or even about sex. It is about revolution and change. . . . Helms knows that my writing is aimed at his destruction, and the destruction of every single thing he stands for.”

Lorde was diagnosed with cancer and chronicled her struggles in her first prose collection, The Cancer Journals, which won the Gay Caucus Book of the Year award for 1981. Her other prose volumes include Zami: A New Spelling of My Name (1982), Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (1984), and A Burst of Light (1988), which won a National Book Award.

In the 1980s, Lorde and writer Barbara Smith founded Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press. She was also a founding member of Sisters in Support of Sisters in South Africa, an organization that worked to raise concerns about women under apartheid.

Audre Lorde was professor of English at John Jay College of criminal justice and Hunter College. She was the poet laureate of New York from 1991-1992. She died of breast cancer in 1992. The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde was published in 1997. (via Poets.org)

28 Days of Black Writers - Sonia Sanchez

Sonia Sanchez (b. 1934) is a prolific writer, serious, and original. Her poems depict the struggles between black people and white people, between men and women, and between cultures.

She is innovative in her use of language and structure, sometimes using Black speech in her poetry. She too has a brilliant sense of history, and a vision of her people being truly free. "right on: white america" is one of her best poems. America, she writes, was once 'a pio/neer land', but it had systematically eliminated through intolerance all those that it saw different. Thus, "there ain't ./no mo/ indians', 'no mo real/white allamerican/bad/guys. The only ones left now are the black people and they had better 'check out', for the guns and shells are falling to decimate them and a bleak future awaits them unless they do something about it.

Sanchez is a recent recipient (2001) of the Robert Frost medal in poetry.  One of the highest honors awarded to a nationally recognized poet. One of the most important writers of the Black Arts Movement; Sanchez is the author of sixteen books and lives in Philadelphia. (via AALBC.com)

28 Days of Black Writers - Chinua Achebe
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The novelist Chinua Achebe (November 16, 1930 — March 21, 2013), a fine stylish and an astute social critic, is one of the best-known African writers in the West and his novels are often assigned in university courses.

Nigerian novelist and poet, whose works explore the impact of European culture on African society. Achebe's unsentimental, often ironic books vividly convey the traditions and speech of the Ibo people. Born in Ogidi, Nigeria, Achebe was educated at the University College of Ibadan (now the University of Ibadan).

He subsequently taught at various universities in Nigeria and the United States. Achebe wrote his first novel, Things Fall Apart (1958), partly in response to what he saw as inaccurate characterizations of Africa and Africans by British authors. The book describes the effects on Ibo society of the arrival of European colonizers and missionaries in the late 1800s.

Achebe's subsequent novels No Longer at Ease (1960), Arrow of God (1964), A Man of the People (1966), and Anthills of the Savannah (1987) are set in Africa and describe the struggles of the African people to free themselves from European political influences. During Nigeria's tumultuous political period of the late 1960s and early 1970s, Achebe became politically active. Most of his literary works of this time address Nigeria's internal conflict (see Nigeria, Federal Republic of: Civil War). These books include the volumes of poetry Beware, Soul Brother (1971) and Christmas in Biafra (1973), the short-story collection Girls at War (1972), and the children's book How the Leopard Got His Claws (1972).

In 1971 Achebe helped to found the influential literary magazine Okike. His other writings include the essay collections Morning Yet on Creation Day (1975), which he later expanded under the title Hopes and Impediments (1988); and The Trouble with Nigeria (1983). (via AALBC.com)

28 Days of Black Writers - bell hooks

bell hooks (Gloria Watkins) is a cultural critic, feminist theorist, and writer. Celebrated as one of our nation's leading public intellectual by The Atlantic Monthly, as well as one of Utne Reader's 100 Visionaries Who Could Change Your Life, she is a charismatic speaker who divides her time among teaching, writing, and lecturing around the world. Previously a professor in the English departments at Yale University and Oberlin College, hooks is now a Distinguished Professor of English at City College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. She is the author of more than seventeen books, including All About Love: New Visions; Remembered Rapture: The Writer at Work; Wounds of Passion: A Writing Life; Bone Black: Memories of Girlhood; Killing Rage: Ending Racism; Art on My Mind: Visual Politics; and Breaking Bread: Insurgent Black Intellectual Life. She lives in New York City. (via AALBC.com)

28 Days of Black Writers - Walter Mosley

Walter Mosley is one of America's most celebrated and beloved writers. His books have won numerous awards and have been translated into more than twenty languages.

Walter Mosley is the author of Devil in a Blue Dress, A Red Death, White Butterfly, Black Betty and A Little Yellow Dog in the Easy Rawlins mystery series; and RL’s Dream, a blues novel.

Mr. Mosley is the past president of the Mystery Writers of America, a member of the executive board of the PEN American Center as well as the National Book Foundation (sponsors of the National Book Awards). He also serves on PEN’s Open Book Committee, a group working to increase the presence of African Americans and others in the publishing community. A native of Los Angeles, Walter Mosley now lives in New York City. (via AALBC.com)

28 Days of Black Writers - Alice Walker

Alice Walker is a vegetarian, gardener, world traveler and spiritual explorer. She lives in Mendocino, California.

“Alice Walker was born on February 9, 1944, in Eatonton, Georgia, the eighth and last child of Willie Lee and Minnie Lou Grant Walker, who were sharecroppers. When Alice Walker was eight years old, she lost sight of one eye when one of her older brothers shot her with a BB gun by accident. In high school, Alice Walker was valedictorian of her class, and that achievement, coupled with a "rehabilitation scholarship" made it possible for her to go to Spelman, a college for black women in Atlanta, Georgia. After spending two years at Spelman, she transferred to Sarah Lawrence College in New York, and during her junior year traveled to Africa as an exchange student. She received her bachelor of arts degree from Sarah Lawrence College in 1965.”

In 1965, Walker met Melvyn Rosenman Leventhal, a Jewish civil rights lawyer. They were married on March 17, 1967 in New York City. Later that year the couple relocated to Jackson, Mississippi, becoming "the first legally married inter-racial couple in Mississippi".  They were harassed and threatened by whites, including the Ku Klux Klan. The couple had a daughter Rebecca in 1969. Walker and her husband divorced in 1976. 

Alice Walker made history as the first black woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for her groundbreaking novel, The Color Purple, which has been transformed from a novel, to a Hollywood movie and latterly to a successful Broadway musical. This universal story of triumph against all odds is not that different from Walker's own story. (via AALBC.com)

28 Days of Black Writers - Amiri Baraka

Born in 1934, poet, writer and political activist Amiri Baraka used his writing as a weapon against racism and became one of the most widely published African American writers. Known for his social criticism and incendiary style, Baraka explored the anger of Black Americans and advocated scientific socialism.  Often confrontational and designed to awaken audiences to the political needs of Black Americans, Baraka was a prominent voice in American literature.

Inciting controversy throughout his career, he was accused of fostering hate while at the same time being lauded for speaking out against oppression. Often focusing on Black Liberation and White Racism, he spent most of his life fighting for the rights of African Americans. With a writing career that spanned nearly fifty years, Baraka is respected as one of the leading revolutionary cultural and political leaders, especially in his hometown of Newark, NJ. His representations of race and wisdom have made him an influential part of the Black Arts Movement along with Nikki Giovanni, Sonia Sanchez and Maya Angelou. Together they have gone on to inspire younger generations like Terrence Hayes. (via PBS.org)

28 Days of Black Writers - Octavia Butler

In a genre known for being traditionally white and male, Octavia Butler broke new ground in science fiction as an African American woman. Born in California in 1947, Butler was an avid reader despite having dyslexia, was a storyteller by 4, and began writing at the age of 10. Drawn to science fiction because of its boundless possibilities for imagination, she was quickly frustrated by the lack of people she could identify with so she decided to create her own.  

Butler took the science fiction world by storm. Her evocative novels featuring race, sex, power and humanity were highly praised and attracted audience beyond their genre. They would eventually be translated into multiple languages and sell more than a million copies. One of her best-known novels Kindred, published in 1979, tells the story of a Black woman who must travel back in time in order to save her own life by saving a white, slaveholding ancestor. Over her career, she won two Hugo Awards, two Nebula Awards and in 1995 she became the first science fiction writer to win the MacArthur fellowship. The self-described “outsider’s” legacy inspired future generations of women including Valjeanne Jeffers, Nnedi Okorafor and even singer/songwriter Janelle Monáe. (via PBS.org)