James Langston Mercer Hughes was born on February 1, 1902, in Joplin, Missouri and died on May 22, 1967, in New York, New York.
His first successful poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” was published in The Crisis magazine in 1920 and met with high praise. In 1921 he enrolled in Columbia University where he studied briefly, and during which time became a part of Harlem’s burgeoning cultural movement, commonly known as the Harlem Renaissance. Hughes later dropped out of school, traveled around the world doing various jobs. In 1925, he met Vachel Lindsay, showed some of his poems to Lindsay who was impressed enough to use his connections to promote Hughes’s poetry and bring it to a wider audience.
In 1940, at 28 years old, Hughes published his autobiography, The Big Sea. Around that same time he began contributing to a column in the Chicago Defender, for which he created a comic character name Jesse B. Semple, better known as “Simple,” a black Everyman that Hughes used to further explore urban, working-class black themes, and to address racial issues. The columns were highly successful and “Simple” would later be the focus of sever of Hughes’s books and plays.
From the 1940s until his death, Hughes continued prolific output of poetry, plays and other works. On May 22, 1967, Langston Hughes died from complications of prostate cancer. A tribute to his poetry, his funeral contained little in the way of spoken eulogy, but was filled with jazz and blues music. Hughes’s ashes were interred beneath the entrance of the Arthur Schomberg Center for Research in Black culture in Harlem. The inscription marking the spot features a line from Hughes’s poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers.” It reads: “My soul has grown deep like the rivers.”
His work continues to be published and translated throughout the world.
For more information go to: http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/83
Octavia E. Butler
Born June 22, 1947 in Pasadena, CA
Died February 24, 2006 in Lake Forest Park, WA
Octavia Butler broke new ground both as a woman and an African American in the world of science fiction writing normally dominated by men.
Her father died when she was young and she was raised by her mother who worked as a maid to support the family. Despite suffering from dyslexia, she developed a deep love for books and decided to make writing her career at age 10. She earned an associate degree from Pasadena City College and later studied under Harlan Ellison at the Clarion Fiction Writers Workshop.
In 1976, Butler published her first novel, Patternmaster. This book was the first in a series of works about a group of people with telepathic powers called Patternists. OtherPatternist titles include Mind of My Mind (1977) and Clay’s Ark (1984).
In 1979, Butler’s career took off with Kindred. The novel tells the story of an African American woman who travels back in time to save a white slave owner—her own ancestor. In part, Butler drew some inspiration from her mother’s work.
“I didn’t like seeing her go through back doors,” she once said, according to The New York Times. “If my mother hadn’t put up with all those humiliations, I wouldn’t have eaten very well or lived very comfortably. So I wanted to write a novel that would make others feel the history: the pain and fear that black people have had to live through in order to endure.”
For some writers, science fiction serves as means to delve into fantasy. But for Butler, it largely served as a vehicle to address issues facing humanity. It was this passionate interest in the human experience that imbued her work with a certain depth and complexity. In the mid-1980s, Butler began to receive critical recognition for her work. She won the Hugo Award in 1984 for the best short story of the year, for “Speech Sounds.” That same year, the novelette “Bloodchild” won a Nebula Award and later a Hugo. In 1995 she became the first science fiction writer to receive the MacArthur Fellowship, nicknamed the Genius Grant.
For more information about this amazing science fiction writer go to: http://octaviabutler.org/
Monday celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. and his legacy. February is Black History month. I plan to ask the Board of Directors for PPW to join me in celebrating Black History month by writing blogs about black writers.
King was an eloquent writer of moving speeches and sermons. Dr. King also an orator and a freedom fighter. He advocated non-violent change in a time of extreme violence and hate.
I don’t feel that I am capable of expressing the truth of Dr. King’s story, so I would prefer to direct to a website that can tell you exactly who he was and what he accomplished in his brief life. Please take time to read about this man and his deeds.
Then, return here next week to read about other Black American writers.
The month of February is Black History month. I did a little research to find out more about some of the African-American writers who deserve to be honored this month.
We are all familiar with writers, such as Terry McMillan author of Waiting to Exhale (1992); and Toni Morrison, 1993 Nobel Prize winner and author of Beloved (1987) for which she won a Pulitzer Prize. The list also includes such writers as Alex Haley whose book Roots: The Saga of an American Family (1976) was adapted to a popular television mini-series in 1977.
But the list of African-American writers of note not only includes these famous individuals and those such as poets Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou as well as novelist Alice Walker; it also includes more obscure names–people whose works you might have read and not realized that they were African-American.
Frank Yerby was an historical novelist best known as the first African-American writer to become a millionaire from his pen, and to have a book purchased by a Hollywood studio for a film adaptation. The book, The Foxes of Harrow (1946) became the Oscar-nominated film “Foxes” starring Rex Harrison and Maureen O’Hara.
Samuel R. Delany is an author, professor and literary critic. His work includes a number of novels, many in the science fiction genre, as well as memoir and criticism.
Octavia Butler (1947-2006) was a Hugo and Nebulla award-winning author of science fiction.
Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784) was the first African-American poet and the first African-American woman to publish a book. Born in Senegambia, she was sold into slavery at the age of 7 or 8 and transported to North America. She was purchased by the Wheatley family of Boston, who taught her to read and write, and encouraged her poetry when they saw her talent.
The publication of her Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (1773) brought her fame, both in England, and the Thirteen Colonies; figures such as George Washington praised her work. During Wheatley’s visit to England, the African-American poet Jupiter Hammon praised her work in his own poem.
This list is woefully incomplete. It would take far too much time to list every African-American writer–past and present–whose name deserves inclusion in such a list. During the month of February I challenge readers to visit the internet or your local library to discover the work of more of the gifted writers whose names belong here and share with PPW what you find. Who is your favorite? What genre do they write?
Filed under Black History, books, genres, poetry, prose, publishing, read, reading, research, short stories, writers