Blog Archives

E. Lynn Harris (yes, I’m a fan)

E. Lynn Harris

 (1957–2009)

aka: Everette Lynn Harris

 

Everette Lynn Harris was a bestselling author of novels about  African American men in gay and bisexual relationships. In his nine novels, which have sold more than three million copies, the gay characters are “on the down low,” or have not publicized their sexuality. Harris, a black man, endured years of abuse at the hands of his stepfather and for years denied his own homosexuality.

E. Lynn Harris was born on June 20, 1955, in Flint, Michigan, to Etta Mae Williams and James Jeter, who were unmarried. When Harris was three, he moved with his mother to Little Rock, Arkansas.

While living in Atlanta, Harris self-published his Invisible Life in 1991 and personally hand-delivered it to black-owned bookstores and beauty salons. In this coming-of-age tale, the book’s protagonist, Raymond Tyler, discovers his bisexuality and struggles to accept his true desires. Invisible Life caught the eye of a Doubleday sales representative, who bought a copy and sent it to the publishing house. Eventually, Harris made a presentation to company officials, who signed him to a three-book deal. Anchor Books, an imprint of Doubleday, published the book in trade paperback in 1994.

Among his other novels are Just As I Am (1994), And This Too Shall Pass (1996), If This World Were Mine (1997), Abide with Me (1999), Not a Day Goes By (2000), Any Way the Wind Blows (2001), A Love of My Own (2002), and I Say a Little Prayer (2006). His books tell ultimately optimistic stories that explore friendship, careers, romance, sexuality, and race. Harris wrote with an ear for black dialect, with descriptions, slang terms, and dialogue. Just As I Am, Any Way the Wind Blows, and A Love of My Own all won Novel of the Year designations by the Blackboard African American Bestsellers Inc. In 1997, If This World Were Mine won the James Baldwin Award for Literary Excellence. His memoir, What Becomes of the Brokenhearted, which he wrote over a period of seven years, was published in 2003.

A musical based on Not a Day Goes By toured nationally in 2004. As a lecturer, Harris spoke at colleges across the country. He wrote articles for Sports Illustrated, Essence, The Washington Post Sunday Magazine, The New York Times Book Review, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and The Advocate.

Harris’s novel I Say a Little Prayer was released in May 2006. Written during his time teaching at the Univerity of Arkansas and time spent at his Houston, Texas, home, it debuted at number three on The New York Times Book Review’s bestseller list. He subsequently published Just Too Good to Be True (2008) and Basketball Jones (2009).

Harris died on July 24, 2009, in Los Angeles while on a business trip.

Advertisements

Kehinde Wiley

Kehinde Wiley

Born: 1977 – Los Angeles, California – Present

 

A portrait painter for the new millennium, Kehinde Wiley creates works that merge the aesthetics of urban culture with the visual vocabulary of classic European portraiture. Having grown up in South Central Los Angeles and graduated with an MFA from Yale University in 2001, Wiley is uniquely adept at bridging the two worlds. Wiley’s subjects, young black men he encounters on the streets of Brooklyn and urban centers around the world, are portrayed in their own contemporary clothing, in the poses found in both European art history and in public sculpture. Heroically styled and skillfully rendered, Wiley’s paintings present a provocative visual juxtaposition and confront the hot-button issues of race, masculinity and power in contemporary culture. At only 32, Wiley has already firmly established himself in the art world. His paintings have been exhibited in a number of international group and solo exhibitions, have been featured in countless publications, and are part of the permanent collection of many leading art institutions, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, California’s Hammer Museum, and the Miami Art Museum.

Biography courtesy of USA Network

For more information on Mr. Wiley and to view his artwork visit his site: www.kehindewiley.com

Honi Coles & Cholly Atkins

Charles “Honi” Coles – April 2, 1911 – November 12, 1992

Charles “Cholly” Atkins – September 13, 1913 – April 19, 2003

 



Deborrah Kaye “Debbie” Allen

Born January 16, 1950, in Houston, Texas, the third child of Pulitzer-winning poet Vivian Ayers, and dentist Arthur Allen. Allen was three when she began taking dancing. By the age of four she had become determined to be a professional performer, and her parents enrolled her in dance classes at the age of five.

Allen’s parents divorced in 1957, leaving mother Vivian as the main caregiver for Debbie and her siblings. Under Vivian’s watchful eye, the Allen children were expected to complete writing assignments to encourage their creativity, and each of them had to perform household chores to establish independence. Debbie’s mother also taught her children to try new things. In 1960, on a whim, Vivian took Debbie and her siblings to live with her in Mexico. “She didn’t know anybody in Mexico,” Debbie later recalled in the Washington Post. “She didn’t speak Spanish. She was looking for another level of experience…I respect that so much.”

After nearly two years in Mexico, Allen and her family returned to Texas, where the 12-year-old Debbie auditioned for the Houston Ballet School. Although her performance was good enough for admission, the school denied her entry based on the color of her skin. A year later, a Russian instructor at the school who saw Debbie perform secretly enrolled the aspiring dancer. By the time the admissions department discovered the situation, they were so impressed with her skills that they let Allen stay in the program.

But that wouldn’t be the end of Allen’s segregation struggles. At 16, during what she believed was a successful audition for the North Carolina School of the Arts, she was chosen to demonstrate technique for other prospective students. Later, however, her application was rejected because her body was “unsuited” for ballet—a criticism often used to discourage black dancers.

The rejection hit Allen hard, and for the duration of high school, she focused mainly on her studies. An honor roll student, Allen entered Howard University, and graduated cum laude from the institution in 1971, with a degree in drama. She headed straight for Broadway after college, and in 1972 she landed several chorus roles, eventually making appearances on television, in commercials and series.

In 1979, Allen had a brief moment in the spotlight when she landed a small part in Alex Haley’s epic TV mini-series, Roots: The Next Generation, which discussed race relations in America. But Allen hit it big in 1980, after she starred in a Broadway revival of West Side Story as Anita. Her performance earned her a Tony nomination, and the critical acclaim necessary to land a role as a dance instructor in the movie Fame (1980). Fame won several Academy Awards, and helped launched a dance fad across the U.S. The wild success of the film evolved into a successful television spin-off in 1982, in which Allen also co-starred. For her role as choreographer on the show, Debbie snagged three Emmy awards for choreography.

After Fame was canceled, Allen headlined Bob Fosse’s revival of the musical Sweet Charity, for which she was honored with a Tony award. Then in 1988, Allen stepped behind the camera to direct The Cosby Show spinoff, A Different World. (Her sister, Phylicia Rashad, had starred as mother Clare Huxtable in the popular The Cosby Show franchise.) Allen boosted the show to the top of the ratings, continuing to produce and direct the sitcom until its finale in 1993.

In 2001, Allen opened the Debbie Allen Dance Academy in Los Angeles, California
(www.debbieallendanceacademy.com). The nonprofit school offers a comprehensive dance curriculum for students ranging in age from four to 18, regardless of financial status.

Allen has received several honors for her work, including an honorary doctorate from the North Carolina School of the Arts— where she had originally been rejected. She also earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Women in Radio and Television.

Allen is married to former NBA star Norm Nixon. They have two children.

© 2011 A&E Television Networks. All rights reserved.

Reposted from Biography.com

Robert Smalls (1839-1915)

Civil War Naval Hero

Robert Smalls was an African American slave who became a naval hero for the Union in the American Civil War and went on to serve as a congressman from South Carolina during Reconstruction.

His mother was a house slave and his father an unknown white man. Smalls was taken by his master in 1851 to Charleston, South Carolina, where he worked as a hotel waiter, hack driver, and rigger. In 1861, at the outbreak of the war, he was hired to work aboard the steamship Planter, which operated as an armed transport and dispatch vessel, carrying guns and ammunition for the Confederate army. On May 13, 1862, he and the other blacks on board seized control of the ship in Charleston Harbor, succeeded in passing through Confederate checkpoints, and turned the ship, its cargo of weapons, and several important documents over to a Union naval squadron blockading the city. This exploit brought Smalls great fame throughout the North. In 1863, when he was piloting the ironclad Keokuk in the battle for Fort Sumter, the vessel took many hits and was eventually sunk. Smalls’s bravery was rewarded with command of the Planter later that year. He was the first African American captain of a vessel in U.S. service.

After the war, Smalls rose rapidly in politics, despite his limited education. From 1868 to 1870 he served in the South Carolina House of Representatives and from 1870 to 1874 in the state Senate. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives (1875–79, 1882–83, 1884–87), where his outstanding political action was support of a bill that would have required equal accommodations for both races on interstate conveyances. In 1877, however, he was convicted of having taken a $5,000 bribe while in the state Senate; sentenced to three years in prison, he was pardoned by the governor. The case against him was clearly politically motivated. In 1895 he delivered a moving speech before the South Carolina constitutional convention in a gallant but futile attempt to prevent the virtual disfranchisement of blacks.

A political moderate, Smalls spent his last years in Beaufort, where he served as port collector (1889–93, 1897–1913).

Copyright © 1994-2010 Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. For more information visit Britannica.com

Source: Biography.com

E Says…Know Your History!

In 1950, writer Gwendolyn Brooks was the first African-American to win the Pulitzer Prize in poetry for her collection, Annie Allen.

Gwendolyn Brooks Biography 

(born June 7, 1917, Topeka, KS — died December 3, 2000, Chicago, IL)

Gwendolyn Brooks was the first African American poet to win the Pulitzer Prize (1950), and in 1968 she was named the poet laureate of Illinois.

Brooks graduated from Wilson Junior College in Chicago in 1936. Her early verses appeared in the Chicago Defender, a newspaper written primarily for that city’s African American community. Her first published collection, A Street in Bronzeville (1945), reveals her talent for making the ordinary life of her neighbours extraordinary. Annie Allen (1949), for which she won the Pulitzer Prize, is a loosely connected series of poems related to an African American girl’s growing up in Chicago. The same theme was used for Brooks’s novel Maud Martha (1953).

The Bean Eaters (1960) contains some of her best verse. Her Selected Poems (1963) was followed in 1968 by In the Mecca, half of which is a long narrative poem about people in the Mecca, a vast, fortresslike apartment building erected on the South Side of Chicago in 1891, which had long since deteriorated into a slum. The second half of the book contains individual poems, among which the most noteworthy are “Boy Breaking Glass” and “Malcolm X.” Brooks also wrote a book for children, Bronzeville Boys and Girls (1956). The autobiographical Report from Part One (1972) was an assemblage of personal memoirs, interviews, and letters; it was followed, though much later, by Report from Part Two (1996). Her other works include Primer for Blacks (1980), Young Poet’s Primer (1980), To Disembark (1981), The Near-Johannesburg Boy, and Other Poems (1986), Blacks (1987), Winnie (1988), and Children Coming Home (1991).

In 1985–86 Brooks was Library of Congress consultant in poetry (now poet laureate consultant in poetry), and in 1989 she received a lifetime achievement award from the National Endowment for the Arts. She became a professor of English at Chicago State University in 1990, a position she held until her death.

Copyright © 1994-2010 Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. For more information visit Britannica.com