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Alice Walker You may know her for the renowned “The Colour Purple” published way back in 1982, which has not only won countless awards including the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and the National Book award but is featured on a number of syllabuses across the globe ranging from high schools to colleges. If you don’t know her already the question is why not? Besides her fabulous writing Walker has been an activist all her life. Born and raised poor in a sharecroppers family, Walker now spends her life travelling the globe to stand by those who are in the same position she once was. Like all inspirational figures she seeks to transform and change this world for the better.


Walker grew up in a large family of 8 siblings, with a mother who worked as a maid to support them. One day while she and her brothers were playing, she was shot in the eye with a BB pellet. This

caused scarring which severely affected her confidence. Thinking she was “ugly and disfigured” she withdrew herself from the outside world and took solace in none other than reading and very soon after writing. Having grown up in the south, Walker was also exposed to racial segregation, and was educated in segregated schools but, this didn’t stop her from graduating as valedictorian from high school and receiving a scholarship to attend College. Thereafter she experienced being a social worker, a teacher and a civil rights movement activist, through which her first poems derived and then eventually her globally loved novels. Just another example of what you can do when you believe in yourself and put your mind to it.

I am an expression of the divine,

just like a peach is, just like a fish is. I have a right to be this way...I can’t apologize for that, nor can I change it, nor do I want to... We will never have to be other than who we are in order to be successful...We realize that we are as ourselves unlimited and our experiences valid. It is for the rest of the world to recognize this, if they


- The Colour Purple


Rita Dove Rita Dove, an African- American poet and author was born in August 28, 1952 in Ohio. She is the first African-American poet to be appointed as the Poet Laureate Consultant in poetry to the library of Congress (1993-1995), since the position was created by an Act of Congress in 1986 from the previous ‘consultant in poetry’ (1937-86). Dove is the second African-American poet to receive the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1987. She graduated from the Buchtel high school as a presidential scholar in 1970 and later graduated with a B.A from Miami University in 1973. She taught creative writing at Arizona State University from 1981-1989. Her works were never confined to specific era or schools of contemporary literature. Her wide ranging topics and precise poetic language with which she captures emotions, defied categorisation.


She has published nine volumes of poetry, book of essays (The poets’ world, 1995), book of short stories (Fifth Sunday, 1985) and a novel (Through the Ivory Gate, 1992). Her latest and ambitious collection of poetry Sonata Mullatica was published in 2009. Dove, edited the Penguin Anthology of 20th Century American Poetry (2011).The collection provoked heated controversy as some critics suggested, she valued populist agenda over quality. Besides the Pulitzer Prize, she received several literary awards and academic honours, among them 25 honorary doctorates - most recently in 2014 from Yale University and in 2013 from Emerson College and Emory University. Dove married Fred Viebahn, a German born writer in 1979 and the couple are said to be avid ballroom dancers and have participated in a couple of performances.

You have to imagine it possible

before you can see something. You can have the evidence right in front of you, but if you can’t imagine something that has never existed

before, it’s impossible. - Rita Dove


Phillis Wheatley


Phillis Wheatley was the first African American, the first slave, and the third woman in the United States to publish a book of poems. She was sold into slavery at the age of seven and transported to North America, where she was bought by Mr Wheatley. The family taught her to read and write, and encouraged her to write poetry when they discovered how talented she was. Wheatley learned to read and write English by the age of nine, and she began writing poetry at thirteen.

Moral, (1773).

Despite her obvious talent, many white colonists found it difficult to believe that an African slave was writing such excellent poetry, and Wheatley had to defend her authorship of her poetry in court. In 1772 she was examined by a group of Boston luminaries, who concluded she had indeed written the poems and signed an attestation, which was included in the preface of her book of collected works: Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and

They suffered a very difficult life together, struggling with poor living conditions and the deaths of two babies. Wheatley wrote another volume of poetry but, sadly, was unable to publish it because of her financial circumstances. After her husband was imprisoned for debt in 1784, Wheatley fell into poverty and died of illness, quickly followed by the tragic death of her surviving infant son.

In 1775, Phillis Wheatley sent a copy of a poem titled, ‘To His Excellency’, George Washington to him. He was so impressed that he invited her to visit him at his headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 1778, Wheatley was legally freed from slavery by her master’s will and three months later, Phillis Wheatley married John Peters, a free black grocer.

Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land, Taught my benighted soul to understand

That there’s a God, that there’s a Saviour too: Once I redemption neither sought nor knew. Some view our sable race with scornful eye, “Their colour is a diabolic dye.” Remember, Christians, Negroes, black as Cain,

May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.

- On being brought from Africa to America


Cornelius Eady Cornelius Eady is an American writer who focuses mainly on matters of race and society. He was born in Rochester, New York, and is the author of seven volumes of poetry. His poems are known for having a musical quality inspired by Blues and Jazz. He recently collaborated with jazz composer Deidre Murray in the production of several works of musical theatre, including You Don’t Miss Your Water, Running Man, Fangs, and Brutal Imagination. Eady and fellow poet Toi Derricotte founded Cave Canem Foundation, a nonprofit organisation that supports black poets. One of his most popular works, Brutal Imagination (2001) comprises two cycles of poems, each confronting the same subject: the black man in white America.


The first cycle is narrated largely by the imaginary black man that Susan Smith blamed for kidnapping her two children. (In actual fact she had strapped her babies into the back of their family car and pushed the car into John D. Long Lake and let them drown.) It took nine days for the authorities, the FBI and the sheriff, to break her story and so the premise is that for those nine days, that man was alive and walking among us, and it was a big ‘what if’ - “What if he could talk? What if he had the ability to speak? What would he have told us?” The second cycle, Running Man, focuses on the African-American family and the barriers of colour and class. The title character represents every AfricanAmerican male who has crashed into these barriers.


My friends,

As it has been proven in the laboratory, An empty pair of dance shoes Will sit on the floor like a wart


Until it is given a reason to move.. - The Empty Dance Shoes


Malorie Blackman Malorie Blackman, arguably one of the most well-known black authors of our time, has made an impact on the lives of many young readers through her imaginative and convincing story-lines and characters. It’s not surprising that her work has earned her a huge stack of awards including: Red House Children’s Book Award, Fantastic Fiction Award not mentioning being shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal In the Queen’s Birthday Honours in 2008. Malorie also received an OBE for her contribution to children’s literature and was awarded the prestigious Eleanor Farjeon award in 2005. Malorie writes literature and television dramas for children and young adults. She’s used science-fiction to explore social and ethical issues in books such as Hacker, Thief! and Pig-Heart Boy. She is however, most well-known for her dystopian series of Noughts and Crosses that depict a divided world of rich and poor with a forbidden love at the heart of it. It has won the ‘Children’s Book Award’ and she


has twice won the Young Telegraph and Gimme 5 Awards (for Hacker and Thief!) – The only author to have done so. Malorie writes across a range of subjects for children and teens, addressing diverse and sensitive issues. Currently, she proudly holds the titles Children’s Laureate 20132015, and also National Treasure as described by The Times. Her first novel was called Not so Stupid! and it was a selected title for the 1991 Feminist Book Fortnight. Malorie participated in the first BBC TV Black Women’s Screenwriting Workshop in 1991. It took an unbelievable 82 rejection letters before it was finally published! When she was a child, Malorie aspired to become an English teacher but ended up becoming a computer programmer. She was inspired by the book The Silver Chair by CS Lewis and has read it more than ten times. She has now written over fifty books and she’s also written a stage play and scripts for television shows including Byker Grove.


I used to comfort myself with

the belief that it was only certain individuals and their peculiar notions that spoilt things for the rest of us. But how many individuals does it take before it’s not the individuals who are prejudiced but


society itself?.

- Noughts and Crosses


Toni Morrison Nobel Prize winner and “The conscience of America”, Morrison has used literature to convey honest messages about black culture.

Morrison explored many genres of writing, including children’s literature, non-fiction and stories that explored the past and present.

Her novels are richly descriptive, with powerful images of hardship and suffering by black people. Morrison is proud that she is “…writing for black people”.

Morrison followed her own advice, rising at 4am to write her first novel, while working and raising two small sons. Her literature campaigning and commitment to equal rights, saw her receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Her most well-known novels include Song of Soloman and Beloved. Her exquisitely detailed novels have won Toni Morrison almost every literature award possible. Not only has she won many awards, but also honorary degrees for her work. In 1993 Toni Morrison won the Pulitzer Prize award for literature. She was the first African-American woman to win this award, therefore making history.


In 2009, Toni Morrison spoke out against censorship through a series of essays and a speech. This was due to one of her books being banned at Michigan High School. Now in her 80’s, Toni Morrison continues to contribute to the literary world, still inspiring many through her story telling and her activist work around the world.

If there is a book that

you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, you must be the one to

write it.

- Toni Morrison


Maya Angelou Inspirational and pioneering, Angelou led the way forward for women’s and black people’s rights. She was a spokesperson for her people and conveyed her messages through essays, plays, poetry and novels. Her writing is powerful and emotive, evoking feelings of anger, sadness and compassion for her characters’ plights. She captures black culture and tells stories of tragedy and overcoming barriers through her powerful use of narration and description. She tells the truth for a generation of black people.


The work that Maya Angelou is most famous for is her series of seven autobiographies, following her childhood and her earlier adult experiences. These autobiographies made her famous internationally and they were highly praised, as they gave a truthful insight into the life of a young black woman. Many attempts were made for her autobiographies to be banned from American libraries. This was due to their controversial themes, yet it did not stop

Universities studying her books today. Although her books are labelled as autobiographical, Angelou named them as autobiographical fiction, as they had a narrative structure to them. These autobiographies also got a Pulitzer Prize nomination. Even though Maya Angelou never received an official University degree, she received more than fifty honorary ones and was a University Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University for over 25 years. According to her friends, she preferred to be addressed as Dr Angelou. Maya Angelou was also a notable member of the civil rights movement. She worked alongside the famous Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. When celebrating Angelou’s life, people remember her as an ambassador for her culture and people. In her lifetime Maya Angelou wrote 36 books, 30 of them being bestselling worldwide.


You will face many

defeats in your life, but never


let yourself be defeated. - Maya Angelou


Benjamin Zephaniah Dr Benjamin Zephaniah is a world famous British Jamaican dub-poet and writer, voted one of Britain’s top 50 post World War 2 writers. His poetry is strongly influenced by the music and poetry of Jamaica and what he calls “street politics”. Benjamin was born in Birmingham in April, 1958, to Caribbean immigrants. He was dyslexic, and left school at 13 as reading and writing was a great struggle. However, at the age of 10 he had his first performance and by 15, he was quite well known in and around Birmingham. His poems captured the mood of the early 1980s in Britain, and were often about homelessness or unemployment. He slowly became Britain’s most recognizable poet. In 1991, Zephaniah performed on all 6 continents in just a 3 week period. At the age of 22 his first book Pen Rhythm was published by Page One Books. It sold well and he also made a name writing and reading his poems in clubs and other venues. Zephaniah is known for his strong and often controversial beliefs and opinions but also for his humorous approach. He


has suggested changing the British voting system, and has publicly turned down an OBE medal. His poetry book for children, Talking Turkeys, was an immediate bestseller. He has also written several novels aimed specifically at teenagers, as well as several collections of poetry that are used as study material all around UK. Zephaniah has been awarded the BBC Young Playwright’s Award, as well as honorary doctorates from several UK universities. His version of the song Tam Lyn Retold won a best song award in 2008. He has also produced several records, mostly in a reggae or dub poetry style. However, he describes his album Naked as being a mix of jazz, reggae, rock and hiphop. He now has 16 honorary doctorates and the Ealing Hospital in West London has named a wing after him in recognition of his work. Zephaniah believes that working with human rights and animal rights groups along with other political organisations means that he will never lack subject matter.

This planet is for everyone,

borders are for no one.

It’s all about freedom. - Refugee Boy


Langston Hughes


Langston Hughes is mostly known as a poet and a key figure in the Harlem Renaissance. The Harlem Renaissance was a cultural movement that took place between WW1 and the 1930’s, in which Harlem (a large, predominantly black neighbourhood of New York City) became the epicentre for an explosion of black writers, artists, musicians, photographers, poets, and scholars. Harlem became famous as a place where black artists could be free to express themselves and indulge their talents. It was in this movement that Langston Hughes became famous, and with which he will forever be associated.

believed that these forms, typically used by white, upper class writers, were not suited to capture the experience of black Harlemites. “Certainly the Shakespearean sonnet would be no mould in which to express the life of Beale Street or Lenox Avenue,” said Hughes himself. Instead he championed African and African American folk forms, such as fables, blues songs or even children’s rhymes. An example of the latter would be the deceptively simple rhymes used in his poem Harlem, where he used neat, one syllable rhymes like sun/run and meat/sweet, despite the poem being a complex and poignant take on black citizens being denied the American Dream.

Despite being a major player in a larger movement, Hughes was a very individual poet. He wrote his poems in the vernacular of the time, to make his poems accessible to his main audience, the average African American of the time. He also refused to work in classical literary forms, because he

Though Hughes received some criticism from black literary critics for “a parading of all our racial defects before the public”, he was consistently loved and adored by common black folk for his accurate and unpretentious portrayal of black life and its frustrations.

Folks, I’m telling you, birthing is hard

and dying is meanso get yourself a little loving

in between

- Lanston Hugnes


Chinua Achebe Chinua Achebe, lived a long and successful life as one of the most outstanding black authors. Born and raised in Nigeria, Achebe grew up to be educated in English at University of Ibadan in 1961. Already a huge step for Africans at that time, Achebe proved that he had the talented gift of understanding literature and the imaginative streak of storytelling as a medium of communication. While at university Achebe published Things Fall Apart, his very first novel and the major factor of his success.

interest, respect and love from his readers as the books constantly delved into traditional ways of life and the new colonial effect on this. Readers loved his writing. In the late 1960’s and 1970’s Achebe spent most of his time touring the United States to give lectures with other writers and eventually he even became a director of two publishing houses in Nigeria. More books were published, including a collection of children’s books and stories and the well-known How the Leopard got his Claws.

The book became a source of study material globally as it touched upon sensitive issues of the Nigerian colonial government and missionaries and it was no wonder that after graduating, he secured a job at the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation as the director of external broadcasting. Achebe was extremely popular at this stage, he published many other great novels that continued to gain

Achebe won many awards for his work, Man Booker International Prize, The Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize as well honorary degrees from more than 30 universities around the world, so when he died in 2013 in Boston, it was definitely a life well lived.



There is no story that is not true,

[...] the world has no end, and what is good among one people is an


abomination with others. - Things Fall Apart


Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Another author that you should recognise very easily is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for the ground breaking Purple Hibiscus and as an inspiration to many aspiring African writers around the world. Being born and raised in Nigeria she studied medicine and pharmacy for a year at university while also being an active editor of the university’s Catholic medicine magazine. Aged only 19 years, she then left for the United States where she joined Drexel University for two years to study communication. She then moved to the Eastern Connecticut University where she gained a degree in communication and political sciences. Contrary to her previous subjects studied, she then continued to study and gained a master’s degree in creative writing. Purple Hibiscus was written during her time at Eastern Connecticut and


immediately after its release in 2003 it was shortlisted for the Orange Fiction Prize and was awarded the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book. In 2005/6 Adichie was a Hodder fellow in Princeton University and received an MA in African studies in Yale. Not only was she awarded a fellowship at Harvard University, by the Radcliffe Institute for advanced studies but this also helped her release her most recent publication Americanah in 2013. Adichie continues to encourage young writers with her enthusiasm for learning and proof that writing is about passion and not the degree that you have gained. She is also a reminder of what hard work and perseverance can gain. Adichie now hosts workshops for others in both the United States and Nigeria.


The educated ones leave, the

ones with the potential to right the wrongs. They leave the weak behind. The tyrants continue to reign because the weak cannot resist. Do you not see that it is a cycle? Who


will break that cycle? - Purple Hibiscus


Richard Wright Wright was set up for stardom when he published his very first story at the age of 16 years in a local newspaper. Having grown up as a grandson of slaves into a family of sharecroppers, Wright only studied up until 9th grade but showed promise of intelligence as he read newspapers voraciously and had a way with words. He was so interested in the American literature that he would even go as far as to forge a white co-worker’s library note that allowed him to borrow books from the library since at the time blacks were not allowed to use the public libraries. Having left school at such an early age, Wright worked jobs here and there and spent his free time reading literature. When Wright finally moved from the south to Chicago, it wasn’t much better. Going through the great depression Wright became subject to poverty and along the way his difficulties led to him joining the communist party. Eventually however, he knew he would have better chances


at being a person who would “count for something” as he once said he wanted, if he moved to New York, so there he went. By this time it was 1937 and Wright was 29 years old and the very next year he published his very first book Uncle Tom’s Children which was a collection of four different stories but proved to be a changing point in his career. He achieved a Guggenheim fellowship and earned a $500 prize from the Story magazine alone. It was in 1945 when he published his most famous book known to date that is still read by people worldwide – Black Boy. The book is most known for its ability to touch a person’s heart through its honesty as it depicts Wright’s childhood of racial segregation. Wright then moved to Paris very soon after the release of this novel and wrote many outstanding novels thereafter. He became an inspiration to many and it was most unfortunate and shocking when he died of a heart attack in 1960 at the age of just 52.


It was not a matter of believing

or disbelieving what I read, but of feeling something new, of being affected by something that made


the look of the world different. - Black Boy


Spike Lee Spike Lee is an African American writer and director known for his outspoken personality and hard hitting films about race relations. Born in 1957 and raised in Brooklyn by relatively well-off parents, Lee discovered a passion for films in his late teens. Eventually this passion led him to study at the New York University film school. Shortly after graduating, he released his first film, 1986’s She’s Gotta Have it, which Lee wrote, directed and starred in. The film, a comedy about a black woman with three male partners, became a shock success, making $7 million off of a $17,500 budget. It was his third film, however, that made Spike Lee a star and a force to be reckoned with. Do the Right Thing, released in 1989, tells the story of the hottest day of the year on a street in Brooklyn, and shows the outcome of simmering bigotry and hate. Lee again wrote, directed and played Mookie, the main character. Upon release, the film was universally acclaimed by critics and the general public alike.


Legendary critic Roger Ebert summed up its success in his review, saying in his original review that the film “comes closer to reflecting the current state of race relations in America than any other movie of our time.” Despite the unanimous praise as the most important film of the year, Do the Right Thing was snubbed for the Best Picture Oscar at that year’s Academy Awards. The prize went instead to the much gentler (and arguably whiter) film Driving Miss Daisy. Lee went on to have a very successful career directing movies after this, with successes such as Malcom X, 25th Hour and Inside Man. All of his films come with the credit “A Spike Lee Joint”, rather than the expected “A Spike Lee Film.” This encapsulates Spike Lee’s pride at his background and refusal to whitewash or censor himself. This spirit runs through all of his films and is what makes him one of the most vital directors in recent movie history.

I think it is very important

that films make people look at

what they’ve forgotten. - Spike Lee


Zora Neale Hurston Zora Neale Hurston had a powerful presence where ever she went and it was not only this powerful presence physically but her powerful presence in the literature world as well that made her loved by so many. Loved so much that she was a major influence and inspiration to even many of the well-known authors including Toni Morrison, Alice Walker and others that are not named in this booklet for example, Ralph Ellison and Gayle Jones. Her aura was such that strangers around the world would offer help in whichever way they were able to. Unlike many black writers, Hurston was lucky to have had a happy childhood in Eatonville, Florida surrounded by many black authoritative figures. Her father helped form laws for Eatonville, her mother directed the Christian curricula and Eatonville was culturally affirming. However at the age of 13 her mother died


and suddenly her life changed. After her father remarried Hurston began working jobs and struggled to complete school. She eventually joined a travelling group and became a singer and when she reached Baltimore she decided to complete high school. Being 26 years she pretended to be 16 to be admitted and continued to graduate high school and finally even college in 1928 all the while pretending to be 10 years younger than she was. By 1935, Hurston had published a number of short stories and articles but it wasn’t until 1937 when she published The Eyes were watching God when her career really bloomed. She was featured in many wellknown magazines and newspapers. It is important to note though, that while her work flourished and the people loved her, she never once received financial rewards. She remained forever humble until and even after her death in 1960.


If you want that good feeling that

comes from doing things for other folks then you have to pay for it in


abuse and misunderstanding. - Zora Neale Hurston


Where can I find out more? • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

Editors Munira Ezzi Toby Fermoy Madeline Ryder Bethany Smith 30

Sophie Rowson Ankita Roy Elena Aldridge

Coventry University Student Union are excited to announce the following events to celebrate Black History Month 2015 Thursday 1st October NIGERIAN INDEPENDENCE DAY CELEBRATION ART EXHIBITION Art work and photography exhibition from inspiring Coventry University Artists - Students wishing to display their works should contact us. Venue TBA. Thursday 15th October LETS GO - THE DRUM, BIRMINGHAM Selma - Viewing of Golden Globe and Oscar nominated biopic of Martin Luther King The screening will be followed by a Q&A with author and broadcaster Roger Griffiths. Wednesday 21st October QUESTION TIME – DISCREPANCIES IN EDUCATIONAL ATTAINMENT Panel discussion to discuss the discrepancies in attainment of black students

Coventry University will also be hosting a series of seminars during the month: Wednesday 7th October CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND BLACK COMMUNITIES Wednesday 14th October FAITH AND BLACK COMMUNITIES Wednesday 21st October EDUCATION AND BLACK COMMUNITIES Wednesday 28th October BLACK GIRLS/WOMEN AND HEALTH AND WELL-BEING Wednesday 4th November COMMUNITY ACTIVISM

Thursday 22nd October FUN AND MUSIC AT EMPIRE If you have an act and would like to get involved please contact us Tuesday 27th October FOOD FARE Bring food! Eat Food! Meet new Friends and sample delicacies from around the world! Friday 30th October The Black History Month Ball A celebration of success


Black History Month Magazine  
Black History Month Magazine