The Root Cities: Los Angeles' Black Literary Giants
As quiet as it's kept, the City of Angels has a rich black literary tradition. As part of The Root's city series, author Rebecca Walker takes a look at the best African-American writers who have called Los Angeles home.
Percival EverettSt. Lawrence
Everett is one of the most prolific and uncompromising literary minds in America. He is the author of 20 books, including Erasure, I Am Not Sidney Poitier and the upcoming Assumption. Everett, who teaches creative writing and American studies at the University of Southern California, is the recipient of the PEN USA Literary Award and the Academy Award for literature of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, among others. He is married to author Danzy Senna.
Captions by Rebecca Walker
Darnell HuntGetty Images
Academics are writers, too, and their contributions often inform the way we see the hidden fault lines of a place and its history. Hunt co-edited, with Ana-Christina Ramon, Black Los Angeles: American Dreams and Racial Realities, a seminal collection about the black experience in the City of Angels. The book is a must-read for anyone interested in the sociological intersections of race, media and culture in Los Angeles. He is a professor of sociology and director of the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA.
Perhaps best known for Caucasia -- her best-selling novel about two biracial sisters, one light and one dark, coming of age in the dying light of the civil rights movement -- Senna is also the author of the acclaimed memoir Where Did You Sleep Last Night? about her relationship with her mercurial and often absent father. Her latest effort is a forthcoming collection of short stories, You Are Free. She is a Whiting Award recipient and married to the novelist Percival Everett.
Lisa TeasleyLisa Teasley
Teasley was born, raised and educated in Los Angeles. Her work transcends genre, combining mystery, thriller and literary fiction in a steamy, sexually charged stew. Her debut, Glow in the Dark, won the 2002 Gold Pen Award for best short-story collection. Her most recent novel, Heat Signature, explores the complexities of family and friendship, love and loss, race and sexuality, in a fast-paced, gripping narrative that keeps the pages turning and heart pumping.
Meri Nana-Ama DanquahMeri Nana-Ama Danquah
Danquah is a Ghanaian writer who has spent the last three decades moving between Los Angeles and her ancestral home of Accra. Her first book, Willow Weep for Me, is one of the first (and only) literary memoirs to take on the subject of black women and depression. She holds an M.F.A. from Bennington College and is the editor of The Black Body, an anthology about the challenges and joys of inhabiting a body of color.
Octavia E. Butlersfwa
Butler, one of the most revered writers worldwide and one of few African-American science fiction writers, won the Hugo and Nebula awards. In 1995 she was the first science fiction writer to receive the MacArthur Foundation "genius grant." Born in Pasadena and educated at UCLA, she no doubt traversed multiple galaxies and theoretical hemispheres between her birth in 1947 and death in 2006. Perhaps best known for Kindred, a novel that explores slavery through time travel, Butler remains one of the most powerful literary explorers of our time.
Rachel HarperRachel Harper
Harper is the author of Brass Ankle Blues, a novel about a girl's journey toward self-acceptance amid the complexities of first love and shifting family loyalties. "I like to write about family," Harper told The Root, "the greatest ecosystem there is. I tend to write repeatedly about love and loss, since I've never experienced one without the other. I'm fascinated by how we sometimes lie to the people we love the most, find it easier to tell the truth to strangers."
Being a writer in Los Angeles affords the opportunity to create more than books. McMillan's TV credits include Mad Men, United States of Tara and Life on Mars, and she somehow found the time to write a moving, honest and very funny memoir about her relationship with her father, who was a pimp in the '70s. With insight and verve, I Love You and I'm Leaving You Anyway tracks McMillan (no relation to Terry) through the foster-care system and explores her decision to find love that doesn't hurt.
Chris AbaniChris Abani
Abani, whose works include Graceland and The Virgin of Flames, was a political prisoner in Nigeria before finding refuge in the U.S. and the written word. A prolific writer, the poet-novelist-essayist describes his work as "finding ways to share and document stories about everyday people. Stories that offer transformation that lean into transcendence, but that are never sentimental, that never look away from the darkest things about us, because I believe we are never more beautiful than when we're most ugly."
Suzan-Lori ParksGetty Images
The first African-American woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for playwriting, Parks was mentored by the legendary James Baldwin, who encouraged her to write plays while she was an undergraduate at Mount Holyoke College. Her Pulitzer Prize-winning, two-man play, TopDog/Underdog, debuted on Broadway with Mos Def and Jeffrey Wright. The MacArthur genius grant winner wrote the screenplay for Spike Lee's Girl 6 and worked with Oprah Winfrey on screenplays for Their Eyes Were Watching God and The Great Debaters.
Walter MosleyGetty Images
Mosley is one of the most versatile and admired writers in America today. He is the author of more than 34 critically acclaimed books, including the best-selling mystery series featuring Easy Rawlins that practically put Los Angeles on the literary map. His short fiction has been widely published, and his nonfiction has appeared in the New York Times Magazine and the Nation, among other publications. His latest novel, the haunting The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey, was published in 2010.