Influential Black Authors

Literature affects our lives in many ways every day whether it be in schools, in the news we consume, or on television; many of these Black historical figures have had a major impact on literature and have passed away in the last ten years. 

Many people are unaware of these icons and the changes they have made to our lives every day.

Below is a list of five Black authors who have had some of the biggest literary and media impacts but who have died in the last decade.

Chinua Achebe

Chinua Achebe was born in 1930 in Nigeria, Africa. He is known for his writings focusing on realistic views of society and having strong values in his African roots. His writings would often focus on how traditional African cultures have grown and changed over time. 

Achebe’s career began as a director for a broadcasting company. He co-founded a publishing company and traveled giving lectures at various universities in the United States. He was a professor for several years and director of two publishing companies in Nigeria. 

After a brutal car crash, Achebe was left partially paralyzed and moved to the United States to teach at Brad College. 

Achebe wrote many books in his time such as Arrow of God, A Man of the People, How The Leopard Got His Claws, and most famously Things Fall Apart. Achebe received a Man Booker International Prize for his works. 

He passed away in 2013 in the United States.  

Ruby Dee

Raised in Harlem during the Harlem Renaissance of the roaring 20s, Ruby Dee was best known for acting during her lifetime. 

In 1941 Dee joined the American Negro Theater and in 1946 had a career breakthrough when she landed a role in Broadway’s Anna Lucasta. 

Dee was an artist of not only the stage but the screens. In 1959, she landed the starring role in Broadway’s A Raisin in The Sun and later reclaimed the role in the film adaptation. 

Another notable role of Dee’s was being the wife of Jackie Robinson in the film The Jackie Robinson Story. 

Dee continued to work as an actress on stage and on screen from the 1960s to the 1980s. She also wrote scripts during these later years of her life. 

Throughout her lifetime, Dee and her husband Ossie Davis were well-known civil rights activists. They worked closely with Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. Notably, some of her writings worked to aid the fight for equal rights. 

After continuing to work performing and writing into her 90s, Dee passed away from natural causes in 2014. 

Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou was born in 1928 in Missouri. Growing up she had a strong interest in the greats such as William Shakespeare and Edgar Allen Poe. She is most noted and known for her singing and dancing career as well as her work as a poet. 

In her lifetime, Angelou received over thirty honorary degrees. 

Her most famous awards include: the National Honor of Arts in 2000 from President Clinton, the Presidential Award of Freedom from President Obama in 2011, inducted into the Forest University’s Writers Hall of Fame in 2012, and the 2013 National Book Foundations Libertarian Award. 

Angelou was known for writing literary memoirs such as I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, And Still I Rise, and The Heart of a Woman. She was also the first African-American woman to have her screenplay turned into a film. 

In 2015 after she passed, the United States Postal Service honored her with an in memoriam stamp. 

Gwen Ifill

Gwen Ifill was born in 1955 in the state of New York. She is best known for her work as a journalist and newscaster. 

In 1977 Ifill received her Bachelor’s degree from Simons College of Boston and began to work as a journalist. She is known for being a journalist for Boston Herald Newspaper, Baltimore Evening Sun, The Washington Post, and The New York Times

Notable breakthroughs in her career include becoming a White House Correspondent and reporting for the National Republican Convention. Ifill also moderated vice presidential debates between John Edwards and Dick Cheney in 2004 and Joe Biden and Sarah Palin in 2008. 

Ifill is also known for becoming the first African-American woman to be a primary political talk show host for NBC News as well as a managing editor of two PBS news sites: Washington Week and NewsHour. 

In 2016 Ifill passed away due to complications with endometrial cancer. 

Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison was born in February 1931. Her writings are renowned as great American novels that speak to the Black experience.

Morrison attended Howard University to earn her Bachelor’s and Cornell University to earn her Master’s. After graduating, she taught at several colleges and universities. Later in her life, her career became more geared toward teaching writing at a university level. 

Morrison wrote several novels, the most popular include: The Bluest Eyes, Sula, Beloved, and Song of Solomon. Her novel Beloved was adapted into a film in the years following and starred Ophrah Winfrey. Morrison also wrote the opera Libretto, which was inspired by the same story that inspired Beloved

Despite her work being highly criticized, Morrison won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1993, she was offered the French Legion of Honour, a Presidential Medal for Freedom, and received a Pulitzer Prize for fiction. 

Morrison passed in 2019 and had a documentary dedicated to her works and life released the same year.

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