Adrienne Lita Hawkins Kennedy was born on September 13, 1931, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to Cornell Wallace Hawkins and Etta Haugabook Hawkins. After Kennedy learned to read at three years of age, she became a voracious reader who had moved alphabetically through her local library’s shelves before she reached high school.
In 1935, Kennedy’s family moved to an integrated, middle-class neighborhood in Cleveland, Ohio. Both parents, college graduates and professionals, influenced Kennedy’s writing style: her mother, through humorous stories edged with pathos; her father, a Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) branch executive director, through nightly recitations of the poetry of Langston Hughes, Paul Laurence Dunbar, and others. Active in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Urban League, both parents instilled in Kennedy the importance of having a positive impact upon the world.
Throughout her elementary and her high-school years, Kennedy continued to be an all-consuming reader and a superb achiever. In fact, one of her elementary school teachers cautioned her mother that Kennedy could make herself ill from her own high expectations of herself.
Not until she began her freshman year at Ohio State University in 1949 did she experience overt racism that caused her to question her own identity. No longer was she judged on her abilities and her achievements; suddenly, she found herself prejudged on the basis of the color of her skin. The wrenching theme of a personal identity raging in a dissonant universe pervades Kennedy’s writings.
With the limited possibilities of education or social work for a major, Kennedy chose education. Although she satisfactorily completed the required course work, she did so without her customary intellectual avidity. In her senior...
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