Cyrus Colter Biography

Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Cyrus Colter was a successful attorney who took up writing at the age of fifty and became a major African American author of the second half of the twentieth century. His parents were James Alexander Colter and Ethel Marietta Basset Colter. James Colter held several different jobs while Cyrus was growing up. These jobs included insurance salesman, actor, musician, and regional director of the central Indiana division of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The Colters moved to Greensboro, Indiana, and finally to Youngstown, Ohio, where the young Colter graduated from Rayen Academy. Colter first attended Youngstown University and finished his undergraduate degree at Ohio State University. He earned his law degree from the Chicago-Kent College of Law in 1940 and worked for the Internal Revenue Service as a deputy collector before entering the U.S. Army in 1942. He attained the rank of captain of field artillery and saw combat in Italy during World War II. Colter married Imogene Mackay on January 1, 1943, and they remained married until her death in 1984.

After the war, Colter practiced law in Chicago. Beginning in 1950, he served as a member of the Illinois Commerce Commission for twenty-three years, the longest tenure in the agency’s history. Adlai Stevenson, then governor of Illinois, first appointed him, and both Democrat and Republican governors reappointed him. Colter was also active in Chicago civic groups, including the Board...

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Cyrus Colter Bibliography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Fabre, Michael. From Harlem to Paris: Black American Writers in France, 1840-1980. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1991. Chapter 18 discusses Colter’s visits to Paris and his use of the city in Night Studies.

Johnson, Charles. Being and Race: Black Writers Since 1970. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988. Chapter 4 discusses Colter’s work in relation to his African American contemporaries.

O’Brien, John, ed. Interviews with Black Writers. New York: Liveright, 1973. The interview with Colter provides insight into his beliefs, and, in his introduction, O’Brien discusses the African American literary tradition and why Colter did not fit into it.