Louise Jenkins Meriwether was the third of five children and the only daughter. Her parents, Marion Lloyd Jenkins and Julia Jenkins, had migrated from South Carolina to New York in search of work. Meriwether spent her youth in Harlem. She graduated from Central Commercial High School in Manhattan and received a B.A. in English from New York University. She received an M.A. in journalism from the University of California, Los Angeles, after moving there with her first husband, Angelo Meriwether. That marriage ended in divorce, as did her second marriage to Earl Howe.
In California Meriwether worked as a legal secretary and real estate salesperson, wrote for both the Los Angeles Sentinel and The Los Angeles Times, and became the first African American story analyst for Universal Studios. She also became a staff member of the Watts Writers’ Workshop, and in 1967 she published her first short story, “Daddy Was a Number Runner,” in the Watts Writers’ Workshop issue of the Antioch Review. A second story, “A Happening in Barbados,” also appeared in the Antioch Review; here she probes the dynamics of interracial relationships between black men and white women, as well as the relationship between African American and white women. The story aroused the attention of a Prentice-Hall editor who asked to see chapters from Meriwether’s novel in progress, Daddy Was a Number Runner.
Meriwether’s first two novels are concerned with the fact that African Americans are missing from the pages of American history. Daddy Was a Number Runner chronicles one year in the life of a twelve-year-old girl in Depression-era Harlem. Although not strictly autobiographical, the novel shows a number of correlations between Meriwether’s life and that of the main character, Francie Coffin. Both...
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