Barry Earl Beckham is an innovative writer whose works capture the frustration of talented African Americans caught up in a world they cannot control. He was born to Clarence and Mildred Beckham, and at the age of nine he moved with his mother to Atlantic City, New Jersey. A successful and popular student, he was elected president of his senior class and entered Brown University in 1962, where he majored in English. In his senior year at Brown, under the direction of the novelist John Hawkes, Beckham began his first novel, My Main Mother, in which he draws upon his exposure to black jazz musicians in Atlantic City, his experiences with racist high school teachers, and his sense of isolation in a college class of 659 students, only eight of whom were black.
My Main Mother, which sold eighty thousand copies in paperback, received mixed reactions. Some reviewers found Mitchell Mibbs to be a very real character, whereas others thought him flat and one-sided. A producer acquired the film rights to My Main Mother, but a film did not result. Most reviewers, however, saw My Main Mother as holding the promise of better works to come.
After graduation and a brief period at Columbia Law School, Beckham gained valuable experience in journalism and public relations at Chase Manhattan Bank and at Western Electric Company in New York City. In 1970, Beckham returned to Brown University to teach, first as a visiting lecturer and then two years later as assistant professor. The promise of My Main Mother was fulfilled in Beckham’s next novel, the imaginative, surrealistic Runner Mack, which several reviewers called one of the best novels by a young black writer in the 1960’s and early 1970’s. The novel was nominated for the 1973 National Book Award.
Beckham continued to teach writing and accepted publishing contracts for a novel based on his experiences at Chase Manhattan Bank and for a...
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