(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Claude Brown 1937–

Black American nonfiction writer.

Brown has used his writing to help promote a greater awareness of the adversities confronting the youth of black ghettos. Brown grew up in a Harlem environment ruled by violence, crime, and drugs, where he developed skills as a fighter and thief at a very early age. In his widely read autobiography, Manchild in the Promised Land (1965), Brown relates his experiences "roaming the streets with junkies, whores, pimps, hustlers, the 'mean cats' and the numbers runners" and how he survived and eventually overcame this way of life. Many critics and readers found Manchild to be horrifyingly realistic and deeply moving. Brown's depiction of the degrading effects of ghetto life impressed readers, and he was praised for powerfully expressing his anger without outrage, rhetoric, or sermonizing. In a 1965 interview, Brown stated his reason for writing Manchild: "I'm trying to show more than anything else the humanity of the Negro. Somebody has to stop problemizing and start humanizing the Negro."

Brown's second work, The Children of Ham (1976), depicts a group of young adults in Harlem who help each other rise above the squalor of their environment. This book was not as widely praised as his first. However, many agreed that Brown again achieved a sensitive and brutally realistic portrait of people who struggle against the corrupting influence of their environment and the indifference of society as a whole.

(See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 73-76.)