Diane Alene Oliver deserves recognition as a talented black fiction writer whose untimely death limited her literary production. She was the daughter of the public schoolteacher and administrator William Oliver and his piano-teacher wife, Blanche Rann. Oliver grew up in the black southern middle class of the 1940’s and 1950’s, was educated in the segregated public schools, and graduated as a member of the second integrated freshman class at Women’s College (later renamed the University of North Carolina at Greensboro) in 1964. After guest editing for Mademoiselle magazine, which took her to England, and studying in Switzerland through the Experiment in International Living, Oliver began graduate work at the University of Iowa Writers Workshop. She was awarded the M.F.A. degree posthumously in 1966, days after she was killed in a motorcycle-automobile crash in Iowa City on May 21.
As a child, Oliver read voraciously, encouraged by her grandmother. By the time she was in junior high school and had read all the volumes in the segregated branch library, she decided to become a writer so that there would always be something for children like herself to read. The Civil Rights movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s also influenced her choice of career and of subject matter. The 1963 lunch counter sit-ins occurred in Greensboro while she was there, and although she did not participate in the sit-ins, she did organize the student boycott of a group of shops and restaurants and a film theater across from the campus. She wrote about the incident in “The Corner—1963” to enter the Mademoiselle Guest Editor program. Oliver’s literary influences included James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Ernest Hemingway, James Agee, Peter Taylor, Randall Jarrell, and R. V. Cassill.
Oliver’s first published story, “Key to the City,” is characteristic of most of her stories in featuring a young woman and identifying with...
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