Critical Context (Masterplots II: African American Literature)
A Hero Ain’t Nothin’ but a Sandwich, Childress’s first novel, drew recognition for her in a way that her plays had not. Childress began her writing career in 1950 as a playwright. Her play Trouble in Mind (1955) won an Obie Award. Childress’s Wedding Band (1966) was broadcast nationally on ABC television, and Wine in the Wilderness (1969) was presented on National Educational Television. Her plays are as saturated with alienated, fragmented, poor people as are her novels, which include A Short Walk (1979), Rainbow Jordan (1981), and Those Other People (1990), and her book-length collection of vignettes, Like One of the Family: Conversations from a Domestic’s Life (1956).
A Hero Ain’t Nothin’ but a Sandwich gave high visibility to Childress as a skilled author of adolescent fiction. For the first time in her writing career, she was able to reach the masses. Childress, who was born into a poor South Carolina family and reared in Harlem, wrote about poor people who struggle with dignity.
Childress’s novel is a milestone, because it treats, sensitively and perceptively, life in the ghetto for African Americans. Unlike many of her contemporaries, moreover, Childress creates a loving, sensitive, generous, black man, Craig Butler, taking responsibility for his family. She portrays African Americans who struggle to survive in a world that often turns a deaf ear to them and captures both the pain and the beauty of being African American.