Joyce Carol Thomas Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Joyce Carol Thomas, novelist, poet, and playwright, was born May 25, 1938, in Ponca City, Oklahoma, the fifth child in a family of nine children. Her father was a bricklayer, and her mother was a hairstylist. As a child, Thomas picked cotton with her family. This involved living temporarily with other families. Thomas especially enjoyed staying with the ten children of the Lightsey family. There, her fascination with stories began—both listening to the tales of others and telling her own. When she was ten, her family migrated to Tracy, California, to pick tomatoes. There she worked with many Mexican families and became interested in their language, which she described as “singing.”

As a young mother, Thomas worked days as a telephone operator and attended night school, graduating from San Jose State University in 1964 with a B.A. in Spanish. She then taught high school French and Spanish classes in Palo Alto, California, while attending Stanford University and earning her M.A. in 1967. She divorced her first husband, Gettis Withers, in 1968 and married Roy Thomas. Her daughter and three sons all respected their mother’s busy schedule, allowing her time and space for her writing.

From 1969 to 1982, Thomas taught drama and English at Contra Costa College in San Pablo, at St. Mary’s College in Moraga, and at San José State University. In 1983, she served as visiting professor at Purdue University in Indiana and taught from 1989 to 1995 at the University of Tennessee. She also lectured at several other American universities as well as conducting poetry seminars in Nigeria and Haiti.

From 1973 to 1978, Thomas began to publish poems and plays. Her poetry appeared in numerous periodicals, such as the American Poetry Review, Black Scholar, and the Yardbird...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Henderson, Katherine Usher. “Joyce Carol Thomas.” In Inter/View: Talks with America’s Writing Women, edited by Mickey Pearlman and Katherine Usher Henderson. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1990. Highlights Thomas’s attitude toward the pleasures and freedoms of outside space and her ability to exalt African American culture with no lingering bitterness.

“Joyce Carol Thomas.” In Contemporary Literary Criticism, edited by Daniel G. Marowski. Vol. 35. Detroit: Gale, 1985. Provides an early compilation of materials on Thomas’s fiction, including portions of the reviews of her first two novels.

Toombs, Charles P. “Joyce Carol Thomas.” In Afro-American Fiction Writers After 1955, edited by Thadious M. Davis and Trudier Harris. Vol. 33 in Dictionary of Literary Biography. Detroit: Gale, 1984. Provides a concise overview of Thomas’s life, including samples of her poetry and first two Abyssinia novels.

Yalom, Marilyn, ed. Women Writers of the West Coast: Speaking of Their Lives and Careers. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Capra Press, 1983. Discusses Thomas’s real-life western settings as well as the centrality of women characters in her fiction.