Mari Evans Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Best known for her collections of poetry, the African American writer Mari Evans never dreamed of becoming a poet. Evans drifted into poetry while reflecting on her experiences growing up in a housing project. Evans committed herself to becoming a writer at the age of ten, after reading Langston Hughes’s book of poems Weary Blues (1926). Evans identified with the personae in Hughes’s poems and credits him with introducing her to the tradition of black literature.{$S[A]Reed, E.;Evans, Mari}

Evans’s father influenced the direction of her life more than any other person. During fourth grade in public school in Toledo, Ohio, Evans had her first story printed in the school paper. The fact that her father saved the story and carefully recorded on it the date, home address, and some personal comments, deeply impressed the young girl. She gives tribute to him in the essay “My Father’s Passage,” in her pioneering Black Women Writers (1950-1980): A Critical Evaluation.

Evans attended the University of Toledo, where she studied fashion design, but she soon lost interest in this career and returned to writing. Initially she struggled to write short stories, but most of her work was rejected. Evans accepted her first writing job as an assistant editor in an industrial chain-manufacturing plant.

By 1968, she had become a published poet. Her first collection of poems, Where Is All the Music?, scarcely hinted at her future commitment to social issues, but already the second collection, I Am a Black Woman, exhibited a clarion voice that heralded an experiential sense of blackness. Departing from the mainstream denial of black difference, Evans’s title poem from this collection affirms and celebrates the black experience....

(The entire section is 731 words.)


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Mari Evans was born and raised in Toledo, Ohio. She lost her mother at the age of seven, and her father became her primary caretaker. An upholsterer, he had a great influence on her, especially in supporting her writing. Evans published a story in the school paper when she was in the fourth grade, and her father saved it, looking on it with pride.

At the University of Toledo, Evans studied fashion design, although she did not follow it as a career. Instead, she took a position as a writer and editor for a manufacturing plant that was mostly white. Despite the racism she faced there, she continued working, developing a discipline that would serve her well in later life. Evans then began teaching and has taught or served as writer-in-residence at Indiana University at Purdue, Purdue University, Washington University (St. Louis), Cornell University, the State University of New York at Albany, Spelman College, and the University of Miami at Coral Gables. Her photo was featured on a postage stamp in Uganda in 1997, and she was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Album Notes in 2002 for her contribution to The Long Road Back to Freedom: An Anthology of Black Music.