The novelist and story writer Paule Marshall was born the daughter of Samuel and Ada Burke, immigrants from Barbados. She grew up in Brooklyn during the Great Depression and, at the impressionable age of nine, made her first visit to her parents’ homeland. This experience, combined with the nuances of the black Caribbean culture that permeated her home life in Brooklyn, inspired the child to write poems celebrating the beauties of the West Indies. The West Indian influence is apparent in her adult writings. A bright student, Marshall attended Brooklyn College, graduated cum laude in 1953, and enrolled at Hunter College in 1955. During this period she also worked as a librarian in New York public libraries; she was a staff writer for Our World, a small black magazine, from 1953 to 1956. She married Kenneth E. Marshall in 1957; they were divorced in 1963, after having one son. In 1970 she married Nourry Menard.
Marshall was a lecturer on creative writing at Yale University. As her literary reputation grew, Marshall lectured on African American literature at Oxford University, Columbia University, Michigan State University, Lake Forest College, and Cornell University. She has held the position of Professor of English at Virginia Commonwealth University. She has also received numerous awards and honors, including a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1960, the Rosenthal Award from the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1962, a Ford Foundation grant in 1964, and a National Endowment for the Arts grant in 1967. In 1992 she received a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship.
Marshall’s fiction is celebrated for its vivid characterization and sparkling reflection of Barbadian idiom dialect. Generally, it incorporates a perspective that is both American and West Indian, as her characters seek to discover their complex identities, which, like the author’s own, span two cultures. Moreover, by placing her artistic focus on the experience of the black woman in particular, she explores not only racial issues and stereotypes but also sexual roles and feminine identity.
In her first novel, Brown Girl, Brownstones, Marshall tells the story of Selina, the daughter of Barbadian immigrants. This classic female Bildungsroman traces the girl’s development through childhood and adolescence toward womanhood among the Barbadians in Brooklyn. Selina’s father is portrayed as an imaginative man who loves...
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