Paule Marshall 1929–
Black American novelist and short story writer.
Although her fiction was long neglected in scholarly literary circles, Marshall is now considered an important writer in contemporary black literature. Her work depicts the emotional growth and newly found independence of black women who have discovered and accepted their heritage. Although some may be tempted to label Marshall a feminist writer, critics feel that her work, in a general sense, depicts the individual's search for a secure identity in an uncertain world.
Marshall's parents immigrated to New York City from Barbados in the 1920s. This West Indian influence is prevalent throughout her work. Her first novel, Brown Girl, Brownstones (1959), tells of a young Barbadian immigrant girl whose parents are caught in the conflict between ethnic autonomy and assimilation. The Chosen Place, the Timeless People (1969) is a symbolic novel about the inhabitants of a small, underdeveloped Caribbean island and their refusal to accept modernization. Her recent work, Praisesong for the Widow (1983), is the story of an unhappy, affluent American woman who experiences a spiritual rebirth while vacationing in the West Indies.
Marshall's novels are praised for their rich characterization and descriptive power. Many critics agree that her strength as a writer lies in her usage of West Indian idioms and dialect. It has also been said that Marshall is the first contemporary novelist to fully explore the psyche of black American women. The author herself defines her works as an attempt to "trace history," because "as a people we have not as yet really engaged our past."
(See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 77-80.)