Raymond Andrews, during the last decades of the twentieth century, published four novels and an autobiography that offer insight into African American life in the American South. He was the fourth of ten children born to George and Viola Andrews. Mr. and Mrs. Andrews were sharecroppers; thus, family life was characterized by the hardships of tenant farming. Andrews’s parents, unlike most of their sharecropping neighbors, were literate, and they subscribed to newspapers and magazines. The publications and a radio, which was a rarity among the Georgian sharecroppers during that time, allowed the Andrewses to expose their children to life beyond the boundaries of tenant farming. The parents, in spite of the numerous practical day-to-day demands on them, found time for creative expression. George Andrews was a self-taught artist, and his wife enjoyed writing. They encouraged their children to read and draw. When there was no money for art supplies, father and children drew in the dirt. Decades later, paintings and prints created by Benny, the Andrewses’ second child, were included in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art as well as other national and international museums. One of his exhibits at several museums was “Folk: The Art of Benny and George Andrews.” Benny also collaborated with his younger brother Raymond; he illustrated each of Raymond’s books.
When Raymond Andrews was fifteen years old, he moved to Atlanta and worked as a hospital orderly while he attended Washington High School. From 1952 to 1956, Andrews served in the United States Air Force. After his stint in the military, he attended Michigan State University for one year. He then moved to New York, where he held a variety of jobs, including bartender, busboy, dishwasher, stockroom worker, postal mail sorter, and airline reservations agent. In 1966, on Andrews’s thirty-second birthday, he quit his job at KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, a position he had held for more than eight years, because he was determined to become a professional writer. Later that year, Andrews married Adelheid Wenger, an airline agent; Andrews and Wenger were divorced in 1980. Although Andrews worked at other jobs during the 1970’s and 1980’s, his primary occupation for the remainder of his life was writer.
Critics regard Andrews’s first published novel, Appalachee Red, as his impressive debut in the literary world; the book was awarded Dial Press’s first James Baldwin Prize for Fiction in 1978 at a ceremony with Baldwin present. The novel was the first in Andrews’s Muskhogean County trilogy set in Appalachee, a fictional African American community in rural Georgia. Rosiebelle Lee Wildcat Tennessee and Baby Sweet’s complete the trilogy. In these three works, as well as in his fourth book, “Jessie and Jesus” and “Cousin Claire,” and his autobiography, The Last Radio Baby: A Memoir, Andrews draws heavily on the oral tradition and his experiences growing up in the South.
With the publication of these five works in a thirteen-year period, a number of critics, impressed with Andrews’s storytelling talents, began comparing him to William Faulkner and Mark Twain. The Last Radio Baby chronicles Andrews’s childhood during the 1930’s and 1940’s while a memoir in progress focuses on Andrews’s life after he left his parents’ home in 1949. In 1991, with at least two additional unpublished novels, Andrews appeared on the verge of reaching a wider audience and receiving increased critical acclaim. However, one month after the publication of “Jessie and Jesus” and “Cousin Claire,” Andrews, fifty-seven years old and apparently depressed because of poor health, committed suicide. Raymond Andrews’s collected letters and memorabilia are located in a special collection at Emory University in Atlanta. To date, his fiction and nonfiction works have not received consistent critical attention.
Beaty, Freda R. “Raymond Andrews.” In The Oxford Companion to African American Literature, edited by William L. Andrews, Frances Smith Foster, and Trudier Harris. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. Concise biography and commentary on Andrews’s five published books.
Taylor, Jeffrey. “Raymond Andrews.” In Contemporary Black Biography: Profiles from the International Black Community. Vol. 4, edited by Barbara Carlisle Bigelow. Detroit: Gale, 1993. A detailed biography and commentary on Andrews’s five published books.