Terry McMillan was born on October 18, 1951, in Port Huron, Michigan, to Madeline Washington Tillman, a domestic and auto factory worker, and Edward Lewis McMillan, a blue-collar worker. Her father suffered from tuberculosis and was in a sanitarium during his daughter’s early years. The family included four other children, three girls and a boy. When McMillan was thirteen years old, her parents divorced, so she was essentially raised by her mother, a single parent.
McMillan’s interest in writing began when, at age sixteen, she worked at a library and became an avid reader of such authors as Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Charlotte and Emily Brontë, and Thomas Mann. When she discovered works by African American writer James Baldwin, she realized that black people could be authors, too. At age seventeen, she moved to Los Angeles and enrolled in an African American literature class at Los Angeles City College. There she studied the works of Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright, Jean Toomer, and, most significant, Ann Petry; Petry’s novel The Street (1946), which depicts a black heroine’s existence in a harsh urban environment, had an impact on McMillan’s earliest writing.
McMillan’s first efforts at writing were in poetry, and when she was in college, some of her poems were published in campus newspapers. Her formal education included courses in journalism taken at the University of California at Berkeley. Then,...
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