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On this date, we remember the birth of Leon Richard Forrest born in 1937. He was a Black author of large, inventive novels that blend myth, history, legend, and contemporary realism.
Forrest was born into a middle-class family in Chicago. His mother was Catholic and from New Orleans, and his father's family was Baptist. he attended the University of Chicago. He served in the U.S. Army before beginning his career as a writer. From 1965 to 1973, Forrest worked as a journalist for various papers, including the Nation of Islam's weekly Muhammad Speaks.
Forrest taught English and Black studies at Northwestern University. He also published excerpts from his first novel, “There is a Tree More Ancient than Eden,” which was issued in book form in 1973. This portrays the tangled relationships between the illegitimate offspring of a former slave-owning family. Several of the book's characters reappear in subsequent novels by him. There are traces of Greek and Latin mythology present in “The Bloodworth Orphans,” published in 1977, a story about the search by three orphaned siblings for roots and understanding in the middle of turmoil. In “Two Wings to Veil My Face,” published in 1983, an ex-slave tells her life story to her great-grandson, a narrative that changes his life.
Forrest's most ambitious novel, “Divine Day,” published in 1992, was set in Chicago in 1966. it tried to do for Chicago what Joyce’s “Ulysses” did for Dublin. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., calls the 1,100 page novel the “War and Peace of African American literature". It was championed by many prominent arts and literary figures, such Sven Birkerts, Stanley Crouch, and Arnold Rampersad.
From 1985 to 1994, he headed the African American Studies department at Northwestern University. He was influenced by authors William Faulkner and Ralph Ellison, and cited Charlie Parker, Dylan Thomas, William Faulkner, Eugene O'Neill, Ellison, and his parents' religions as inspiration
A book of collected essays, “Relocations of the Spirit,” was published in 1994. Leon Forrest died in 1997 in Evanston, Illinois.
African Americans/Voices of Triumph
by Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
Copyright 1993, TimeLife Inc.