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Tue, 09.05.1916

Frank Yerby was an award winning novelist

Frank Yerby

This date marks the birth of Frank Yerby in 1916. He was a Black author of popular historical fiction.

Frank Garvin Yerby was born in Augusta, GA. He was the son of an itinerant hotel doorman, Rufus Garvin Yerby and Wilhelmina Smythe Yerby.  Young Yerby attended a private school for Black students, the Haines Institute. He received a Bachelor of Arts in English from Paine College, and a Master of Arts in English from Fisk University in 1938.

It would be close to 10 years before Yerby would realize acclaim as a writer. Yerby's story, "Health Card," won the O. Henry Memorial Award for best first published short story in 1944. In 1946, his first novel, "The Foxes of Harrow," was an immediate success.

His novels are action-packed, usually featuring a strong hero in an earlier period. The stories unfold in colorful language and include characters of all ethnic backgrounds, enmeshed in complex story lines laced with romantic intrigue and violence. His best work may be his novel "Of The Dahomean" (1971, later republished as "The Man from Dahomey).

Yerby wrote popular fiction tinged with a distinctive southern flavor. He was the first Black to write a best-selling novel and to have a book purchased by a Hollywood studio for a film adaptation.  During his career, Yerby wrote 33 novels and sold more than 55 million hardback and paperback books worldwide.

As a Black author, Yerby was widely criticized for not giving more attention to racial problems in his fiction. But though he said that writers should amuse and not preach to their readers, some critics see in his writings a savage critique of historical myths, especially of the United States and the American South.

Throughout his career Yerby remained a beloved native son of the South, receiving honorary degrees from Fisk University (1976) and Paine College (1977).  Discrimination in the United States caused Yerby to leave and live in self-imposed exile in Madrid from 1955 until his death from congestive heart failure on November 29, 1991.

Reference:
"The Anti-Heroic Hero in Frank Yerby's Historical Novels," Perspectives of Black Popular Culture"
James L. Hill
(Bowling Green, Ohio: Popular Press, 1990).

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