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Olivia W. Bush
Olivia Ward Bush-Banks, a Black writer and drama instructor, was born on this date in 1869.
Born in Sag Harbor, Long Island, New York, Olivia was the daughter of Eliza Draper and Abraham Ward, both of whom were of African and Native American Montauk descent. Ward’s mother died when she was about one year old. She and her father moved to Providence, R.I., where he married again, but he handed young Ward over to her mother's sister, Maria Draper, who raised Olivia like her child.
In 1889, Ward married Frank Bush, and the couple had two children, Rosamund and Maria. They divorced around 1910, and Ward and her daughters went to live with her Aunt Maria. During these years, her interest in the arts developed. In 1899, her slim volume of verse, Original Poems, was published and received great reviews from Paul Laurence Dunbar. In 1914, a more substantial collection of prose and poetry was published: Driftwood. She married Anthony Banks in the early 1920s and moved to Chicago. There, Bush-Banks continued her artistic endeavors, focusing on drama.
For a time, she worked as a drama instructor in the Chicago public school system and ran the Bush-Banks School of Expression. In the 1930s, Olivia Ward Bush Banks returned east, living in New Rochelle and New York City. Olivia Bush-Banks had W.E.B. Du Bois, Countee Cullen, and Paul Robeson among her friends. She also was friends with Richmond Barthé and Langston Hughes and wrote an arts column for the Westchester Record-Courier.
She was a drama coach for Abyssinian Baptist Church's Community Center, and she wrote several plays, pageants, and short stories, most of which were never published. Olivia Bush-Banks died in 1944.
The Encyclopedia of African American Heritage
by Susan Altman
Copyright 1997, Facts on File, Inc. New York