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Demby, William , 1983 April 26

 Item — Multiple Containers

Scope and Contents

Novelist and literature professor William Demby lectured on 4/26/1983 (2015-0002/RR138).

RR 138 Hale Smith introduces speaker William Demby who spoke about a trip he had taken with his father the year before and the experiences that were shared during that trip.


  • Creation: 1983 April 26

Conditions Governing Access

Links to digitized content are included in the finding aid.

Biographical / Historical

William Demby was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on December 25, 1922. He studied English briefly at West Virginia State University with Margaret Walker but was drafted into an African-American cavalry unit that was deployed to North Africa and Italy during World War II. During his military service he contributed to the Army publication Stars and Stripes.

After the war he graduated from Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee in 1947, where poet Robert Hayden was his mentor. That same year, he moved to Rome, Italy, where he studied art and art history at the University of Rome. In 1953, he married Italian writer Lucia Drudi, a poet, novelist, translator, and screenwriter. The couple had a son, James Gabriele Demby, in 1955, who composes and teaches music in Italy. Lucia Drudi died in 1995.

During his decades living in Rome, Demby worked for many important Italian film directors, among them Federico Fellini, translating Italian screenplays and films into English. He was assistant director of dialogue on Roberto Rossellini's film Europa 51, starring Ingrid Bergman. He acted in the film Anna's Sin, a retelling of Othello set in 1950s Rome whose interracial romance ends happily. Demby also wrote for various American magazines, among them The Reporter.

In Italy, he wrote his first existentialist novel, Beetlecreek (1950), which went on to be one of his first greatest works. Then, he released an even more experimental novel, The Catacombs (1965).

Later in life, he reconnected with Barbara Morris, whom he knew from his time at Fisk University. Morris was a former lawyer with NAACP, and the two married in 2004.

Demby began teaching English in 1969 at the College of Staten Island (CUNY), where he worked until the late 1980s. Demby published his third novel, Love Story Black, in 1978 on Reed, Cannon and Johnson. He returned to Italy often, spending time in Rome, and in a villa in Tuscany, where he lived for nearly a decade from the late 1980s until the late '90s. Demby spent his final years in Sag Harbor, NY.

In 2006, Demby was honored with the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for lifetime achievement.

His last novel, King Comus, was finished in 2007 but remained in manuscript form at the time of Demby's death. Published posthumously in November 2017 by Ishmael Reed Publishing Company, it was designated "REDISCOVERED NOVEL OF THE YEAR" by Jeff Biggers in the Huffington Post.

William Demby died in Sag Harbor, Long Island, New York, on May 23, 2013, at the age of 90.

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1 Reels (Magnetic tape audio recording) : RR 138 1 reel, 1:08:32; tape speed 3¾ IPS; track position ½-Track Mono; Substrate: Polyester.

Language of Materials

From the Series: English