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Paule Marshall lectures at the University of Connecticut

 Digital Record


  • 1980 October 21


Hale Smith introduces "novelist extraordinaire" Paule Marshall. She talks about herself and her work to share that there are many kinds of writers not just those that make the bestseller lists. She goes on to say that for that there are superstars in the literary world there are writers, like herself, who ply their trade without the big bucks but are committed to the art and discipline of writing. Novelist Paule Marshall lectured on 10/21/1980 (2015-0002/RR221). Paule Marshall (April 9, 1929 – August 12, 2019) was an American writer, best known for her 1959 debut novel Brown Girl, Brownstones. In 1992, at the age of 63, Marshall was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship grant.

Biographical / Historical

Paule Marshall August 12, 2019) was an American writer, best known for her 1959 debut novel Brown Girl, Brownstones. In 1992, at the age of 63, Marshall was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship grant.

Marshall was born Valenza Pauline Burke in Brooklyn, New York, on April 9, 1929. Marshall wrote about how her career was inspired by observing her mother's relationship to language: "It served as therapy, the cheapest kind available to my mother and her friends. It restored them to a sense of themselves and reaffirmed their self-worth. Through language they were able to overcome the humiliations of the work day. Confronted by a world they could not encompass, they took refuge in language." Smitten with the poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, Marshall changed her given name from Pauline to Paule (with a silent e) when she was 12 or 13 years old.

She attended Bushwick High School and subsequently enrolled in Hunter College, City University of New York, with plans of becoming a social worker. She took ill during college and took a year off, during which time she decided to major in English Literature, eventually earning her Bachelor of Arts degree at Brooklyn College in 1953 and her master's degree at Hunter College in 1955. After graduating from college, Marshall wrote for Our World, the acclaimed nationally distributed magazine edited for African-American readers, which she credited with teaching her discipline in writing and eventually aiding her in writing her first novel, Brown Girl, Brownstones. In 1950 she married psychologist Kenneth Marshall; they divorced in 1963. In the 1970s she married Nourry Menard, a Haitian businessman.

Early in her career, she wrote poetry, but later returned to prose, her debut novel being published in 1959. Brown Girl, Brownstones tells the story of Selina Boyce, a girl growing up in a small black immigrant community. Selina is caught between her mother, who wants to conform to the ideals of her new home and make the American dream come true, and her father, who longs to go back to Barbados. The dominant themes in the novel – travel, migration, psychic fracture and striving for wholeness – are important structuring elements in her later works as well.

She received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1961 and in the same year published Soul Clap Hands and Sing, a collection of four novellas that won her the National Institute of Arts Award. In 1965, she was chosen by Langston Hughes to accompany him on a State Department-sponsored world tour, on which they both read their work, which was a boon to her career. She subsequently published the novels The Chosen Place, the Timeless People (1969) and Praisesong for the Widow (1983), the latter winning the Before Columbus Foundation American Book Award in 1984. In 2021, the book was reissued by McSweeney's, as part of their "Of the Diaspora" series highlighting important works in Black literature, with an introduction by Opal Palmer Adisa.

Marshall taught at Virginia Commonwealth University, the University of California, Berkeley, the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and Yale University, before holding the Helen Gould Sheppard Chair of Literature and Culture at New York University. In 1993 she received an honorary L.H.D. from Bates College. She lived in Richmond, Virginia.

She was a MacArthur Fellow and a winner of the Dos Passos Prize for Literature. She was designated as a Literary Lion by the New York Public Library in 1994. Marshall was inducted into the Celebrity Path at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden in 2001.

Her memoir, Triangular Road, was published in 2009. In 2010, Paule Marshall won a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards.

Ms. Marshall died in Richmond, Virginia on August 12, 2019.

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1 Reels (Magnetic tape audio recordings) : RR 221 1 reel, 1:32:16; tape speed 3¾ IPS; track position ½-Track Mono; Substrate: Polyester.

Existence and Location of Originals

Original audio recordings reside in the University of Connecticut, Black Experience in the Arts Collection, Archives & Special Collections, UConn Library.

Repository Details

Part of the Archives and Special Collections, University of Connecticut Library Repository

University of Connecticut Library
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