Frank Yerby became one of the leading novelists of the 20th Century after releasing a series of novels between the ’40’s and early ’70’s. Today is the pioneering author’s birthday.
Frank Garvin Yerby was born in 1916 in Augusta, Ga. He obtained his undergraduate degree from Paine College and a master’s degree from Fisk University. While at the University of Chicago studying for a doctorate in education, Yerby dropped out to teach and then pursued a career in writing.
Eventually settling in Jamaica, New York, in 1944, Yerby’s writing was recognized with the O. Henry Memorial Award for his short story, Health Card, which focused on a Black soldier and his wife and the racial inequalities they faced. Two years later, Yerby released his first novel, The Foxes of Harrow, which became the first book by a Black author to sell over 1 million copies. That same year, Yerby was the first author to have their work purchased by a Hollywood studio.
In 1947, a film of the same name was nominated for an Oscar.
Many of Yerby’s 33 novels were set in the antebellum South and centered on white protagonists. While his debut was successful, many observers say his 1971 work, Dahomean, is the finest of his published writings.
In 1955, Yerby left the United States and moved to Spain where he remained for the rest of his life. He died of congestive heart failure in Madrid, where he was buried.
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