God Bless the Child, 1964
The Landlord, 1966
The Survivors, 1975
The Lakestown Rebellion, 1978
Kinfolks, 1997 (as Kristin Hunter Lattany)
Do Unto Others, 2000 (as Kristin Hunter Lattany)
Guests in the Promised Land, 1973 (young adult)
The Double Edge, pr. 1965
The Landlord, 1970 (adaptation of her novel)
Minority of One, 1955
Children’s/Young Adult Literature:
The Soul Brothers and Sister Lou, 1968
Boss Cat, 1971
The Pool Table War, 1972
Uncle Daniel and the Raccoon, 1972
Lou in the Limelight, 1981 (as Kristin Hunter Lattany)
The only child of African American educators George and Mabel Eggleston, Kristin Elaine Hunter was born in Philadelphia and grew up in Camden and Magnolia, New Jersey. She began her writing career at fourteen as a journalist for the Pittsburgh Courier. At the age of twenty she received a B.S. in education from the University of Pennsylvania. She was briefly a third-grade teacher before becoming a copywriter for an advertising agency. She married Joseph Hunter in 1952.
In 1955 Hunter wrote the television script Minority of One, which won the Fund for the Republic Prize. She continued copywriting and published several short stories. She was a research assistant for the University of Pennsylvania during 1961 and 1962, at which time she and her husband were divorced. In 1963 she became information officer for the city of Philadelphia. A year later the novel God Bless the Child was published. Using lyrics from Billie Holiday’s song of the same title to emphasize the tragic elements of ghetto life, it depicts the attempts of Rosie Fleming to escape the inner city to a home of her own. In her pursuit of the American Dream, however, Rosie destroys herself both physically and morally. Obsessed with materialism, she works at two full-time jobs and becomes involved in illegal gambling. Although she moves into a white suburb, her health further declines when she discovers that the house, just like the ghetto apartment, is infested with roaches. Rosie is awakened to her mistakes too late, and she dies as a result. God Bless the Child received the Philadelphia Athenæum Award and won critical acclaim in general. Hunter’s most impressive work, it deserves to be ranked as a minor classic in American literature.
In 1965 the play The Double Edge was produced. The Landlord appeared in 1966. This second novel emphasized a comic presentation of black ghetto life. The tenants of an apartment house fight to save their building from condemnation. Eventually the white landlord becomes involved in his tenants’ lives and joins them in the conflict. Hunter wrote the screenplay for the 1970 film version of The Landlord.
The Soul Brothers and Sister Lou was a successful venture into children’s literature. The novel won the National Council on Interracial Books for Children Award, the Mass Media Brotherhood Award, and the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award. The book concentrates on presenting positive aspects of black culture in the ghetto. Louretta, a gang member, persuades her cohorts to abstain from violence when one of them is killed by a white policeman. She channels their anger into music, and the result is the formation of a commercially successful singing group.
Hunter married John Lattany in 1968 and continued writing children’s books, producing Boss Cat, The Pool Table War, and Uncle Daniel and the Raccoon. In 1972 Hunter returned to the University of Pennsylvania as a lecturer. Guests in the Promised Land, a short-story collection for young adults, appeared in 1973. It won a Book World Festival Award, and a Christopher Award, and it was nominated for the National Book Award. It includes “Debut,” an often-published story that ranks with her best work.
The Survivors was a return to adult fiction. The novel depicts a teenager indoctrinating a middle-aged newcomer into the tactics of survival in the inner city. The message is that the traditional black community must unite against an unsympathetic world. It lacks the power of the earlier novels, however, as does The Lakestown Rebellion. The latter, dealing with a black community that unites to defeat the white power structure’s highway project that threatens to destroy the area, is racially chauvinistic and borders on mere propaganda. Although at times the humor and the symbolism are effective, the controlled irony of God Bless the Child is absent, and the result is an oversimplified conflict between the good blacks and bad whites. The book suffers in contrast to the quality of her first novel.
Hunter served as a writer-in-residence at Emory University in 1979. In 1981 she was back at the University of Pennsylvania as an adjunct professor; in 1983 she became a senior lecturer in English. She also began publishing her books under the name Kristin Hunter Lattany.
With Lou in the Limelight, she continued the Louretta story begun in The Soul Brothers and Sister Lou. After experiencing the vices of gambling and drugs, the group recovers and prepares for another successful tour. The book indicates that the fantasies of success produce dangers that must be met with maturity in order for the characters to survive, a recurring motif in Hunter’s fiction.
After nearly a quarter century without publishing an adult novel and after retiring from the University of Pennsylvania in 1995, Hunter released Kinfolks in 1997. Two forty-something friends, Cherry and Patrice, former radicals who belonged to the Black Panther Party and made their single motherhood a point of pride, have raised a son and daughter who now plan to marry. The two women realize that there are some issues still to settle from their 1960’s past–namely that, as they discover, their children have the same father, poet Eugene Green. Patrice and Cherry set out to gather together all of Eugene’s children, while their own children attempt to reconcile with this news. The novel is broadly comic yet was praised by many critics for the complicated issues it addressed. Do Unto Others, her next novel, deals with the consequences of African American Afrocentricity, as Zena and her husband Lucius get more than they bargained for when they attempt to help a Nigerian woman in need of a place to live.
Perhaps because she never matched the excellence of her first novel, Kristin Hunter has not received the critical attention she deserves. Yet God Bless the Child, much as in the case of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man (1952), is reason enough to consider her an important literary figure. Historically, she continued the tradition of the artistic protest novel that writers such as Ellison and Ann Petry produced before her and prefigured the work of Alice Walker and Toni Morrison that followed. In 1996, Hunter received a Black Writing Celebration Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of her work.