Authors: Lorene Cary

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American memoirist and novelist

Identity: African American

Author Works

Nonfiction:

Black Ice, 1991 (autobiography)

Long Fiction:

The Price of a Child, 1995

Pride, 1998

Biography

Lorene Cary, who became a freelance writer in the 1980’s, gained prominence in the 1990’s for her autobiography and novels. Education had always been a dominant factor in her life. The daughter of teachers John and Carole (née Hamilton) Cary, Lorene was raised in Philadelphia and one of its suburbs, Yeadon, where she attended public schools.{$I[A]Cary, Lorene}{$I[geo]WOMEN;Cary, Lorene}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Cary, Lorene}{$I[geo]AFRICAN AMERICAN/AFRICAN DESCENT;Cary, Lorene}{$I[tim]1956;Cary, Lorene}

In the early 1960’s, Cary’s parents decided that their daughter, who was about to enter first grade, should attend the Lea School, where musical instrument lessons, French classes, an individualized reading series, and advanced Saturday morning classes were offered. Although the Carys lived outside the Lea School district, Carole Cary convinced the principal to consider her daughter for admission. After Cary passed an I.Q. test, she was placed in Lea’s top first-grade class. By the time Cary was a teenager, her family had moved to Yeadon.

She transferred from the public high school and spent her junior and senior years at the elite Saint Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire, after a friend of the family told her that the formerly all-male, segregated boarding school was offering scholarships to African American girls. She was one of only three or four girls in her classes, and during her first year, all the teachers were men. Her years at Saint Paul’s were successful; she wrote articles for a school publication, was elected senior class vice president, and was the recipient of the Rector’s Award. Cary graduated from Saint Paul’s in 1974. Fourteen years later, she wrote about her days as a Saint Paul’s coed in an article for American Visions.

Cary then expanded the article into her autobiography, Black Ice, her most critically acclaimed and well-known book. In Black Ice, Cary documents her experiences as a member of the generation of African American students who were the first of their race to attend elite prep schools during the stage of school integration that occurred after the public school desegregation efforts of the 1950’s and 1960’s. The American Library Association selected Black Ice as one of its Notable Books in 1992. Cary’s autobiography has been compared with Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1970). Black Ice is a valuable addition to the tradition of African American first-person narrative that extends back to the 1700’s.

Cary continued her education at the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned a B.A. and an M.A. in English in 1978. Cary, as a recipient of a Thouron Fellowship, then studied Victorian literature and religion at England’s Sussex University, where she completed her second M.A. in 1979. One year later, Cary was an apprentice at Time magazine, and in 1981 she became an associate editor of TV Guide. She became a freelance writer in 1983, and her articles appeared in such periodicals as Essence, The Philadelphia Inquirer Sunday Magazine, Obsidian, Mirabella, and American Visions. In 1993 she was a contributing editor for Newsweek.

Cary began her career as an educator at Saint Paul’s in 1982, where she taught for one year and was a trustee from 1985 to 1989. She also taught at Antioch University, Philadelphia campus; Philadelphia University of the Arts; and the University of Pennsylvania, where she became a faculty member in the Department of English in 1995. Her novel, The Price of a Child, based on a nineteenth century African American woman who was a fugitive slave as well as an abolitionist, and Pride, her interpretation of the lives of four contemporary black women, were published during her tenure at the University of Pennsylvania.

Cary combined her dual careers as an author and educator in 1998 in the form of Art Sanctuary. She founded this nonprofit program, located in North Philadelphia at the Church of the Advocate, a National Historic Landmark Building, as a lecture and performance series presenting African American writers and artists to the community. Cary continued to reside in Philadelphia with her husband, writer and editor Robert C. Smith, with whom she had two daughters.

Lorene Cary, freelance writer, educator, and patron of the arts, is best known for Black Ice, The Price of a Child, and Pride. Whether writing about her own life or writing about women from history or contemporary women, Cary offers varied insights into African American life.

BibliographyBigelow, Barbara Carlisle, ed. “Lorene Cary.” Vol. 3. in Contemporary Black Biography: Profiles from the International Black Community, edited by Michael L. LeBlanc. Detroit: Gale, 1993. Brief biography and commentary on Cary’s works.Woodson, Rose. “Lorene Cary.” In Literature. Vol. 2 in Facts on File Encyclopedia of Black Women in America, edited by Darlene Clark Hine. New York: Facts on File, 1997. Concise biography and commentary on Cary’s works.
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