Authors: Mari Evans

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American poet

Identity: African American

Author Works

Poetry:

Where Is All the Music? 1968

I Am a Black Woman, 1970

Whisper, 1979

Nightstar, 1973-1978, 1981

A Dark and Splendid Mass, 1992

Short Fiction:

“Third Stop in Caraway Park,” 1975

Drama:

River of My Song, pr. 1977

Boochie, pr. 1979

Eyes, pr. 1979 (musical; adaptation of Zora Neale Hurston’s novel Their Eyes Were Watching God)

Portrait of a Man, pr. 1979

Nonfiction:

“In the Time of the Whirlwind: I’m with You,” 1968

“Blackness: A Definition,” 1969

“Contemporary Black Literature,” 1970

“Behind the Green Door,” 1977 (as E. Reed)

“The Nature and Methodology of Colonization and Its Relationship to Creativity: A Systems Approach to Black Literature,” 1979

“Decolonization as Goal: Political Writing as Device,” 1979

“My Father’s Passage,” 1984

Children’s/Young Adult Literature:

J.D., 1973

I Look at Me!, 1974

Rap Stories, 1974

Singing Black: Alternative Nursery Rhymes for Children, 1976

Jim Flying High, 1979

The Day They Made Biriyani, 1982

Dear Corinne, Tell Somebody! Love, Annie, 1999

Edited Text:

Black Women Writers (1950-1980): A Critical Evaluation, 1984

Biography

Best known for her collections of poetry, the African American writer Mari Evans never dreamed of becoming a poet. Evans drifted into poetry while reflecting on her experiences growing up in a housing project. Evans committed herself to becoming a writer at the age of ten, after reading Langston Hughes’s book of poems Weary Blues (1926). Evans identified with the personae in Hughes’s poems and credits him with introducing her to the tradition of black literature.{$I[AN]9810001906}{$I[A]Evans, Mari}{$S[A]Reed, E.;Evans, Mari}{$I[geo]WOMEN;Evans, Mari}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Evans, Mari}{$I[geo]AFRICAN AMERICAN/AFRICAN DESCENT;Evans, Mari}{$I[tim]1923;Evans, Mari}

Evans’s father influenced the direction of her life more than any other person. During fourth grade in public school in Toledo, Ohio, Evans had her first story printed in the school paper. The fact that her father saved the story and carefully recorded on it the date, home address, and some personal comments, deeply impressed the young girl. She gives tribute to him in the essay “My Father’s Passage,” in her pioneering Black Women Writers (1950-1980): A Critical Evaluation.

Evans attended the University of Toledo, where she studied fashion design, but she soon lost interest in this career and returned to writing. Initially she struggled to write short stories, but most of her work was rejected. Evans accepted her first writing job as an assistant editor in an industrial chain-manufacturing plant.

By 1968, she had become a published poet. Her first collection of poems, Where Is All the Music?, scarcely hinted at her future commitment to social issues, but already the second collection, I Am a Black Woman, exhibited a clarion voice that heralded an experiential sense of blackness. Departing from the mainstream denial of black difference, Evans’s title poem from this collection affirms and celebrates the black experience. In 1971, the Black Academy of Arts and Letters selected Evans’s I Am a Black Woman as the most distinguished volume of poetry published that year by a black writer.

Evans’s writing spans several literary genres, thus multiplying her impact upon the African American community. In addition to her volumes of poetry, she published short fiction, plays, critical essays, and children’s books; she also edited an acclaimed text. Her poetry has been used on album covers, on calendars, and in radio and television programs, and it has been choreographed in two Off-Broadway productions. Included in more than two hundred anthologies, her work has been translated for use in Dutch, French, German, Italian, Russian, and Swedish textbooks.

Evans’s expansive career allowed her to affect the lives of beginning writers. She began teaching in 1969. She spent one year as an instructor of African American literature and writer-in-residence at Indiana University-Purdue, Indianapolis. From 1970 to 1978, she taught at Indiana University in Bloomington, with a brief period as visiting assistant professor at Northwestern University (1972-1973). During the late 1970’s, Evans was visiting assistant professor at Purdue University, and in 1980 she taught at Washington University, St. Louis. Evans served as visiting assistant professor and distinguished writer at the African Studies and Research Center at Cornell University from 1981 to 1984. She was an associate professor at the State University of New York, Albany, in 1985-1986; taught at the University of Miami, Coral Gales, as visiting distinguished professor in 1989; and then served as writer-in-residence at Spelman College, in Atlanta, in 1989-1990.

Evans’s nonacademic career proved equally impressive. Between 1968 and 1973, she facilitated increased social understanding through her threefold role as director, producer, and writer of the television program The Black Experience, which aired on WTTV in Indianapolis. Evans served as consultant for the Discovery Grant Program, National Endowment for the Arts, from 1969 to 1970, and as consultant in ethnic studies for Bobbs-Merrill Publishing Company from 1970 to 1973. She contributed to community affairs by serving as chairperson on the Literary Advisory Panel of the Indiana Arts Commission (1976-1977), as member of the board of management of the Fall Creek Parkway YMCA (1975-1980), as member of the Indiana Corrections Code Commission (1978-1979), and as member of the board of directors of the First World Foundation.

Critics have compared Evans’s poetry to the experimental forms used by poets from the 1960’s. However, the purpose of her writing transcends the visual and focuses attention on the idea of a “black aesthetic.” By filtering the black experience through her lens of complex yet traditional poetic techniques, Mari Evans created poetry with social relevance, and she used her craft to alter the world’s perception of the African American experience.

BibliographyBlain, Virginia, Patricia Clements, and Isobel Grundy, eds. “Mari Evans.” In The Feminist Companion to Literature in English. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1990. Provides a general synopsis of Evans’s career.Evans, Mari, ed. Black Women Writers, 1950-1980: A Critical Evaluation. Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1983. Includes Evans’s important essay “My Father’s Passage,” in which she describes her philosophy of composition. Contains considerable additional information about Evans and two critical essays on her poetry.James, Charles L. “Mari Evans.” In Contemporary Poets, edited by Tracy Chevalier. 5th ed. Chicago: St. James Press, 1991. Catalogs Evans’s accomplishments, noting her sociopolitical impact and complex voice.Jordan, Casper LeRoy, comp. “Mari Evans.” In A Bibliographical Guide to African-American Women Writers. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1993. Offers a bibliography of primary and secondary works.Keys, Romey T. Foreword to Nightstar, by Mari Evans. Los Angeles: Center for Afro-American Studies, University of California, 1981. A brief but incisive introduction to the second major volume of Evans’s poetry.Melhem, D. H. Heroism in the New Black Poetry. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1990. Refers to and discusses Evans’s work in the course of interviews with Sonia Sanchez, Jayne Cortez, and Gwendolyn Brooks.Peppers, Wallace R. “Mari Evans.” In African-American Poets Since 1955, edited by Trudier Harris and Thadious M. Davis. Vol. 14 in Dictionary of Literary Biography. Detroit: Gale, 1985. Chronicles Evans’s life and work, emphasizing her scope, social influence, and technique.Sedlack, Robert P. “Mari Evans: Consciousness and Craft.” College Language Association Journal 15 (1972). Examines poetic techniques used in Evans’s award-winning collection I Am a Black Woman.
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