|Born||Frank Garvin Yerby
September 5, 1916
|Died||November 29, 1991
Frank Garvin Yerby (African-American historical novelist. He is best known as the first African-American writer to become a millionaire from his pen, and to have a book purchased by a Hollywood studio for a film adaptation.September 5, 1916 – November 29, 1991 ) was an
Yerby was born in Augusta, Georgia, to Rufus Garvin Yerby and Wilhelmina Smythe, both natives of Georgia. Both of his parents were listed as Mulatto in Census records before and after their marriage; according to Yerby he had a combination of Caucasian, Cherokee, and African-American ancestors, though in the 1930 and 1940 Censuses of the United States the family members were listed simply as 'Negro'. He graduated from Haines Normal Institute in Augusta and graduated from Paine College in 1937. Thereafter, Yerby enrolled in Fisk University where he received his Master's degree in 1938. In 1939, Yerby entered the University of Chicago to work toward his doctorate but later left the university. Yerby taught briefly at Florida A&M University and at Southern University in Baton Rouge.
Yerby was originally noted for writing romance novels set in the Antebellum South. In mid-century, Yerby embarked on a series of best-selling historical novels ranging from the Athens of Pericles to Europe in the Dark Ages. Yerby took considerable pains in research, and often footnoted his historical novels. In all, he wrote 33 novels. In 1946, he published The Foxes of Harrow, a southern historical romance, which became the first novel by an African American to sell more than a million copies. In this work he faithfully reproduced many of the genre's most familiar features, with the notable exception of his representation of African-American characters, who bore little resemblance to the "happy darkies" that appeared in such well known works as Gone With the Wind. That same year he also became the first African American to have a book purchased for screen adaptation by a Hollywood studio, when 20th Century Fox optioned Foxes. Ultimately, the book became a 1947 Oscar-nominated film of the same name starring Rex Harrison and Maureen O'Hara.
In some regards, Yerby is best known for his masterpiece, Dahomean. The 1971 publication of Dahomean, which focuses on the life of an enslaved African chief's son who is transported to America, serves as the culmination of Yerby's efforts toward incorporating racial themes into his works. Prior to that, Yerby was often criticized by blacks for the lack of focus on or stereotypical treatment of African-American characters in his books.
In 2012, The New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote an article telling about an at-risk child whose life was turned around by reading Yerby books that one of his teachers was secretly providing to him.
Yerby left the United States in 1955 in protest against racial discrimination, moving to Spain (then under the Franco regime), where he remained for the rest of his life. Frank Yerby died from congestive heart failure in Madrid and was interred there in the Cementerio de la Almudena. In 2006, Yerby was posthumously inducted into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame. In 2013, the Augusta Literary Festival created an award to honor Frank Yerby. This award is given to three fiction authors from a submission pool.
- Garcia Gomez, Emilio, "Entrevista con Frank Yerby". Madrid, December 21, 1983.[dead link]
- Jarrett, Gene Andrew, Deans and Truants: Race and Realism in African American Literature, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007
- Lowe, J., "Subversive Romanticism, Haitian Specters, in Yerby’s The Golden Hawk" (unpublished manuscript of conference paper)
- Smiles, Robin V., "Uncovering Frank Yerby" in Black Issues in Higher Education, November 4, 2004[dead link]
- Williams, John A. "Negro In Literature Today" in Ebony magazine issue of September 1963