Leon Forrest

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Leon Forrest

Leon Richard Forrest (January 8, 1937 – November 6, 1997) was an African-American novelist. His novels concerned mythology, history, and Chicago.

Forrest was born into a middle-class family in Chicago. His mother was Catholic and from New Orleans, while his father's family was Baptist. His paternal great-grandmother had a role in his early upbringing. Forrest later attended a racially integrated high school after winning an award, but he was a generally mediocre student except for writing. His parents divorced in 1956; his mother remarried, and the couple opened a liquor store.

Forrest attended Wendell Phillips grade school and Hyde Park High School.[1] He then attended Wilson Junior College for a year, and then took classes at Roosevelt University and the University of Chicago before dropping out, leaving to serve as a Public Information Officer in the military.[2] After leaving the service, he returned to the University of Chicago and worked for the Catholic Interracial Council's Speakers Bureau. In 1969, he began working for Muhammad Speaks, a Nation of Islam newspaper. Forrest would become the last non-Muslim editor of the paper.

His first novel, There is a Tree More Ancient than Eden, was published in 1973, and included an introduction from Ralph Ellison. Nobel Prize Laureate Toni Morrison served as publisher's editor for There is a Tree More Ancient than Eden, and his next two novels The Bloodworth Orphans, and Two Wings to Veil My Face.[3] These three novels were known as the Forest County Trilogy.[4] He cited Charlie Parker, Dylan Thomas, William Faulkner, Eugene O'Neill, Ralph Ellison, and his parents' religions as inspiration.

He joined the creative writing and literature staff of Northwestern University in 1973,[4] and from 1985 to 1994, he headed their African-American Studies department.[5] His last novel, Divine Days, was modeled on Ulysses by James Joyce.[6] A novel over 1,100 pages long, Divine Days was called "the War and Peace of African-American literature" by noted scholar and Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates.[7]

He died of cancer in Evanston, Illinois at age 60.[4] Meteor in the Madhouse, a series of connected novellas was published posthumously in 2001, his widow Marianne Forrest serving as literary executor.


  • There is a Tree More Ancient than Eden (Random House, 1973)
  • The Bloodworth Orphans (Random House, 1977)
  • Two Wings to Veil My Face (Asphodel, 1984)
  • Relocations of the Spirit: Collected Essays (Asphodel, 1994)
  • Divine Days (Another Chicago Press, 1992)
  • Meteor in the Madhouse (Northwestern University, 2001)


  1. ^ Cawelti, John G. Leon Forrest: Introductions and Interpretations. Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1997, p. 3.
  2. ^ Cawelti, John G. Leon Forrest: Introductions and Interpretations, 1997, pp. 4-5.
  3. ^ Cawelti, John G. Leon Forrest: Introductions and Interpretations, 1997, p. 4.
  4. ^ a b c Onishi, Norimitsu. "Leon Forrest, 60, a Novelist Who Explored Black History", The New York Times, November 10, 1997.
  5. ^ Northwestern University
  6. ^ Byerman, Keith. "Angularity: An Interview with Leon Forrest - Interview". African-American Review, Fall 1999.
  7. ^ Undercover Black Man

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