Education and teaching career
Born in Toledo, Ohio, Evans was 10 years old when her mother died, and she was subsequently encouraged in her writing by her father, as she recalls in her essay "My Father's Passage" (1984). She attended local public schools before going on to the University of Toledo, where she majored in fashion design in 1939, though left without a degree. She began a series of teaching appointments in American universities in 1969. During 1969–70, she served as writer in residence at Indiana University-Purdue, where she taught courses in African-American Literature. The next year, she accepted a position as writer in residence at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. From 1968 to 1973, she produced, wrote and directed the television program The Black Experience for WTTV in Indianapolis. She received an honorary degree from Marian College in 1975. Evans continued her teaching career at Purdue (1978–80), at Washington University in Saint Louis (1980), at Cornell University (1981–85), and the State University of New York at Albany (1985–86).
Mari Evans has written poetry, short fiction stories, children’s books, and theater pieces. She is also the editor of Black Women Writers (1950–1980): A Critical Evaluation (Anchor/Doubleday, 1984). She is known for her poems, one of which, called "When In Rome", is taught in many high schools and college English classes. The poem ends, "I'm tired of eatin' what they eats in Rome." The last line provides the poem with its famous title. It is a dialogue poem, between Mattie and her possible slave owner, offering her unfamiliar foods in the pantry. She is also well known for the line: "I have never been contained except I made the prison." Although her first and most renowned book of poetry, I am a Black Woman, was published in 1970, many of her poems preceded the Black Arts Movement by about 10–15 years, while coinciding with the Black Arts poets' message of Black cultural, psychological, and economical liberation; however, Evans does not fully align her writing with the movement. In her poem "I am a Black Woman", the second stanza reads: “I am a black woman tall as a cypress strong beyond all definition still defying place and time and circumstance assailed impervious indestructible.” Evans spoke of the need to make Blackness both beautiful and powerful.
- Night Star 1973–1978 (1981)
- Where is the Music (1968)
- A Dark and Splendid Mass, Harlem River Press (1992)
- I am a Black Woman (1970)
- Continuum, Black Classic Press (2007)
- Dear Corinne, Tell Somebody! Love, Annie: A book about secrets (1999)
- Jim Flying High (1979)
- J.D. (1973)
- Singing Black: Alternative Nursery Rhymes for Children (1998)
- Rap Stories (1974)
- Eyes, a musical based on Their Eyes Were Watching God (1979)
- River of My Song (1977)
- Portrait of a Man (1979)
- Boochie (1979)
- The Pro (1979)
Awards and honors
- John Hay Whitney Fellow, 1965–66
- Woodrow Wilson Foundation Grant, 1968
- Indiana University Writers Conference Award, 1970
- First Annual Poetry Award, Black Academy of Arts and Letters, 1970
- Copeland Fellow, Amherst College, 1980
- National Endowment for the Arts grant, 1981–82
- Featured on Ugandan postage stamp, 1997
- Nominated for a Grammy Award for her liner notes to The Long Road Back To Freedom: An Anthology of Black Music, 2002
- African American Legacy Project of Northwest Ohio Legend Honoree 2007
- "Mari Evans", Poets.org.
- Karen Kovacik, "Mari Evans at 90", No More Corn, July 16, 2013.
- Sullivan, Erin, "Evans, Mari E.", BlackPast.org.
- "Mari Evans", Answers.com.
- "Mari Evans, a writer and a teacher", African American registry.
- David E. Dorsey, Jr. "Evans, Mari", in William L. Andrews, Frances Smith Foster and Trudier Harris (eds), The Concise Oxford Companion to African American Literature, OUP, 2001, p. 134.