Toni Cade Bambara

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Toni Cade Bambara
Toni Cade Bambara.jpg
Born Miltona Mirkin Cade
(1939-03-25)March 25, 1939
New York City
Died December 9, 1995(1995-12-09) (aged 56)
Occupation writer, documentary-film maker, political activist, educator
Notable works "Blues Ain't No Mockin Bird"

Toni Cade Bambara, born Miltona Mirkin Cade (March 25, 1939 – December 9, 1995),[1] was an African-American author, documentary film-maker, social activist and college professor.


Toni Cade Bambara was born in New York to parents Walter and Helen (Henderson) Cade. She grew up in Harlem, Bedford Stuyvesant (Brooklyn), Queens and New Jersey. In 1970 she changed her name to include the name of a West African ethnic group, Bambara.

Bambara graduated from Queens College with a B.A. in Theater Arts/English Literature in 1959, then studied mime at the Ecole de Mime Etienne Decroux in Paris, France. She also became interested in dance before completing her master's degree in American studies at City College, New York (from 1962), while serving as program director of Colony Settlement House in Brooklyn. She has also worked for New York social services and as a recreation director in the psychiatric ward of Metropolitan hospital. From 1965 to 1969 she was with City College's Search for Education, Elevation, Knowledge-program. She taught English, published material and worked with SEEK's black theatre group. She was made assistant professor of English at Rutgers University's new Livingston College in 1969, was visiting professor in Afro-American Studies at Emory University and at Atlanta University (1977), where she also taught at the School of Social Work (until 1979). She was writer-in-residence at Neighborhood Arts Center (1975–79), at Stephens College at Columbia, Missouri (1976) and at Atlanta's Spelman College (1978–79). From 1986 she taught film-script writing at Louis Massiah's Scribe Video Center in Philadelphia.

Bambara participated in several community and activist organizations, and her work was influenced by the Civil Rights and Black Nationalist movements of the 1960s. She went on propaganda trips to Cuba in 1973 and to Vietnam in 1975. She moved to Atlanta, GA, with her daughter, Karma Bene, and became a founding member of the Southern Collective of African-American Writers.

Toni Cade Bambara was diagnosed with colon cancer in 1993 and died of it in 1995, at the age of 56.


Her first book was Gorilla, My Love (1972), which collected fifteen short stories, written between 1960 and 1970. Most of the stories in Gorilla, My Love are told from a first-person point of view. The narrator is often a sassy young girl who is tough, brave, and caring. Bambara called her writing upbeat fiction. Included were "Blues Ain't No Mockin Bird" as well as "Raymond's Run."

Bambara was active in the 1960s Black Arts movement and the emergence of black feminism. Her anthology The Black Woman (1970), with poetry, short stories, and essays by Nikki Giovanni, Audre Lorde, Alice Walker, Paule Marshall and herself, as well as work by Bambara's students from the SEEK program, was the first feminist collection to focus on African-American women. Tales and Stories for Black Folk (1971) contained work by Langston Hughes, Ernest J. Gaines, Pearl Crayton, Alice Walker and students. She wrote the introduction for another groundbreaking feminist anthology by women of color, This Bridge Called My Back (1981), edited by Gloria Anzaldúa and Cherríe Moraga. While Bambara is often ascribed as a "feminist," in her chapter entitled "On the Issue of Roles", she writes: "Perhaps we need to let go of all notions of manhood and femininity and concentrate on Blackhood."

Her novel The Salt Eaters (1980) centers on a healing event that coincides with a community festival in a fictional city of Claybourne, Georgia. The novel Those Bones Are Not My Child (or "If Blessings Come" - the title of the manuscript) was published posthumously in 1999. It deals with the disappearance and murder of forty black children in Atlanta between 1979 and 1981. It was called her masterpiece by Toni Morrison, who edited it and also gathered some of Bambara's short stories, essays, and interviews in the volume Deep Sightings & Rescue Missions: Fiction, Essays & Conversations (Vintage, 1996).

Her work was explicitly political, concerned with injustice and oppression in general and with the fate of African-American communities and grassroots political organizations in particular, especially The Salt Eaters. Her script for two awards-winning[2] Louis Massiah film The Bombing of Osage Avenue dealt with the massive police assault in Philadelphia on the headquarters of MOVE, at 6221 Osage Avenue, on May 13, 1985.

Female protagonists and narrators dominate her writings, which was informed by radical feminism and firmly placed inside African-American culture, with its dialect, oral traditions and jazz techniques. She was always influenced by the people of Harlem and by her strong-willed mother, Helen Bent Henderson Cade Brehon, who urged her and her brother Walter (an established painter) to be proud of African-American culture and history.

Bambara contributed to PBS's American Experience documentary series with Midnight Ramble: Oscar Micheaux and the Story of Race Movies. She also was one of four filmmakers who made the collaborative 1995 documentary W. E. B. Du Bois: A Biography in Four Voices.

Bambara was posthumously inducted into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame in 2013.


  • Gorilla, My Love. Vintage New York, 1972 (short stories)
  • War of the Walls 1976, My Love. Random House, New York 1972 (short stories)
  • The Lesson. Bedford/St.Martin's, New York 1972 (short stories)
  • The Sea Birds Are Still Alive: Collected Stories. Random House, New York 1977 (short stories)
  • The Salt Eaters. Random House, New York 1980 (novel)
  • Toni Morrison (editor): Deep Sightings and Rescue Missions: Fiction, Essays and Conversations. Pantheon, New York 1996. (various)
  • Those Bones Are Not My Child. Pantheon, New York 1999 (novel)


  • The American Adolescent Apprentice Novel. City College of New York, 1964. 146 pp.
  • Southern Black Utterances Today. Institute of Southern Studies, 1975.
  • What Is It I Think I'm Doing Anyhow. In: J. Sternberg (editor): The Writer on Her Work: Contemporary Women Reflect on Their Art and Their Situation. W.W. Norton, New York 1980, pp. 153–178.
  • Salvation Is the Issue. In: Mari Evans (editor): Black Women Writers (1950-1980): A Critical Evaluation. Anchor/Doubleday, Garden City, NY 1984, pp. 41–47.


  • as Toni Cade (editor): The Black Woman: An Anthology. New American Library, New York 1970
  • Toni Cade Bambara (ed.): Tales and Stories for Black Folks. Doubleday, Garden City, NY 1971
  • This Bridge Called My Back. Persephone Press, 1981. (foreword)

Produced screenplays[edit]

  • Zora. WGBH-TV Boston, 1971[3]
  • The Johnson Girls. National Educational Television, 1972.
  • Transactions. School of Social Work, Atlanta University 1979.
  • The Long Night. American Broadcasting Co., 1981.
  • Epitaph for Willie. K. Heran Productions, Inc., 1982.
  • Tar Baby. Screenplay based on Toni Morrison's novel Tar Baby. Sanger/Brooks Film Productions, 1984.
  • Raymond's Run. Public Broadcasting System, 1985.
  • The Bombing of Osage Avenue. WHYY-TV Philadelphia, 1986.
  • Cecil B. Moore: Master Tactician of Direct Action. WHY-TV Philadelphia, 1987.
  • W.E.B. Du Bois: A Biography in Four Voices (1995)


  1. ^ Goodnough, Abby (December 11, 1995). "Toni Cade Bambara, a Writer And Documentary Maker, 56 (obituary)". The New York Times. Retrieved May 24, 2010. 
  2. ^ Not the Academy Award though, as is sometimes implied.
  3. ^ This list is compiled from Carol Franko: Toni Cade Bambara. In: Eric Fallon, and others (eds): A Reader's Companion to the Short Story in English, Greenwood Publishing, 2001, pp. 38-47.

External links[edit]