December 25, 1922
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, US
|Died||May 23, 2013 (aged 90)|
Sag Harbor, Long Island, NY, US
|Notable works||Beetlecreek; The Catacombs; Love Story Black; King Comus|
|Notable awards||Anisfield-Wolf 2006 Lifetime Achievement Award|
|Spouse||Lucia Drudi (1953–95 her death) Barbara Morris (2004–his death)|
William Demby (December 25, 1922 – May 23, 2013) was an African-American writer, whose works include Beetlecreek (1950), The Catacombs (1965), Love Story Black (1978) and King Comus (2007, published posthumously in November 2017).
William Demby was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on December 25, 1922. His family later moved to Clarksburg, West Virginia. He studied briefly at West Virginia State University but was drafted into an African-American cavalry unit that was deployed to North Africa and Italy during World War Two. During his military service he contributed to the Army publication Stars and Stripes.
After the war he graduated from Fisk University in Nashville in 1947. That same year, he moved to Rome, Italy, where he met writer Lucia Drudi, whom he married in 1953. The couple had a son, James Gabriele Demby, in 1955, who composes and teaches music in Italy. Lucia Drudi died in 1995.
During his decades living in Rome, Demby worked for many important Italian film directors, among them Federico Fellini, translating Italian screenplays and films into English. He was assistant director of dialogue on Roberto Rossellini's film Europa 51, starring Ingrid Bergman. Demby also wrote for various American magazines, among them The Reporter.
In Italy, he wrote his first, existentialist, novel, Beetlecreek (1950), and then his second, more experimental novel, The Catacombs (1965).
Later in life, he reconnected with Barbara Morris, whom he knew from his time at Fisk University. Morris was a former lawyer with NAACP, and the two married in 2004.
Demby began teaching English in 1969 at the College of Staten Island (CUNY), where he worked until the late 1980s. Demby published his third novel, Love Story Black, in 1978 on Reed, Cannon and Johnson. He returned to Italy often, spending time in Rome, and in a villa in Tuscany, where he lived for nearly a decade from the late 1980s until the late '90s. Demby spent his final years in Sag Harbor, NY.
In 2006, Demby was honored with the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for lifetime achievement.
His last novel, King Comus, was finished in 2007 and remained in manuscript form at the time of Demby's death. Published posthumously in November 2017 by Ishmael Reed Publishing Company, it was designated "REDISCOVERED NOVEL OF THE YEAR" by Jeff Biggers in the Huffington Post.
- Beetlecreek, 1950
- The Catacombs, 1965
- Love Story Black, 1978
- Blueboy, 1980
- King Comus, 2007 (published posthumously in November 2017)
- "William Demby, Author of Experimental Novels, Dies at 90". The New York Times. May 31, 2013.
- "King Comus: Rediscovered Novel Of The Year". HuffPost. December 14, 2017.
- "William Demby | 2006 LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT", Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards
- Jeff Biggers, "William Demby Has Not Left the Building Postcard From Tuscany", a profile. Reprinted from The Bloomsbury Review, Vol. 24, #1, 2004,