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Who is Paule Marshall?

Paule Marshall was a visionary African-American author, celebrated for her profound storytelling that weaves the tapestry of the Caribbean diaspora, feminism, and racial identity. Her novels, like "Brown Girl, Brownstones," are lauded for their rich characters and cultural depth. Discover how Marshall's work has left an indelible mark on literature—what might her stories awaken in you?
Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel

Paule Marshall, an American author, was born on 9 April 1929 in Brooklyn. Marshall’s name at birth was Valenza Pauline Burke. Although she was born in the United States of America, her parents and extended family were from Barbados. Many of Paule Marshall’s novels are located in the West Indies, the homeland of her ancestors, and Brooklyn, where she grew up.

Marshall stayed in New York for her education, attending Hunter College in Manhattan and Brooklyn College. She completed her studies at Brooklyn College in 1953. Two years later, in 1955, she completed her studies at Hunter College. Although she concluded her studies at Hunter College, Paule Marshall was awarded an honorary LH.D., or Doctor of Human Letters, from Bates College in 1993.

Woman standing behind a stack of books
Woman standing behind a stack of books

Early in her writing career, Marshall wrote poetry. However, she eventually turned to prose. It is for her novels, rather than her poetry, that she is best known. Yet, it was a poet that helped her to launch her career. The poet Langston Hughes did a huge service to Marshall when he chose her to accompany him on a world reading tour. On the tour, both authors read from their work and sold their books.

In addition to her career as a writer, Marshall had a long career as a teacher. She has served as a faculty member at Yale University, Virginia Commonwealth University, the University of California, Berkeley, and the renowned Iowa Writer’s Workshop at the University of Iowa. After these teaching appointments, Marshall held the Helen Gould Sheppard Chair of Literature and Culture at New York University.

Over the course of her impressive writing career, Paule Marshall has been honored with numerous awards and accolades. She has been selected as a MacArthur Fellow and is also past recipient of the Dos Passos Prize for Literature. In 1994, just after receiving her honorary degree from Bates, she was named a Literary Lion by the New York Public Library.

Paule Marshall, a champion of the novel as a viable and vital literary form, published the following works, which are listed in chronological order:

  • Brown Girl, Brownstones
  • Soul Clap Hands and Sing
  • The Chosen Place, the Timeless People
  • Reena and Other Stories
  • Praisesong for the Widow
  • Daughters
  • The Fisher King: A Novel
Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel

In addition to her work as a freelance writer for LanguageHumanities, Diane is the executive editor of Black Lawrence Press, an independent publishing company based in upstate New York. She has also edited several anthologies, the e-newsletter Sapling, and The Adirondack Review. Diane has a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College and an M.A. from Brooklyn College.

Learn more...
Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel

In addition to her work as a freelance writer for LanguageHumanities, Diane is the executive editor of Black Lawrence Press, an independent publishing company based in upstate New York. She has also edited several anthologies, the e-newsletter Sapling, and The Adirondack Review. Diane has a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College and an M.A. from Brooklyn College.

Learn more...

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    • Woman standing behind a stack of books
      Woman standing behind a stack of books