Appreciation: Author Claude Brown Offered Promise

Article excerpt

Fifteen years ago I met Claude Brown. In February 1987, the Harlem writer gave a lecture at my college and I was dispatched to write an article about it for the campus Black student newsletter. I was a bit apprehensive about the assignment. It was the first time I had ever written for a publication, and I hadn't yet read Brown's legendary 1965 novel Manchild in the Promised Land. All I knew was Brown was a writer, and he was Black. Brown, who died on Feb. 2 in New York, discussed many themes that evening: Ronald Reagan and racism in America, Black history and the difficulties Black students confront at predominantly white colleges like the one I was attending at the time - Frostburg State College in Maryland. Because of the "difficult" sub Brown raised, my article caused a minor controversy on campus. The student government association threatened to cut funding for the Black newsletter for the following year. We didn't lose our funding, but I found my calling. I knew then that I was going to be a writer.

When Brown passed recently at the age of 64, many writers I know began to discuss his contributions to African American literature. All of our conversations focused on one work - Manchild In the Promised Land. It is one of those books that every Black writer, including myself, eventually reads. Brown wrote Manchild while he was a student at Howard University. It is a semi-autobiographical novel about a young Black boy struggling against formidable obstacles in Harlem: drugs, gangs and poverty. …