TERRY L. MCMILLAN was born October 18, 1951, in Port Huron, Michigan. Her parents, Edward McMillan and Madeline Washington Tillman, were uneducated laborers who had to support six children. This task was made more difficult by the fact that Edward McMillan was an alcoholic; his death when his daughter was sixteen created still more hardship for the family. Terry McMillan took a job at a library that year, which she credits with introducing her to literature.
After graduating from high school, McMillan traveled to Los Angeles to attend a community college; she later transferred to the University of California at Berkeley. While in college she discovered black literature and also met and befriended writer and critic Ishmael Reed, who enabled her to publish her first short story, " The End," in 1976. She graduated from Berkeley with a B.A. in journalism in 1979 and then briefly attended film school at Columbia University before dropping out. For the next few years she supported herself by word processing while attempting to publish various short stories and eventually being accepted into the Harlem Writers Guild.
In 1983, McMillan was accepted at the MacDowell artists colony and then the Yaddo writers colony, where she quickly produced the first draft of Mama, a highly autobiographical novel about a poor family's struggles to survive. When the novel was published in 1987, McMillan, dissatisfied with her publisher's efforts, decided to promote the novel on her own, sending over 3,000 letters to bookstores and universities and establishing her reputation as an excellent reader and speaker. Her successful debut garnered her a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in 1988 and was followed by Disappearing Acts in 1989. The novel concerns a rocky relationship between a well-educated woman and her construction-worker boyfriend, Franklin Swift. While a commercial and critical success, it resulted in a $4.75 million defamation suit against McMillan filed by Leonard Welch, a former lover and the father of McMillan's only child, Solomon Welch, who maintained that the novel and specifically the character of Franklin