FRANK GARVIN YERBY was bom on September 5, 1916, in Augusta, Georgia, the son of a black father and a Scotch-Irish mother. He attended a private black school in Augusta, the Haines Institute, then entered Paine College, where he received a B.A. in English in 1937. The next year he received an M.A. from Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee.In 1939 he began work on a Ph.D. at the University of Chicago, but left after less than a year for financial reasons. He worked briefly with the Federal Writers' Project in Chicago, meeting such black writers as Richard Wright and Arna Bontemps. After leaving Chicago he taught briefly at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee and at Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.He married Flora Williams in 1941; they had four children but would eventually divorce.
Yerby worked for the Ford Motor Company in Dearborn, Michigan, for three years ( 1941-44) as a laboratory technician; the next year he worked for Ranger (Fairchild) Aircraft in Jamaica, New York.Although Yerby had published a few short stories and poems in college and literary magazines, it was during the war that he began writing in earnest. The short story " Health Card," published in Harper's Magazine for May 1944, received the 0. Henry Memorial Award for best first short story. This searing tale of the mistreatment of a black couple in the military was followed by several other short stories on the plight of black Americans in a racist society; but Yerby felt that restricting his writing to racial issues would limit his audience, so he set out to write a "costume" novel that might have wider appeal. The result was The Foxes of Harrow. Published in 1946 by the Dial Press (which issued nearly all his novels), it became an instant best-seller and was later made into the film Foxes, starring Rex Harrison and Maureen O'Hara.
Although Yerby admitted in an interview that "I set out to write the worst possible novel it was humanly possible to write and still get published but it sort of got hold of me, and about half way through, I started revising and improving it," he came to take pride in the writing of novels that