Killens, John Oliver, 1916-1987

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1916-01-14
Death 1987-10-27
Americans
English

Biographical notes:

Killens, John Oliver (1916-1987), African American novelist, essayist, screenwriter, political activist, mentor and teacher. Killens was born on January 14, 1916, in Macon, Georgia, to Willie Lee Coleman and Charles Myles Killens, Sr.

From the description of John Oliver Killens papers, 1937-1987. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 79463301

The African American writer John Oliver Killens, a native of Macon, drew on his own encounters with racism to compose such works as Youngblood, a classic of social protest fiction. Working within a tradition that coupled art with activism, Killens said, ''There is no such thing as art for art's sake. All art is propaganda, although there is much propaganda that is not art.'' The founding chairman of the celebrated Harlem Writers Guild, Killens became a spiritual father of the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s. Like the writer Richard Wright, whom he greatly admired, Killens inspired a subsequent generation of African Americans through writings charged with strong social and political messages. Killens was born on January 14, 1916, to Charles Myles Killens Sr., a restaurant manager, and Willie Lee Coleman, an insurance company clerk. His parents were well read and kept abreast of trends and events important to African Americans. Along with Killens's great-grandmother, his parents instilled in him a pride in black culture and a belief in the power of the arts to effect social change. In the early 1950s Killens, who had settled in New York, joined three of his friends to form the Harlem Writers Guild. Killens polished his first novel, Youngblood (1954), at meetings in members' homes. Spanning the Jim Crow era through the Great Depression, it portrays ordinary black people in the fictional rural community of Crossroads, Georgia, as they struggle to maintain their dignity and secure their rights. His second novel, And Then We Heard the Thunder (1963), is about a law school student who, just as Killens did, interrupts his education to serve in an all-black amphibious regiment in World War II. As an officer, the main character endures not only the hardships of war but also the bigotry of his white fellow officers. Critic Jonathan Yardley of the Washington Post wrote that it was "one of the few distinguished novels about World War II" and a "powerful-though regrettably little-known-examination of the lives of black servicemen." Another of Killens's important works is the novel The Cotillion; or, One Good Bull Is Half the Herd (1971). Satirizing class pretensions, The Cotillion uproariously portrays the conflicts between militants and social climbers within black society in the 1960s. Killens wrote six novels for adults. Additional book-length works include Black Man's Burden (1965), essays on race in America; Great Black Russian (1989), a biographical work on the poet Alexander Pushkin; and two books for young readers, Great Gittin' Up Morning (1972), a biography of Denmark Vesey, and A Man Ain't Nothin' but a Man (1975), which recounts the adventures of John Henry. Killens also wrote plays, screenplays, and numerous articles and short stories that appeared in publications ranging from Black Scholar and the New York Times to Ebony and Redbook. His works have been published in some fifteen countries, and a representative sampling remains in print today. New Georgia Encyclopedia - John Oliver Killens http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/nge/Article.jsp?id=h-1234 (Retrieved October 2, 2009)

Herbert J. Biberman, the progressive producer, director and screenwriter now best known as one of the Hollywood Ten who were blacklisted by the American Film Industry for refusing to testify before the House Unamerican Activities Committee (HUAC), was born on March 4, 1900 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Educated at the University of Pennsylvania and Yale, Biberman entered his family's textile business after a journey to Europe. In 1928, Biberman joined the left-wing Theater Guild as an assistant stage manager, beginning his professional career in the arts. He married actress Gale Sondergaard in 1930. Biberman became a director with the Theater Guild, and entered the movie industry as a dialog director on Colmbia Pictures' Eight Bells (1935) in 1935. He made his first picture that year, directing One-Way Ticket (1935) for B.P. Schulberg Productions and Columbia. Ironically, it would be producer B.P. Schulberg's son Budd Schulberg, an ex-communist, who would be one of his chief accusers in the Hollywood show trials of the late 1940s. Biberman was arraigned before HUAC in 1947, where he was one of 19 unfriendly witnesses who refused to answer the Committee's inquiry into their political affiliations. The 19 eventually became the Hollywood Ten, as others of the 19 dropped away, including such luminaries as Bertolt Brecht, who left the U.S. for East Germany. Under the advice of lawyers with Communist Party affiliations, the Ten decided to adopt a common front and defy the committee by refusing to or deny the allegations that they were communists. In 1950, Biberman was fined and sentenced to six months in prison for contempt of Congress. Biberman's wife, the Oscar-winner Gale Sondergaard, was similarly accused and refused to testify. She also was blacklisted. In 1954, Biberman directed the independently produced, left-wing motion picture Salt of the Earth (1954), a fictionalized account of a miners; strike in Grant County, New Mexico. Working with other blacklisted movie professionals, including screenwriters Michael Wilson (who wrote the picture) and Paul Jarrico (who produced it), the film starred such progressive actors as Will Geer. It was made against tremendous odds, including opposition from Hollywood and the government. A chronicle of the terrible working conditions faced by miners in New Mexico, the film had the official backing of the local miner's union and employed real workers and their families. However, other unions, involved in a Cold War fight in the 1950s against communist-dominated domestic unions and Communist Party-affiliated union organizers (a fight that began in Hollywood immediately after World War II, when returning veterans fought back against trade guilds that had become infiltrated by organized crime during their war service), refused to show the film because Biberman was still blacklisted. It was screened only once, in New York, before being blackballed from exhibition in the U.S. for 11 years. Biberman released the film in Europe where it won awards in France and Czechoslovakia. In 1965, the film was finally released in the U.S. market. "Salt of the Earth" has been deemed "culturally significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. IMDb - Herbert J. Biberman http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0080868/bio (Retrieved October 2, 2009)

From the description of Slaves : a screenplay / by John O. Killens and Herbert J. Biberman, 1968. (University of Georgia). WorldCat record id: 444765174

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Subjects:

  • Slaves--Drama
  • Slaveholders--Drama
  • Slavery--Drama
  • American drama--African American authors--20th century
  • Plantation owners--Drama
  • African American dramatists
  • American literature--African American authors--20th century
  • African American arts
  • African American authors

Occupations:

  • Dramatists
  • Authors

Places:

  • Southern States (as recorded)