- NAME: James Alan McPherson
- OCCUPATION: Writer
- BIRTH DATE: September 16, 1943 (Age: 70)
- Did You Know?: With his short story collection Elbow Room, James Alan McPherson became the first African-American writer to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
- EDUCATION: Morgan State University, Morris Brown College, Harvard University Law School, University of Iowa
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Savannah, Georgia
- Full Name: James Alan McPherson
- AKA: James McPherson
- AKA: James A. McPherson
- ZODIAC SIGN: Virgo
Best Known For
African-American author James Alan McPherson has been recognized for both his fiction and non-fiction writing. He won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1978.
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African-American writer James Alan McPherson was born on September 16, 1943, in Savannah, Georgia. He was educated at Morris Brown College, Morgan State University, Harvard Law School and the University of Iowa. He has published both collections of short stories and volumes of non-fiction essays; the short stories in Elbow Room won him the 1978 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
"I believe that if one can experience its diversity, touch a variety of its people, laugh at its craziness, distill wisdom from its tragedies, and attempt to synthesize all this inside oneself without going crazy, one will have earned the right to call oneself citizen of the United States."
"One thing that Ralph Ellison taught me, not taught me, but affirmed for me in a very prideful and manly way, was that I need make no apology for my color or for where I came from."
James Alan McPherson was born on September 16, 1943, in Savannah, Georgia. His father was an electrician; his mother worked as a maid. McPherson was the second of four children. He, his brother and his two sisters grew up in Savannah when the South was still racially segregated.
McPherson attended Atlanta's Morris Brown College before moving to Morgan State University, located in Baltimore, Maryland, for two years; he then returned to Morris Brown and graduated with his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1965. While in school, he worked as a dining car waiter for the Great Northern Railroad and as a janitor.
McPherson next went to Harvard University Law School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. While studying law, he continued to pay his expenses by working as a janitor. He also wrote during law school, and took summer writing classes. Though he graduated with a law degree in 1968, McPherson entered the Writers' Workshop program at the University of Iowa instead of pursuing a legal career. He completed his Master of Fine Arts degree in 1971.
When he was still a law student, McPherson had his short story "Gold Coast" published by the Atlantic in 1968. "Gold Coast," a tale of the complicated friendship between a young black janitor and aspiring writer (much like McPherson himself) and his supervisor (an older white man), was also included in McPherson's first collection of short stories, Hue and Cry (1969). McPherson was made a contributing editor for the Atlantic in 1969.
McPherson's next collection of short stories, 1977's Elbow Room, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1978. For this book, as for Hue and Cry, McPherson had created realistic characters in narratives that explored themes ofracial identity and social conflict. McPherson was influenced in his writing by older African-American authors like Albert Murray and Ralph Ellison, who became his mentors and friends.
McPherson has produced non-fiction work, such as Railroad: Trains and Train People in American Culture (1976), co-edited with Miller Williams. He has also written collections of essays about his own life and cultural identity: Crabcakes, published in 1998,and A Region Not Home: Reflections from Exile, published in 2000. The latter book includes his important autobiographical essay "On Becoming an American Writer" and his tribute to Ralph Ellison, "Gravitas."
McPherson's work has appeared in numerous journals, magazines and short story anthologies, including Best American Short Stories 1969 and The Best American Essays 1995. He has edited issues of the Iowa Review and Ploughshares. McPherson, who has one daughter, Rachel, also co-edited the essay collection Fathering Daughters: Reflections by Men (1998).
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