Paule Marshall, Influential Black Novelist, Dies at 90


“There he stood, the poet who had long been a literary icon, come to celebrate with me,” Ms. Marshall wrote in her memoir, “Triangular Road” (2009), adding that he was there “to beam at me like a paterfamilias whose offspring had done him proud.”

In 1961, she earned a Guggenheim Fellowship and published “Soul Clap Hands and Sing,” four long stories set in Brooklyn, Brazil, Barbados and British Guiana, all of which featured aging men.

Reviewing “Soul Clap Hands,” Kirkus Reviews wrote that Ms. Marshall had “expanded a private sense of race and color into enormously wide, almost mystic, sense of the shimmering chiaroscuro of life.”

Her relationship with Hughes expanded. In 1965, she joined him and another black writer, Bill Kelley, on a State Department tour of Europe, and he continued to mentor her through postcards and late-night phone calls.

The prolific Hughes once implored her to write more quickly.

“‘Paul-e,’” he said in one conversation, pronouncing the silent ‘e,’ she wrote in her memoir. “‘Do you realize that I have a book out for every year that you’ve been alive?’ (I was in my mid-30s at the time.) ‘You better get busy.’ ”

Valenza Pauline Burke was born on April 9, 1929, in Brooklyn. Her parents were immigrants from Barbados: Samuel Burke was a factory worker and salesman;, Adriana (Clement) Burke was a housekeeper. When Pauline, as she was then known, was 9, her father left the family to join Father Jealous Divine’s cultlike religious movement in Harlem.

Pauline found influences all around her. The first ones were her mother and her Barbadian friends at the kitchen table of her home in the Stuyvesant Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn. They were poets whose exuberant, artful, freewheeling use of language — “In this man world you got to take yuh mouth and make a gun!” — helped them “overcome the humiliations of the work day,” she wrote in The New York Times in 1983.

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