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Who is Paule Marshall?

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  • Written By: Diane Goettel
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 29 August 2016
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Paule Marshall, an American author, was born on 9 April 1929 in Brooklyn. Marshall’s name at birth was Valenza Pauline Burke. Although she was born in the United States of America, her parents and extended family were from Barbados. Many of Paule Marshall’s novels are located in the West Indies, the homeland of her ancestors, and Brooklyn, where she grew up.

Marshall stayed in New York for her education, attending Hunter College in Manhattan and Brooklyn College. She completed her studies at Brooklyn College in 1953. Two years later, in 1955, she completed her studies at Hunter College. Although she concluded her studies at Hunter College, Paule Marshall was awarded an honorary LH.D., or Doctor of Human Letters, from Bates College in 1993.

Early in her writing career, Marshall wrote poetry. However, she eventually turned to prose. It is for her novels, rather than her poetry, that she is best known. Yet, it was a poet that helped her to launch her career. The poet Langston Hughes did a huge service to Marshall when he chose her to accompany him on a world reading tour. On the tour, both authors read from their work and sold their books.

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In addition to her career as a writer, Marshall had a long career as a teacher. She has served as a faculty member at Yale University, Virginia Commonwealth University, the University of California, Berkeley, and the renowned Iowa Writer’s Workshop at the University of Iowa. After these teaching appointments, Marshall held the Helen Gould Sheppard Chair of Literature and Culture at New York University.

Over the course of her impressive writing career, Paule Marshall has been honored with numerous awards and accolades. She has been selected as a MacArthur Fellow and is also past recipient of the Dos Passos Prize for Literature. In 1994, just after receiving her honorary degree from Bates, she was named a Literary Lion by the New York Public Library.

Paule Marshall, a champion of the novel as a viable and vital literary form, published the following works, which are listed in chronological order:

  • Brown Girl, Brownstones
  • Soul Clap Hands and Sing
  • The Chosen Place, the Timeless People
  • Reena and Other Stories
  • Praisesong for the Widow
  • Daughters
  • The Fisher King: A Novel
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