Addison Gayle, Jr.


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(1932–1991), literary critic, educator, lecturer, essayist, and biographer.

One of the chief advocates of the Black Aesthetic, Addison Gayle, Jr., was born in Newport News, Virginia, on 2 June 1932. Inspired by the growing example of Richard Wright, young Gayle became a fastidious reader and hoped that a writing career would enable him to over come the strictures of poverty and racism. By the time he graduated from high school in 1950, Gayle had completed a three-hundred-page novel.

Unable to attend college or secure profitable employment, Gayle joined the air force. During his short stint, he wrote copious drafts of his novel, short stories, and poetry and submitted them for publication. After an honorable discharge and several rejection letters from publishers, Gayle reluctantly returned to Virginia.

In 1960, Gayle enrolled in the City College of New York and received his BA in 1965. The following year he earned an MA in English from the University of California, Los Angeles. He taught at City College, where he participated in the SEEK (Search for Education, Elevation, and Knowledge) program and worked to increase the enrollment of African American and Latino students and to diversify the school's curriculum.

A frequent contrinutor to Hoyt Fuller's journal Black World, Gayle edited Black Expression: Essays By and About Black Americans in the Creative Arts (1969), an anthology of critical writings on African American folk culture, poetry, drama, and fiction. His subsequent publication, The Black Situation (1970), contains a collection of personal essays that chronicle his intellectual development and emerging political militancy in the wake of the civil rights movement and the Black Power struggle.

Gayle's best-known work, The Black Aesthetic (1971), is a compilation of essays written by prominent African American writers and leading Black Aesthetic theorists. In both the introducation and an essay entitled “Cultural Strangulation: Black Literature and the White Aesthetic,” Gayle championed cultural nationalism and argued that the central aim of the African American artist was to address and improve social and political conditions. Gayle continued his advocacy of the Black Aesthetic tradition in Way of a New World (1975), a literary history of the African American novel, and his three biographies: Oak and Ivy: A Biography of Paul Laurence Dunbar (1971), Claude McKay: The Black Poet at War (1972), and Richard Wright: Ordeal of a Native Son (1980). Gayle's autobiography, Wayward Child: A Personal Odyssey (1977), offers a frank and sobering account of his life, which painfully details the exacting price of his indefatigable pursuit of literary excellence.

Gayle also distinguished himself as a professor of English at the City University of New York's Bernard M. Baruch College, where he taught until his death in October 1991. A passionate teacher and writer, Addison Gayle remained a strong supporter of the Black Aesthetic movement and continued to affirm a fundamental link between artistic creativity and the social and political advancement of African Americans.

Donna Olendorf, “Addison Gayle, Jr.,” in CA, vol. 13, ed. Linda Metzger, 1984, pp. 207–208.Eleanor Blau, “Addison Gayle, Jr., Literary Critic, Is Dead at 59,” New York Times, 5 Oct. 1991, 10.


Subjects: Literature.

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