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Marita Golden

(b. 1950)


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(b. 1950), literary activist, anthologist, novelist, and poet.

Marita Golden's writing career began while she was a teacher. This perhaps explains her self-identification as a “literary Activist.” Her works, especially her fiction, present some of the problems faced by contemporary African American women. They also capture the turbulent but exhilarating milieu of the civil rights era with its challenges and opportunities for commitment.

Her first work, Migrations of the Heart (1983), was a well-received memoir begun when she was just twenty-nine. It recounts, for example, her involvement in the black consciousness movement while attending American University as a scholarship student from Washington's inner city. It also describes her life as an expatriate in Lagos, Nigeria, where she lived in the mid-1970s, and the failure of her marriage to the Nigerian architect with whom she had fallen in love as a student at the Columbia School of Journalism. In 2004, she published a second memoir, Don't Play in the Sun: One Woman's Journey Through the Color Complex. Other personal writing includes Saving Our Sons: Raising Black Children in a Turbulent World (1994), account of raising her son Michael in a crime-ridden neighborhood in Washington, D.C. This work shows how it takes not only parents but a support network of friends, relatives, and teachers for the African American male child to make a successful passage to manhood.

Marita Golden's first novel, A Woman's Place (1986), chronicles a fifteen-year period in the lives of three African American women, Faith, Crystal, and Serena, who meet and become lifelong friends at an elite Boston college during the 1970s. After dropping out of college as a casualty of its new open admissions policy and suffering the death of a child, Faith becomes the wife of an orthodox Muslim nearly twenty years her senior. This relationship deteriorates as her husband becomes increasingly jealous and possessive. Crystal, who becomes a professional poet, enters into a rocky marriage with a white documentary filmmaker. This marriage to a white man alienates her from her father and brother. Serena makes her way as a women's rights advocate in a newly independent African nation. The novel employs multiple narrators, including not only the three major characters but also their husbands, children, and parents.

Golden's second novel, Long Distance Life (1989), chronicles the lives of four generations of an upwardly mobile African American family in Golden's hometown of Washington, D.C. The story takes place against the background of the Great Migration, the Marcus Garvey movement, Washington, D.C., history, and the civil rights movement. It begins with the relocation of the matriarch of the family, Naomi, from her North Carolina farm to Washington to better her prospects. The inspiration for this character was Golden's own mother, Beatrice Lee Reid, who left the poverty of Greensboro, North Carolina, for Washington, D.C., in the late 1920s. Golden says, “It's not conscious, but I find that the women in my work find themselves negotiating the tension between personal and political choices and are compelled to leave home to further their self-definition” (Essence, Nov. 1989). Forty years after Naomi leaves the South, her daughter Esther returns there to work in the civil rights movement. One of Esther's sons becomes a physician and the other a drug dealer whose murder is drug-related. The novel employs a third-person narrative interspersed with Naomi's first-person reflections on her life and those of her loved ones. It ends with an eighty-year-old Naomi reflecting that in spite of such tragedies as her grandson's untimely death, she has lived a rewarding, full life and wouldn't have changed any of it.

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Subjects: Literature.


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