Born in Warrior's Stand, Alabama, George Wylie Henderson served a printer's apprenticeship at Tuskegee before moving to New York City and eventually writing for the Daily News and other publications.
Henderson's acclaimed work Ollie Miss, a 1935 novel of rural southern folklife, centers on an attractive eighteen-year-old, hardworking, female farmhand who accepts the consequences for her own decisions and pursues a romantic relationship with Jule, another worker. Following a nearly fatal attack by Jule's jealous lover, Ollie Miss recovers and learns she is pregnant with Jule's child yet rejects his offer to stay with her. The novel closes with Ollie Miss, serenely pregnant with hope of a new future, working her own plot of land.
Published in 1946, Jule, sequel to Ollie Miss, focuses on the illegitimate son named for his father. Young Jule moves from Hannon, Alabama, where he attacks a white man for making advances toward Bertha Mae, his teenage girlfriend, and escapes to New York where he encounters numerous characters, black and white. In learning to survive, Jule moves from innocent to experienced and becomes a printer's apprentice and even a member of the printers’ union. The novel ends with Jule's return to Alabama for his mother's funeral; he plans to marry Bertha Mae and return to New York.
Ollie Miss was applauded for its authentic portrayal of rural black life through setting and characterization. Though Henderson introduced racial and social protest in Jule, the less favorably reviewed sequel was sharply critized for its thin character development.
Although Henderson published no novels after Jule, he remains significant because his works span the end of the Harlem Renaissance and the beginning of the social protest literature of the 1940s and 1950s.
Emmanuel S. Nelson, “George Wylie Henderson,” in DLB, vol. 51, Afro-American Writers from the Harlem Renaissance to 1940, ed. Trudier Harris, 1987, pp. 96–100.Lonnell E. Johnson, “The Defiant Black Heroine: Ollie Miss and Janie Mae—Two Portraits from the ’30s,” Zora Neale Hurston Forum 4.2 (Spring 1990): 41–46.
Lonnell E. Johnson