(1928–1985), novelist, journalist, playwright, script-writer/producer, Broadway and Hollywood actor, critical essayist, university lecturer, freedom fighter, and advisor to world leaders.
The son of Hudson and Annie Mae Prince Mayfield, Julian Mayfield was born on 6 June 1928 in Greer, South Carolina, but grew up in Washington, D.C., where his parents relocated when he was five. After graduation from high school in 1946 and army service in the Pacific, he attended Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. His choice of political science as a major was a logical outgrowth of his acknowledged fascination with words and the power of words, both written and spoken.
This fascination with words led him into another role, on the stage. Before graduating, he participated in several Off-Broadway productions, including his own one-act play 417; he later made his Broadway debut playing the lead role in Lost in the Stars, a musical about apartheid.
In 1954, he married a physician, Ana Livia Cordero. Relocating to Mexico, his new role was that of cofounder/newscaster for Mexico's first English-language radio station and cofounder and editor/theater reviewer of the Puerto Rico World Journal. While in Mexico, Mayfield launched yet another career, this time in the field of creative writing, with the publication of his first novel, The Hit (1957). Based on his play 417, the novel, like his subsequent publication The Long Night, is about lost or deferred dreams. Both novels also focus on the hopelessness and desolation of the African American family trapped in the quagmire of poverty, victimization, and oppression in the Harlem ghetto.
The Hit tells the story of the once prosperous Cooley family: Hubert, the father and successful-entrepreneur-turned-janitor; Gertrude, the abused mother; and James Lee, their son. The highlight of the story is the final desperate attempt by Hubert to ease his frustration by playing the “numbers” and his disillusionment when, by a strange twist of fate, he gets none of the money his magic number 417 hit.
The Long Night (1958) is a story of a broken family, the Browns: Paul, the father and law-school-dropout-turned-doorway-bum; Mae, the overworked mother; and ten-year-old Steeley, their eldest son. The story details the long night of adventures of the very courageous Steeley who is robbed by fellow gang members of the numbers hit that his mother sent him to collect. Reluctant to return home for fear of a beating, Steeley tries desperately to recoup the money by begging, stealing, and robbing. The last of these efforts results in his discovery of his long-absent but much loved, missed, and needed father, the drunk he rolls over with the intention of robbing. This discovery also serves as a catalyst for reuniting the Brown family.
The theme of Mayfield's third novel, The Grand Parade (1961), is very different from that of the first two. Set in the “nowhere” city of Gainsboro, the story covers a much broader spectrum of American society with a focus on political corruption, interracial conflicts, and public school segregation.
Between 1961 and 1966, Mayfield resided in Ghana serving as an aide/advisor to President Kwame Nkrumah and founder/editor of the African Review. He spent the following two years in Europe and Asia. Returning to the United States in 1968, Mayfield spent most of his remaining life in the milieu of academia, lecturing in universities both within the United States and abroad. His only break from academia was the period between 1971 and 1973, which he spent in Guyana where he served as advisor to Prime Minister Forbes Burnham.