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Terry McMillan

(b. 1951)


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(b. 1951), university professor, screenwriter, editor, and author.

As a novelist, Terry L. McMillan has contributed to the body of literature that opens the doors of communication between African Americans and society at large. Family problems seem to permeate her texts, especially Mama and Waiting to Exhale, for which she assisted in creating a screenplay. McMillan was born 18 October 1951 in Port Huron, Michigan, the daughter of Madeline Washington Tillman and Edward Lewis McMillan, proletarians. Like Onika, the child of Bernadine in Waiting to Exhale, McMillan's parents divorced, and her mother raised her and her four siblings alone, working as a domestic and an auto factory worker. McMillan graduated from the University of California at Berkeley with a BS degree in 1979 and attended the MFA film program at Columbia University in New York City that year.,

McMillan's son, Solomon, whom she raised as a single parent, was born in 1984. Dedicated to her writing and her son, McMillan was determined to make it in a man's world. In 1987, while serving as Visiting Writer at the University of Wyoming, Laramie, she published Mama, which she had written while working as a typist. She promoted her first novel by contacting colleges and universities and organizing tours, and by publication date, Mama had sold out its first printing. Mama depicts the often troubled inter- and intrarelationships of a mother, Mildred Peacock, to her family and her community, but most of all to “self.” McMillan places Mildred in the middle of social change in society: Feminists are still burning their “pretty bras” from the 1960s, and African Americans are faced with an identity crisis. Society is dealing with civil rights, Black Power, student protests, and opposition to the Vietnam War. McMillan let all of this assist her in creating a text filled with social realism, and the book deals with much more than a woman's struggle in a sexist, antiwomanist society. The text emphasizes, through Mildred's life and her children's, that positive change is possible, and that a black woman and her people need not be limited by the roles society expects them to play, allows them to play, or prohibits them from playing by virtue of their status in their community.

McMillan's second book, Disappearing Acts (1989) is a novel that addresses the issues of urban love. The characters Zora Banks and Franklin Swift create a complex love that enables women who have loved and lost or walked away from love to understand Zora's dilemma. These star-crossed lovers tell their stories and create for the readers polarities that, to them, represent their individual struggles. Again, McMillan's use of language and dialogue gives her readers the needed flavor to continue wanting more and more of her characters.

In 1990, McMillan edited Breaking Ice: An Anthology of Contemporary African American Fiction, which consists of works by a wide range of post-1960 authors both established and emerging. In her introduction to the text, McMillan states her explanation for such a work: “I wish there hadn't been a need to separate our work from others, and perhaps, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. expressed, one day this dream may come true, where all of our work is considered equal, and measured not by its color content, but its literary merit.”

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Subjects: Literature.


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