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Ann Allen Shockley

(b. 1927)


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(b. 1927), librarian, newspaper columnist, teacher, lecturer, compiler, essayist, and fiction writer.

A multitalented professional, Ann Allen Shockley has contributed to various fields, yet her contributions as writer remain invisible to much of America.

Born 21 June 1927, in Louisville, Kentucky, Shockley is the only daughter of Henry and Bessie Lucas Allen, both social workers. To her parents and a devoted eighth-grade teacher, she has attributed her insatiable desire to read and write. She edited her junior high school newspaper, wrote short pieces in the Louisville Defender, and penned essays and short fiction for the Fisk Herald while an undergraduate at Fisk University (1944–1948)—all before her twenty-first birthday. These early pieces show Shockley's interest in social and cultural issues.

In 1949 Shockley began a weekly column called “Ebony Topics” for the Federalsburg Times (Md.). From 1950 to 1953 she penned a similar column for the Bridgeville News, in Bridgeville, Delaware, where she resided with her husband, William Shockley. Married in 1949 and later divorced, she had two children, William Leslie, Jr., and Tamara Ann. Political, cultural, and social events swelled Shockley's columns, which celebrated African American family unity, praised ebony heroes, and honored those who had excelled in their fields. Some of her pieces defined Thanksgiving, Armistice Day, and Mother's Day; others championed women's issues, a position she would return to again in her later pieces. She also contributed articles to the Baltimore Afro-American and to the Pittsburgh Courier. During her years as freelancer for newspapers, she held jobs as public school teacher and librarian. In 1959 she received her master's degree in library science from Case Western Reserve University.

Shockley has written several reference books for the library. Her unpublished History of Public Library Services to Negroes in the South, 1900–1955 gives an overview of the inadequate, segregated public library services that were available to African Americans in southern states during the first half of the twentieth century. Living Black American Authors: A Biographical Directory (1973) stands as a significant compilation of African American writers with entries ranging from Russell Adams to Andrew S. Young. Handbook of Black Librarianship (1977) identifies for librarians and archivists ways to collect and preserve materials that relate to the history of African Americans. Afro-American Women Writers, 1746–1933: An Anthology and Critical Guide (1988) documents the achievements of African American women writers and the effects their sociohistorical environments had on their works.

Most of Shockley's essays complement her books and pinpoint the neglected areas of librarianship related to African Americans. She examines African American librarians' attitudes toward their jobs (“Negro Librarians in Predominantly Negro Colleges”), assesses the need for special collections (“Does the Negro College Library Need a Special Negro Collection?”), and documents the library's role in encouraging students to read (“Reading Encouragement in the Maryland State College Library”). Shockley's essays and books on librarianship reflect her concerns as curator of African American collections at Delaware State College (1959–1960), University of Maryland, Eastern Shore (1960–1969), and at Fisk University (1969-).

Themes related to African American culture continue in Shockley's short stories, which mirror the social and political unrest of the 1960s and 1970s. She explores interracial dating (“End of an Affair”), de facto segregation in public schools (“Monday Will Be Better”), sexism (“To Be a Man”), the hypocrisy of some Black Power advocates (“Is She Relevant?”), the African American brain drain to white universities (“The Faculty Party”), student uprisings on African American campuses (“The President”), the plight of the Vietnam veteran (“The Saga of Private Julius Cole”), and homophobia (“Home to Meet the Folks”). These stories— growing out of the civil rights, Black Power, women's liberation, and lesbian and gay movements—entertain the experiences encountered and choices made by African Americans. Her literary influences—Richard Wright, Ann Petry, Lillian Smith, and Dorothy Parker— leave a noticeable tincture of naturalism.

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Subjects: Literature.


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