Happy Birthday James Alan McPherson

James Alan McPherson

James Alan McPherson, the first black man to win a Pulitzer Prize for fiction, is born in Savannah, Georgia.

McPherson overcame the crushing poverty of his childhood and ultimately attended Harvard Law School. At age 25, he entered a short story contest sponsored by The Atlantic and won. The following year, he became a contributing editor to the magazine. In 1969, his first collection of short fiction, Hue and Cry, appeared. McPherson became a writing teacher, working at Morgan State University in Washington, D.C., and later at University of Virginia. His second story collection, Elbow Room, was published in 1977 and won the Pulitzer Prize the following year. McPherson was the first black man to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. He also won a $192,000 MacArthur “genius” grant and a Guggenheim Fellowship.

Despite his success, McPherson’s life began to unravel. His interracial marriage collapsed, and a bitter custody battle over his daughter followed. A favorite student killed himself. McPherson spent a year teaching at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop but stopped publishing his work. More than 20 years passed before he published his next book, Crabcakes, a memoir about his journey to Japan to escape the burden of racism.

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