"[This autobiography] is written with brutal and unvarnished honesty in the plain talk of the people, in language that is fierce, uproarious, obscene and tender, but always sensible and direct. And to its enormous credit, this youthful autobiography gives us its devastating portrait of life without one cry of self-pity, outrage or malice, with no caustic sermons or searing rhetoric. Claude Brown speaks for himself--and the Harlem people to whom his life is bound--with open dignity, and the effect is both shattering and deeply satisfying...[This work] is a mature autobiography of the coming of age of one hidden human being, whose experience and generation are absolutely crucial to any future history of the American people."-- New York Times Book Review
"For where does one run to when he's already in the promised land?"--Claude Brown
Listen up. February 23rd, is the birthday of Claude Brown, one of America's most gifted writers. No, he didn't come from the Iowa writer's workshop or from some fancy school like Princeton in the East. In fact, often he was absent from school. Sometimes he had neither a school or a home to go to and spent many nights riding trains to stay warm.
Claude was born in poverty, in Harlem, New York, in 1937. He was a writer and child advocate. He was also a black male kid who had been a criminal since the age of 8. His success showed that a black kid who was well-known at juvenile detention schools could rescue himself (with the help of a few friends like the great writer Toni Morrison) out of crime and poverty and demonstrate that, like Malcolm X, almost any of us could be redeemed-- could be lifted from the cold concrete of urban, inner-city black America and be somebody: be transformed thug to a worthwhile American citizen, to even a man of letters, if given a little hope and half a chance.
Here's what the African American Registry (Please give them support) said of Brown today:
From Harlem, Brown's early days frequented breaking the law. His crime run began at the tender age of 8. His father, a dockworker, would frequently beat him and his siblings when they got into trouble, and his mother struggled with the juvenile court to get him into the best state delinquency programs. But nothing seemed to prevent Brown from breaking the law. In spite of his unstable, alcoholic father, and the poverty of his youth, his siblings all grew up to lead normal lives. Brown spent years in and out of juvenile detention centers and juvenile homes as a result of stealing, and selling drugs.
His life of crime took a turn when a local drug addict shot him in the abdomen. This incident and the encouragement of a friend helped Brown leave his life of crime behind him. In 1959, he entered Howard University in Washington, and shortly afterward he began writing. Toni Morrison, one of his teachers, often critiqued Claude's work. Claude wrote about what he knew best his own life experiences. Browns Manchild in the Promised Land, is a best selling autobiography on his youth in Harlem, New York. In 1976, he published The Children of Ham, a story about struggling young blacks in Harlem.
Almost 35 years, and 4 million copies later, Manchild in the Promised Land has become the second best selling book MacMillan Books ever published (the first was Gone with the Wind), and has been published in 14 languages. It launched his career as a writer, giving him a platform to publish in Esquire, The Saturday Evening Post, Life, Look and The New York Times Magazine. Brown, was a freelance writer and frequent lecturer, and started a family. He had two children by two marriages, and a grandson. Though living in Newark, New Jersey, he was still involved in Harlem and helping kids out of the street life.
He works to maintain a program that mentors kids from Harlem, and helps them go to college. Brown also supports a Newark-based program that diverts kids caught up in the court system into an intensive eight-week residential treatment program that tries to turn young people's lives around. Writer Claude Brown died of a lung condition on February 6, 2002; he was age 64.
Know Black history. Know Claude Brown, another manchild in the promised land.