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Calvin Hernton Biography

Worked In Welfare Office, Traced Sexual Tensions To Slavery, Mentored Avery BrooksSelected writings


Social critic, poet, novelist

Though less well known than some of his African-American contemporaries, Calvin Hernton was a writer who stood at the center of several of the cultural developments during the Vietnam War era. Hernton's groundbreaking Sex and Racism in America (1965) was a frank look at the role sexual tensions played in the American racial divide, and it helped set the tone for much African-American social criticism over the following decade. His expansive, ambitious poetry was widely read, and he shaped a younger generation of black thinkers after becoming a professor of literature at Oberlin College in 1970s. An original thinker, Calvin Hernton has been underappreciated for his role in stirring the cultural ferment of the 1960s and 1970s.

Calvin Coolidge Hernton was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on April 28, 1932. Raised mostly by his grandmother, he attended Talladega College in Alabama, graduating in 1954. He went on for a master's in sociology at Fisk University in Nashville, writing his thesis about letters to the editor and newspaper editorials that had appeared in the wake of the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott spearheaded by Rosa Parks two years earlier.


(Contributor) LeRoi Jones and Larry Neal, editors, Black Fire: An Anthology of Afro-American Writing, Morrow, 1969.

Scarecrow (novel), Doubleday, 1974.


Sex and Racism in America, Doubleday, 1965.

White Papers for White Americans, Doubleday, 1966.

Coming Together: Black Power, White Hatred, and Sexual Hangups, Random House, 1971.

(Contributor) D. L. Grummon and A. M. Barclay, eds., Sexuality: A Search for Perspective, Van Nostrand, 1971.

(With Joseph Berke) The Cannabis Experience: The Study of the Effects of Marijuana and Hashish, Humanities, 1974.


(Contributor) Rosey E. Pool, ed., Beyond the Blues: New Poems by American Negroes, Hand & Flower Press, 1962.

The Coming of Chronos to the House of Nightsong: An Epical Narrative of the South, Interim, 1963.

Medicine Man, Reed, Cannon, & Johnson, 1976.

The Red Crab Gang and Black River Poems, Reed, Cannon, & Johnson, 1999.


Glad to Be Dead (play), 1958.

Flame (play), 1958.

The Place (play), 1972.

(Illustrator) Muntu: African Culture and the Western World, Grove Press, 1991.



Davis, Thadious M., ed., Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 38: Afro-American Writers After 1955: Dramatists and Prose Writers, Gale, 1985.


Chicago Tribune, October 17, 2001, p. 9.

New York Times, October 10, 2001, p. D8.

Oberlin Alumni Magazine, Summer 2002.

Oberlin Review, May 7, 1999.

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, OH), April 14, 2000, p. Friday-22; October 4, 2001, p. B7.


"Calvin Hernton," Biography Resource Center, http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/BioRC (February 28, 2005).

—James M. Manheim

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Brief BiographiesBiographies: James Heneghan (1930-) Biography - Personal to Rick Jacobson Biography - Personal