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Kristin (Elaine) Hunter Biography

Kristin Hunter comments:

Nationality: American. Born: Kristin Elaine Eggleston, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1931. Education: Charles Sumner School and Magnolia Public School, both Philadelphia; Haddon Heights High School, New Jersey, graduated 1947; University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 1947-51, B.S. in education 1951. Career: Philadelphia columnist and feature writer, Pittsburgh Courier, 1946-52; teacher, Camden, New Jersey, 1951; copywriter, Lavenson Bureau of Advertising, Philadelphia, 1952-59; research assistant, School of Social Work, University of Pennsylvania, 1961-62; copywriter, Wermen and Schorr, Philadelphia, 1962-63; information officer, City of Philadelphia, 1963-64, 1965-66; director of health services, Temple University, Philadelphia, 1971-72; director, Walt Whitman Poetry Center, Camden, 1978-79. Lecturer in creative writing. 1972-79, adjunct professor of English, 1980-83, and since 1983 senior lecturer in English, University of Pennsylvania. Writer-in-residence, Emory University, Atlanta, 1979. Awards: Fund for the Republic prize, for television documentary, 1955; Whitney fellowship, 1959; Bread Loaf Writers Conference De Voto fellowship 1965; Sigma Delta Chi award, for reporting, 1968; National Council on Interracial Books for Children award, 1968; National Conference of Christians and Jews Brotherhood award, 1969; Christopher award, 1974; Drexel citation, 1981; New Jersey Council on the Arts fellowship, 1982, 1985; Pennsylvania Council on the Arts fellowship, 1983. Agent: Don Congdon Associates, 156 Fifth Avenue, Suite 625, New York, New York 10010.



God Bless the Child. New York, Scribner, 1964; London. Muller, 1965.

The Landlord. New York, Scribner, 1966; London, Pan, 1970.

The Survivors. New York, Scribner, 1975.

The Lakestown Rebellion. New York, Scribner, 1978.

Kinfolks. New York, Ballantine Books, 1996.

Do Unto Others. New York, One World, 2000.

Uncollected Short Stories

"To Walk in Beauty," in Sub-Deb Scoop (Philadelphia), 1953.

"Supersonic," in Mandala (Philadelphia), vol. 1, no. 1, 1956.

"There Was a Little Girl," in Rogue (New York), 1959.

"An Interesting Social Study," in The Best Short Stories by Negro Writers, edited by Langston Hughes. Boston, Little Brown, 1967.

"Debut," in Negro Digest (Chicago), June 1968.

"Honor among Thieves," in Essence (New York), April 1971.

"The Tenant," in Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia).

"Bleeding Berries," in Callaloo (Lexington, Kentucky), vol. 2, no. 2, 1979.

"The Jewel in the Lotus," in Quilt 1 (Berkeley, California), 1981.

"Bleeding Heart," in Hambone (Santa Cruz, California), 1983.

"Perennial Daisy," in Nightsun (Frostburg, Maryland), 1984.

"Brown Gardenias," in Shooting Star Review (Pittsburgh), Fall, 1989.

Fiction (for children)

The Soul-Brothers and Sister Lou. New York, Scribner, 1968; London, Macdonald, 1971.

Boss Cat. New York, Scribner, 1971.

The Pool Table War. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1972

Uncle Daniel and the Raccoon. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1972.

Guests in the Promised Land: Stories. New York, Scribner, 1973.

Lou in the Limelight. New York, Scribner, 1981.


The Double Edge (Produced Philadelphia, 1965).

Television Plays:

Appointment at Eleven (Alfred Hitchcock Presents series), 1955-61; The Chisholms series, from his own novel, 1978-79; The Legend of Walks Far Woman, 1982.


Critical Studies:

From Mammies to Militants: Domestics in Black American Literature by Trudier Harris, Philadelphia, Temple University Press, 1982, and article by Sondra O'Neale, in Afro-American Fiction Writers after 1955 edited by Harris and Thadious M. Davis, Detroit, Gale, 1984.

The bulk of my work has dealt—imaginatively, I hope—with relations between the white and black races in America. My early work was "objective," that is, sympathetic to both whites and blacks, and seeing members of both groups from a perspective of irony and humor against the wider backdrop of human experience as a whole. Since about 1968 my subjective anger has been emerging, along with my grasp of the real situation in this society, though my sense of humor and my basic optimism keep cropping up like uncontrollable weeds.

* * *

In her first two novels, Kristin Hunter plays upon the contradictions between reality as it is experienced by the black urban poor and the false optimism of popular story. God Bless the Child parodies the tale of the enterprising but low-born youngster who, since the origins of middle-class fiction, has set out to achieve a place in society by the application of nerve and energy. In the case of Rosie Fleming, however, vitality leads to failure, for by setting herself up as a small entrepreneur, she earns the animosity of the white men who manage the poor people's version of finance capitalism. Despite her portrayal of the relentless power that destroys Rosie, Hunter is not resigned to a sense of human powerlessness. A sympathetic and complex portrayal of three generations of black women conveys an intensely humanistic conception of character, which in her second novel, The Landlord, becomes the basis for an optimistic theme. Its main character, determined to "become a man" by exercising mastery over his tenants, is frustrated and tricked at every turn as they purge him of the mythology of white male dominance. Against his will, and contrary to the assumptions of middle-class convention, the landlord forms an admiration and appreciation for the diverse styles by which blacks cope with life's troubles.

Following the publication of The Landlord, Hunter occupied herself with stories of ghetto life directed toward younger readers. Like the adult novels that preceded them, these children's books reject the idealizations of popular genres while preserving a belief in the capacity of the black underclass to transform their lives by the power of their spirit. In both the adult and children's books, the message has been that society's "victims" refuse the dehumanization that either social relations or a literature of pity would assign them. The Soul Brothers and Sister Lou, one of the earliest attempts to realistically depict the black urban experience, is Hunter's most famous example of young adult fiction. This novel gained her recognition as a gifted author of young adult literature. In this work, Hunter tells the story of a juvenile gang that forms a music group in order to escape the violence within their community. In her next work of children's literature, Boss Cat, Hunter explores the same theme of underprivileged youths. Her third example of young adult fiction, Guests in the Promised Land, which is a collection of short stories, describes the experiences of black children as they struggle with racial adversity. It was in 1981 that Hunter returned to The Soul Brothers and Sister Lou to compose its sequel, Lou in the Limelight. In this work, Hunter examines the ramifications of success.

Committed to the verve and quality of black life, Hunter wrote four additional adult novels that must be termed celebrations. The first, The Survivors, signifies by its title its author's devotion to the rendition of character traits that enable a middle-aged dressmaker and a street kid to form an emotional and practical alliance that enables them both to overcome the predacious circumstances of the neighborhood.

In The Lakestown Rebellion, Hunter tells the story of a small black township that was originally settled by fugitive slaves. As the community battles against plans to build a highway that will destroy their homes, the tradition of the folk trickster is renewed. The novel's wit perfectly suits Hunter's optimistic humanism. The book is so enjoyable one is almost unaware that it is also a symbolic reenactment of cultural history.

Hunter's next novel, Kinfolks, is the story of Cherry and Patrice. These two former political radicals and lifelong friends learn to accept their past mistakes. While this text probes serious questions about family, sexual freedom, and responsibility, it has also been recognized for its humor. In Do Unto Others, Hunter once again shows an ability to take the reader through a broad range of emotions. The text deals with the gap between Africans and African-Americans, while acknowledging the bridge that links the two cultures. The main character, Zena, an African-American woman, struggles with her own ancestry, while housing a twenty-year old Nigerian girl. This text follows Hunter's tradition of examining important emotional and social problems. Hunter combines humor with her social criticism, and her works provide an optimistic look at African-American culture.

—John M. Reilly,

updated by Marta Krogh

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