Tag: Books

#ThursdayReads: Paul Lawrence Dunbar

Poet and writer, Paul was born in Dayton, Ohio, to Joshua Dunbar and Matilda Murphy. He was the eldest of two children born to Joshua and Matilda, who were former slaves, and had two half-brothers through his mother. Paul attended Dayton’s public schools. He was the only African American in the Central High School class of 1890; so few African Americans attended high school at the time that segregated public secondary schools were financially unfeasible in Dayton. At Central High, Paul edited the school newspaper and was a member of the literary and debate societies. Future aviator, Orville Wright, was a member of Paul’s high school class but did not graduate. However, Wright printed a newspaper that Paul published and edited for the African American community of west Dayton, the Dayton Tattler; this paper ceased publication after three issues in December of 1890.

Paul hoped to attend college or secure a job in journalism upon graduating from high school, but he did not have enough money for additional education and job prospects for a young African American man were limited in Dayton. He eventually secured a position as an elevator operator for the Callahan Building in downtown Dayton. Paul wrote poetry and short stories in his spare time and received a fortuitous break in 1892, when a former teacher invited him to speak at the convention of the Western Association of Writers in Dayton. Poet James Newton Matthews applauded Paul’s reading at that meeting in an article published throughout the Midwest. Attention generated through Matthews’ article encouraged Paul to publish his first poetry collection, Oak and Ivy, in 1893. Paul continued to write at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exhibition in Chicago, where he received the praise of civil rights leader Frederick Douglass. A review of Paul’s dialect poems for Harper’s Weekly by prominent literary critic William Dean Howells in 1896 brought Paul national acclaim and sales, and he began touring the United States and Great Britain to deliver public readings.

In 1897, Paul accepted a job as a research assistant at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. However, his health deteriorated as his literary success grew, and he soon left this job. After a stormy engagement, Paul eloped with fellow poet Alice Ruth Moore, whom he courted for several years chiefly by letter. They married in New York on March 6, 1898. The couple had no children. Physicians diagnosed Paul as having tuberculosis in 1899. This diagnosis – in an age without antibiotic medications – disrupted his relationship with Alice. Paul medicated himself by drinking heavily and developed into an alcoholic; his alcoholism and continued abuse of Alice led her to leave him in 1902. While Alice refused to have contact with Paul for the remainder of his life, the couple did not divorce; she retained his name and promoted his writing until her death in 1935. Paul, who wrote novels, play, and song lyrics in addition to poetry, lived the last three years of his life with his mother in a house on Summit Street (today Paul Laurence Dunbar Street) in Dayton, where he died on February 9, 1906. His poetry influenced Harlem Renaissance writers James Weldon Johnson, Langston Hughes, and Claude McKay during the 1920s and continues to influence contemporary American literature. Paul is buried in Dayton’s Woodland Cemetery.

#ThursdayReads: Ralph Ellison

Ralph Ellison was a 20th century African-American writer and scholar best known for his renowned, award-winning novel ‘Invisible Man.’

Who Was Ralph Ellison?

Ralph Ellison, born on March 1, 1914 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, studied music before moving to New York City and working as a writer. He published his bestselling, acclaimed first novel Invisible Man in 1952; it would be seen as a seminal work on marginalization from an African-American protagonist’s perspective. Ellison’s unfinished novel Juneteenth was published posthumously in 1999.

Childhood and Education

Ralph Waldo Ellison was born on March 1, 1914, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and named after journalist and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson. Ellison’s doting father, Lewis, who loved children and read books voraciously, worked as an ice and coal deliverer. He died from a work-related accident when Ellison was only three years old. His mother Ida then raised Ralph and younger brother Herbert by herself, working a variety of jobs to make ends meet.

Tuskegee Institute

In his future book of essays Shadow and Act, Ellison described himself and several of his friends growing up as young Renaissance Men, people who looked to culture and intellectualism as a source of identity. A budding instrumentalist, Ellison took up the cornet at the age of eight and years later, as a trumpeter, attended Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, where he studied music with his eye on becoming a symphony composer.

In 1936 Ellison went to New York over the summer with the intent of earning enough money to pay for his college expenses, but ended up relocating. He started to work as a researcher and writer for the New York Federal Writers Program, and was befriended by writers Richard Wright, Langston Hughes and Alain Locke, who all mentored the fledgling scribe. During this period, Ellison began to publish some of his essays and short stories, and worked as managing editor for The Negro Quarterly.

Ellison later enlisted as a Merchant Marine cook during World War II. Married briefly before, in 1946 he wed Fanny McConnell, and the two would remain together for the rest of Ellison’s life.

Books

‘Invisible Man’

Ellison started writing what would become The Invisible Man while at a friend’s farm in Vermont. The existential novel, published in 1952, focused on an African-American civil rights worker from the South who, upon his move to New York, becomes increasingly alienated due to the racism he encounters. Upon its release, Invisible Man became a runaway hit, remaining on bestseller lists for weeks and winning the National Book Award the following year. With millions of copies eventually printed, the novel would be regarded as a groundbreaking meditation on race and marginalized communities in America, influencing future generations of writers and thinkers.

‘Shadow and Act,’ ‘Going to the Territory’ Essays

Ellison traveled throughout Europe in the mid-1950s, and lived in Rome for two years after becoming an American Academy fellow. He continued writing — publishing a collection of essays in 1964, Shadow and Act — and taught at colleges and universities, including Bard College and New York University. He published his second collection of essays, Going to the Territory, in 1986, yet was stalled over the decades from completing his second novel, which he envisioned as a great American saga.

‘Juneteenth’

Ellison died from pancreatic cancer in New York City on April 16, 1994. The novel that he had been working on prior to his death was released posthumously in 1999 and titled Juneteenth, with final shaping done by his literary executor, John Callahan, at the behest of his wife Fanny. Three Days Before the Shooting, released in 2010, offered a more comprehensive look at how the novel was shaped along with a look at Ellison’s full manuscript.

Legacy

Ellison’s literary legacy continues to be highly pronounced. A massive collection of his essays was released in the fall of 1995 and Flying Home, a collection of short stories, was released in the fall of 1996. Years later, scholar Arnold Rampersad wrote a well-received, critical biography on Ellison that was published in 2007.

Invisible Man continues to be held up as one of the most highly regarded works in the American literary canon.

*Originally published on Biography.

#ThursdayReads: Ayana Mathis

Ayana Mathis is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a recipient of the 2014-15 New York Public Library’s Cullman Center Fellowship. THE TWELVE TRIBES OF HATTIE, her first novel, was a New York Times Bestseller, a 2013 New York Times Notable Book of the Year , an NPR Best Books of 2013 and was chosen by Oprah Winfrey as the second selection for Oprah’s Book Club 2.0. Ayana taught Creative Writing at The Writer’s Foundry MFA Program at St. Joseph’s College, Brooklyn. She is an Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

#ThursdayReads: Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison, original name Chloe Anthony Wofford, (born February 18, 1931, Lorain, Ohio, U.S.), American writer noted for her examination of black experience (particularly black female experience) within the black community. She received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993.

Morrison grew up in the American Midwest in a family that possessed an intense love of and appreciation for black culture. Storytelling, songs, and folktales were a deeply formative part of her childhood. She attended Howard University (B.A., 1953) and Cornell University (M.A., 1955). After teaching at Texas Southern University for two years, she taught at Howard from 1957 to 1964. In 1965 she became a fiction editor. From 1984 she taught writing at the State University of New York at Albany, leaving in 1989 to join the faculty of Princeton University.

Morrison’s first book, The Bluest Eye (1970), is a novel of initiation concerning a victimized adolescent black girl who is obsessed by white standards of beauty and longs to have blue eyes. In 1973 a second novel, Sula, was published; it examines (among other issues) the dynamics of friendship and the expectations for conformity within the community. Song of Solomon (1977) is told by a male narrator in search of his identity; its publication brought Morrison to national attention. Tar Baby (1981), set on a Caribbean island, explores conflicts of race, class, and sex. The critically acclaimed Beloved (1987), which won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction, is based on the true story of a runaway slave who, at the point of recapture, kills her infant daughter in order to spare her a life of slavery. Jazz (1992) is a story of violence and passion set in New York City’s Harlem during the 1920s. Subsequent novels are Paradise (1998), a richly detailed portrait of a black utopian community in Oklahoma, and Love (2003), an intricate family story that reveals the myriad facets of love and its ostensible opposite. A Mercy (2008) deals with slavery in 17th-century America. In the redemptive Home (2012), a traumatized Korean War veteran encounters racism after returning home and later overcomes apathy to rescue his sister. God Help the Child (2015) chronicles the ramifications of child abuse and neglect through the tale of Bride, a black girl with dark skin who is born to light-skinned parents.

A work of criticism, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination, was published in 1992. Many of her essays and speeches were collected in What Moves at the Margin: Selected Nonfiction (edited by Carolyn C. Denard), published in 2008. Additionally, Morrison released several children’s books, including Who’s Got Game?: The Ant or the Grasshopper? and Who’s Got Game?: The Lion or the Mouse?, both written with her son and published in 2003. Remember (2004) chronicles the hardships of black students during the integration of the American public school system; aimed at children, it uses archival photographs juxtaposed with captions speculating on the thoughts of their subjects. She also wrote the libretto for Margaret Garner (2005), an opera about the same story that inspired Beloved.

The central theme of Morrison’s novels is the black American experience; in an unjust society her characters struggle to find themselves and their cultural identity. Her use of fantasy, her sinuous poetic style, and her rich interweaving of the mythic gave her stories great strength and texture.

In 2010 Morrison was made an officer of the French Legion of Honour. Two years later she was awarded the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom.

#ThursdayReads: Jenifer Lewis

Jenifer Lewis is one of Hollywood’s most familiar faces, with more than 300 appearances in film and television. Dubbed a “national treasure” by TV Guide.com, Jenifer stars on the hit show Black-ish (ABC), where her hilarious portrayal of “Ruby Johnson” earned her a nomination for the 2016 Critics Choice Award.

Jenifer’s most recent movies include The Wedding Ringer, Think Like A Man, Think Like A Man Too and Baggage Claim. She delivered legendary performances as Tina Turner’s mother in What’s Love Got to Do With It and in The Preacher’s Wife as the mother of Whitney Houston’s character. Jenifer starred opposite Matt Damon in Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter and for director Tyler Perry, Jenifer created unforgettable characters in Madea’s Family Reunion and Meet the Browns. In the movie Castaway, Jenifer portrayed Tom Hanks’ boss. In animated films, Jenifer’s uniquely recognizable voice is adored by Disney fans worldwide in roles such as “Flo” in Cars and Cars 2 and as “Mama Odie” in The Princess and the Frog.

Jenifer’s TV roles have ranged from regular appearances as “Aunt Helen” on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air to guest star roles on Friends, Boston Legal and Girlfriends. For six seasons, Jenifer portrayed “Lana Hawkins” on Lifetime’s hit series Strong Medicine.

Although best known for her Hollywood success, Jenifer has enjoyed a wide-ranging and varied career in music and theater. Jenifer has performed in four Broadway shows, including Hairspray in the role of “Motormouth Mable.” In 2014, she received an electrifying standing ovation at Carnegie Hall when she sang with the New York Pops orchestra. All told, Jenifer has presented more than 200 concerts, performing in 49 states and on four continents.

Jenifer was born and raised in Kinloch, Missouri. Her accomplishments as an entertainer and community activist have been recognized with an honorary doctorate from her alma mater, Webster University in St. Louis and by the American Black Film Festival’s Career Achievement Award.

#ThursdayReads: Viola Davis

Viola Davis is a critically revered, award-winning actress of film, television and theater. She is the first black actress to win Tony (Fences & King Hedley II), Oscar (Fences) and Emmy (How to Get Away with Murder) awards. Davis is currently starring in the fourth season of “How to Get Away with Murder,” a role for which she became the first African American actress to receive the Emmy Award for “Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series.” In 2012, Davis and her husband founded their production company, JuVee Productions, with its focus being on giving a voice to the voiceless through strong, impactful and culturally relevant narratives. Davis will next star in Steve McQueen’s “Widows,” alongside Colin Farrell and Liam Neeson.

#ThursdayReads: Alex Haley

       

Who Was Alex Haley?

Born on August 11, 1921, in Ithaca, New York, Alex Haley served in the U.S. Coast Guard for two decades before pursuing a career as a writer. He eventually helmed a series of interviews for Playboy magazine and later co-authored The Autobiography of Malcolm X. The following decade, Haley made history with his book Roots, chronicling his family line from Gambia to the slave-holding South. The Pulitzer Prize-winning book was turned into a 1977 miniseries that became one of the most popular TV shows of all time. Major controversy ensued, however, when Haley was accused of plagiarism and presenting historical and genealogical inaccuracies. Nonetheless, Roots has remained a groundbreaking work in the public imagination.

Who Was Alex Haley?

Born on August 11, 1921, in Ithaca, New York, Alex Haley served in the U.S. Coast Guard for two decades before pursuing a career as a writer. He eventually helmed a series of interviews for Playboy magazine and later co-authored The Autobiography of Malcolm X. The following decade, Haley made history with his book Roots, chronicling his family line from Gambia to the slave-holding South. The Pulitzer Prize-winning book was turned into a 1977 miniseries that became one of the most popular TV shows of all time. Major controversy ensued, however, when Haley was accused of plagiarism and presenting historical and genealogical inaccuracies. Nonetheless, Roots has remained a groundbreaking work in the public imagination.

Book and Miniseries: ‘Roots’

In the aftermath of The Autobiography of Malcolm X, writing and lecturing offers for Haley began pouring in, and he could have easily lived out his lifelong dream of being a successful independent scribe. Instead, Haley embarked on a hugely ambitious new project to trace and retell the story of his ancestors’ journey from Africa to America as slaves, and then their rise from slavery to freedom. During a decade of research on three continents, Haley examined slave ship records at archives in the United States and England and traveled to Gambia, the believed home of his ancestors in West Africa.

In his ancestral village of Juffure, Haley listened to a tribal historian recount how Kunta Kinte, Haley’s ancestor and the protagonist of his book, was captured and sold into slavery. Still, despite his meticulous research, Haley often despaired that he could never recapture the true spirit of his ancestors. He recalled in a 1977 Ebony magazine interview, “I asked myself, what right had I to be sitting in a carpeted high-rise apartment writing about what it was like in the hold of a slave ship?”

In an attempt to answer this question, he booked passage on a ship from Liberia to America and spent his nights lying on a board in the hold of the ship in nothing but his underwear. When Haley finally published Roots in 1976—in what would later be seen as part-fictionalized story, part-richly detailed historical account—the book caused a national sensation and went on to sell millions of copies.

A write-up in The New York Times Book Review stated, “No other novelist or historian has provided such a shattering, human view of slavery,” and Roots won a 1977 Special Citation Pulitzer Prize. That same year, ABC adapted Roots into a television miniseries that attracted a record-shattering 130 million viewers, with estimates that 85 percent of American homes with televisions saw the program.

Roots, which spawned the enduring trend of consecutive-night miniseries, starred an array of luminaries that included LeVar Burton and John Amos as Kinte, Maya Angelou, Ed Asner, Sandy Duncan, Louis Gossett Jr., George HamiltonCarolyn Jones, Robert Reed, Madge Sinclair, Cicely Tyson, Leslie Uggams, Ben Vereen and many more. A plethora of U.S. cities declared January 23-30, the week the program aired, to be “Roots Week.”

‘Roots’ Sequel and Remake

Nonetheless, the work continued to enjoy popularity on the screen in the form of a 1979 sequel Roots: The Next Generation, which followed the writer’s family to contemporary times. The miniseries also performed well in the ratings and featured the likes of Dorian Harewood, Marlon Brando, Irene Cara, Diahann Carroll, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Henry Fonda, Debbi Morgan and James Earl Jones, as Haley.

Decades later, in 2016, the History Channel aired a remake of the original 1977 miniseries, with Burton serving as executive producer. The cast included Malachi Kirby as Kinte, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Regé-Jean Page, Anna Paquin, Anika Noni Rose, T.I., Forest Whitaker and Laurence Fishburne, as Haley.

Later Books

Haley’s later works include A Different Kind of Christmas (1988) and Queen, another historical novel based on a different branch of his family, published posthumously in 1993. (Queen also became a TV miniseries that aired the same year, starring Halle Berry and Danny Glover.)

Background and Early Life

Alex Haley was born Alexander Murray Palmer Haley on August 11, 1921, in Ithaca, New York. At the time of his birth, Haley’s father, Simon, a World War I veteran, was a graduate student in agriculture at Cornell University, and his mother, Bertha, was a musician and teacher.

For the first years of his life, Haley, who was called Palmer during childhood, lived with his grandparents Cynthia and Will in Henning, Tennessee, while his father finished his studies. Upon Will’s death, Haley’s parents returned to Tennessee where Simon procured work at Lane College. Alex was proud of his father, whom he said had overcome the immense obstacles of racism to achieve high levels of success and provide better opportunities for his children.

Haley graduated from high school at the age of 15 and enrolled at Alcorn A&M College (Alcorn State University) in Mississippi. After one year at Alcorn, he transferred to Elizabeth City State Teachers College in North Carolina. Haley had a difficult time at school, much to the harsh consternation of his father.

Writing for the Coast Guard

In 1939, Haley quit school to join the Coast Guard. Although he enlisted as a seaman, he was made to toil in the inglorious role of mess attendant. To relieve his boredom while on ship, Haley bought a portable typewriter and typed out love letters for his less articulate friends. He also wrote short stories and articles and sent them to magazines and publishers back in the United States. Although he received mostly rejection letters in return, a handful of his stories were published, encouraging Haley to keep writing.

At the conclusion of World War II, the Coast Guard permitted Haley to transfer into the field of journalism, and by 1949 he had achieved the rank of first class petty officer in the rate of journalist. Haley was soon promoted to chief journalist of the Coast Guard, a rank he held until his retirement in 1959, after 20 years of service. Haley ultimately received a number of military honors, including the American Defense Service Medal, World War II Victory Medal and an honorary degree from the Coast Guard Academy. A Coast Guard cutter was also named in the journalist’s honor: the USCGC Alex Haley.

Personal Life

Alex Haley wed Nannie Branche in 1941; they remained married for 13 years before divorcing in 1964. That same year, he married Juliette Collins; they split in 1972. He later wed Myra Lewis, to whom he remained married for the duration of his life, though the two were separated at the time of his passing. Haley had three children, a son and two daughters.

Death and Legacy

Despite the shadow cast by his plagiarism controversies, the author is credited with inspiring a nationwide interest in genealogy and contributing a larger awareness to the horrors of racism and slavery and their place in American history. While some critics have condemned Haley for his fiction masquerading as historical facts, others perceive him as an important storyteller who, despite his wrongdoings, was able to reveal broader truths.

Haley maintained that the goal of his writing and life was to uphold the experiences of black communities. He said to Ebony, “The money I have made and will be making means nothing to me compared to the fact that about half of the black people I meet—ranging from the most sophisticated to the least sophisticated—say to me, ‘I’m proud of you.’ I feel strongly about always earning that and never letting black people down.”

Haley died of a heart attack on February 10, 1992, in Seattle, Washington, at the age of 70.

 

#ThursdayReads: Angie Thomas

Angie Thomas was born, raised, and still resides in Jackson, Mississippi. Her debut novel The Hate U Give is a #1 New York Times Bestseller and was acquired by the Balzer + Bray imprint of HarperCollins Publishers in a 13-house auction. It has received starred reviews from 8 literary journals, one of the highest amounts received for a young adult novel, and will be published in over 20 countries. The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly both called it required reading. Film rights have been optioned by Fox 2000 and Temple Hill Productions with George Tillman attached to direct and Hunger Games actress Amandla Stenberg attached to star.

Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, Thomas’s searing debut about an ordinary girl in extraordinary circumstances addresses issues of racism and police violence with intelligence, heart, and unflinching honesty. Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter navigates between the poverty-stricken neighborhood she has grown up in and the upper-crust suburban prep school she attends. Her life is up-ended when she is the sole witness to a police officer shooting her best friend, Khalil, who turns out to have been unarmed during the confrontation – but may or may not have been a drug dealer. As Starr finds herself even more torn between the two vastly different worlds she inhabits, she also has to contend with speaking her truth and, in the process, trying to stay alive herself.

Thomas holds a BFA in Creative Writing from Belhaven University and an unofficial degree in Hip Hop. She is an inaugural winner of the Walter Dean Myers Grant 2015, awarded by We Need Diverse Books.

#ThursdayReads: Melissa Harris Perry

Melissa V. Harris-Perry was the host of msnbc’s “Melissa Harris-Perry.” until 2016.

Currently, she is the Maya Angelou Presidential Chair at Wake Forest University, an endowed position that recognizes and supports exceptional faculty who embody Wake Forest’s teacher-scholar ideas. Harris-Perry joined Wake Forest from Tulane University, and has previously served on the faculties of the University of Chicago and Princeton University.

Harris-Perry is founding director of the Anna Julia Cooper Project on Gender, Race, and Politics in the South. Named for the foundational black feminist intellectual, activist, and educator of the early 20th century, the Anna Julia Cooper Project supports related programs, courses and research and will move with Harris-Perry to Wake Forest.

Harris-Perry is author of the well-received book “Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America” (Yale 2011) which argues that persistent harmful stereotypes-invisible to many but painfully familiar to black women-profoundly shape black women’s politics, contribute to policies that treat them unfairly and make it difficult for black women to assert their rights in the political arena. Her first book, “Barbershops, Bibles, and BET: Everyday Talk and Black Political Thought,” won the 2005 W. E. B. Du Bois Book Award from the National Conference of Black Political Scientists and 2005 Best Book Award from the Race and Ethnic Politics Section of the American Political Science Association.

Professor Harris-Perry is a columnist for The Nation magazine, where she writes a monthly column also titled Sister Citizen. In addition to hosting her own show on msnbc  she provides expert commentary on U.S. elections, racial issues, religious questions and gender concerns for a variety of other media outlets.

Her academic research is inspired by a desire to investigate the challenges facing contemporary black Americans and to better understand the multiple, creative ways that African Americans respond to these challenges. Her work is published in scholarly journals and edited volumes and her interests include the study of African American political thought, black religious ideas and practice, and social and clinical psychology.

Professor Harris-Perry’s creative and dynamic teaching is also motivated by the practical political and racial issues of our time. Professor Harris-Perry has taught students from grade school to graduate school and has been recognized for her commitment to the classroom as a site of democratic deliberation on race.

She travels extensively speaking to colleges, organizations and businesses in the United States and abroad. In 2009 Professor Harris-Perry became the youngest scholar to deliver the W.E.B. Du Bois Lectures at Harvard University. Also in 2009 she delivered the prestigious Ware Lecture, becoming the youngest woman to ever do so.

Professor Harris-Perry received her B.A. in English from Wake Forest University, her Ph.D. in political science from Duke University and an honorary doctorate from Meadville Lombard Theological School. She also studied theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York. She is the wife of an extraordinary community activist, James Perry, and is the mother of two terrific daughters, Parker and Anna James.

Professor Harris-Perry is a trustee of The Century Foundation. Founded in 1919, The Century Foundation provides creative, progressive solutions to our important domestic and international challenges. Fellows at The Century Foundation – among the most accomplished experts in the country – advance distinctive, workable ideas built on compelling evidence.

Professor Harris-Perry also sits on the advisory board for “Chef’s Move!,” a program whose mission is to diversify kitchen management by providing training, experience and mentorship to minority applicants from New Orleans, sending them to New York City for culinary school training and then bringing them back again to become leaders in the kitchen and in their community.

#ThursdayReads: Assata Shakur

Assata Olugbala Shakur—political activist, author, fugitive, and step-aunt of the famed, slain hip-hop artist Tupac Shakur—was born JoAnne Deborah Bryon on July 16, 1947, in New York City, New York.  Following her parents’ divorce in 1950, she moved with her mother and maternal grandparents to Wilmington, North Carolina.  Shakur spent much of her adolescence alternating residences between her mother, who remarried and returned to New York, and relatives in Wilmington.

Shakur enrolled in Borough of Manhattan Community College before transferring to City College of New York, where her exposure to Black Nationalist organizations profoundly impacted her activism.  Shakur attended meetings held by the Golden Drums, where she met her husband, Louis Chesimard.  Members of the organization familiarized her with black historical figures that resisted racial oppression and social violence.  She also began interacting with other activist groups and subsequently participated in student rights, anti-Vietnam war, and black liberation movements.  In 1971, she adopted a new name: Assata (“she who struggles”) Olugbala (“love for the people”) Shakur (“the thankful”).

During a trip to Oakland, California in 1970, Shakur became acquainted with the Black Panther Party (BPP).  She returned to New York City and joined the Harlem branch.  Shakur worked in the BPP breakfast program but grew increasingly critical of the BPP because of their reluctance to collaborate with other black organizations.

Shakur left the BPP in 1971 and joined the Black Liberation Army (BLA), which the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) branded an anarchist group.  In 1972, the Bureau issued a warrant for her arrest in connection with crimes allegedly committed by the BLA.

On the evening of May 2, 1973, Shakur and two BLA companions were stopped by two state troopers for a traffic infraction on the New Jersey Turnpike, an encounter that ended in the deaths of Assata’s friend Zayd Shakur and State Trooper Werner Foerster.  Arraigned on charges that included first-degree murder, Shakur went to trial seven times and was eventually convicted of Trooper Foerster’s murder, regardless of her contention that the gunshot wound she sustained during the confrontation partially paralyzed her arm and rendered her incapable of firing a weapon.  Despite forensic evidence that supported her assertions, she was found guilty of murder in 1977 and sentenced to life in prison plus 30 years.

In 1979, Shakur escaped from the maximum security unit of the New Jersey Clinton Correctional Facility for Women.  She traveled to Cuba in 1984 where she was granted political asylum and reunited with her daughter Kakuya Amala Olugbala, whom she delivered while imprisoned.

In 2013, on the 40th anniversary of Trooper Foerster’s death, the FBI placed Shakur on the Most Wanted Terrorists list with a bounty of $2,000,000, conferring upon her the dubious distinction of being the first woman and the second domestic terrorist to appear on the list.