Paule Marshall, an acclaimed novelist hailed for her literary representation of the African-American and Caribbean diasporan experience, died August 12 in Richmond, Va. She was 90.
Born Valenza Pauline Burke to Barbadian immigrant parents, Marshall changed her name to Paule (with a silent “e”) because of the difficulty women writers faced getting work in journalism. Although she was born in Brooklyn, Marshall (she married fellow Barbadian and sociologist, Dr. Kenneth Marshall in 1950. The marriage ended in 1985) always embraced her black diasporan identity. Marshall has written that she is “West Indian, by heritage,” and “solidly Afro-American by birth.”
Beginning with her first novel, the autobiographical Brown Girl, Brownstones (1959), the story of a Barbadian family that immigrates to the U.S., to such novels as The Chosen Place, The Timeless People (1969) and Daughters (1991), her books explore the struggles of characters fighting against systemic social oppression based on gender, race, sexuality and colonialism. Indeed, her novels have been been cited for their portrayal of powerful female characters. The Norton Anthology of African American Literature, describes Brown Girl, Brownstones, as “the novel that most black feminist critics consider to be the beginning of contemporary African American women’s writings.”
In addition to the works cited above she is the author of short story collections Soul Clap Hands & Sing (1961) and Reena and Other Stories (1983), as well as Praisesong for the Widow (1983), Daughters (1991), The Fisher King (2000), and a memoir, Triangular Road, 2009.
While her home base has always been in the U.S., Marshall has lived in Barbados, Grenada, Haiti, and Europe. She was active in the Civil Rights movement, Black Nationalist politics and West Indian independence movements. And throughout her career Marshall spoke passionately about black people and the need to confront the challenges of racism, colonialism, and imperialism.