Fembio Special: Black History
Toni Cade Bambara
(Miltona Mirkin Cade)
born 25 March 1939 in New York City
died 9 December 1995 in Wallingford, Pennsylvania
15. anniversary of death 9 December 2010
Editor, teacher, writer, cultural and community worker, Toni Cade Bambara was born Miltona Mirkin Cade, on March 25, 1939 to Helen Brent Henderson Cade in New York City. Toni spent her childhood and adolescent years with her mother and brother in New York City and Jersey City, New Jersey. Deeply affected by the Black Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, Toni’s mother encouraged her to write, and even instructed Toni’s teachers about African American history. One classmate remembers that Toni was also outspoken, and smart—she graduated high school six months early.
In 1959, Cade received her B.A. in theater arts/English from Queens College and published her first short story, “Sweet Town.” After a year in Milan, Italy, Cade returned to New York in 1962 to finish a Master’s degree in modern American fiction at New York City College, while working as a social worker, occupational therapist and director of various neighborhood projects.
Bambara began teaching at City College in 1965, directing the Theater of the Black Experience, and advising various student publications. During this same period, she published short stories in Redbook and other magazines. Attaining the post of associate professor of English at Rutgers University in 1969, Cade took on the name Bambara after seeing it inscribed on her great-grandmother’s sketchbook.
In 1970, Bambara edited and published her first book, The Black Woman: An Anthology, in which African American women of different ages and classes voiced issues not addressed by the civil rights and women’s movements. Bambara nurtured and promoted young writers by including college undergraduates as well as famous writers like Audre Lorde in The Black Woman and in a second anthology, Tales and Stories for Black Folks (1971). In October, 1972, Toni Cade Bambara published her first short-story collection called Gorilla, My Love. Between 1973 and 1975, Bambara visited Cuba and Viet Nam and learned about the political effectiveness of women’s organizations in these countries.
Moving to Atlanta with her daughter in 1974, Bambara taught at Spellman College and cultivated emerging writers, by founding the Pamoja Writer’s Collective and hosting pot lucks at her home. Bambara’s dedication to the Black community continued to influence her writing during this period, as she balanced themes of social change and community healing in her second collection of short stories, The Sea Birds Are Still Alive (1977), and in her first novel, The Salt Eaters (1980), which received the American Book Award in 1981.
In the early 1980s, Bambara and her daughter again relocated, this time to Philadelphia, where she completed two other novels, If Blessing Comes (1987) and Raymond’s Run (1990), and nine screenplays, including Bombing of Osage and Tar Baby (based on a novel by Toni Morrison). After writing another collection of short stories, Toni Cade Bambara died of colon cancer on December 9, 1995, at the age of 56.
Author: Sarah K. Horsley
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