Photo credits: Matthew Jordan Smith
Popular novelist and short-story writer Terry McMillan was born on October 18, 1951, in Port Huron, Michigan to Edward and Madeline McMillan. During McMillan’s childhood, her father was mostly confined to his home due to tuberculosis. This forced her mother to support the family by working various jobs. McMillan’s parents divorced when she was 16. As the eldest of five children, she found her first job as a library assistant to help support her mother and siblings.
It was during this time that McMillan discovered her interest in literature, particularly the works of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Thomas Mann. Her later introduction to James Baldwin was especially inspirational. Baldwin’s prominence sparked McMillan’s realization that African-Americans could be successful writers as well.
At age 17, McMillan moved to Los Angeles, California. After arriving, she found a job as a secretary and began taking night classes at Los Angeles City College. Here she began studying African American literature. Also, during this time, McMillan began to experiment with writing on her own. She continued her education at the University of California at Berkeley, where she received a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism in 1978. She later pursued a Master’s degree in Film at Columbia University. However, McMillan left after only a few semesters to join the Harlem Writer’s Guild.
McMillan’s success and popularity have gained her a large following of diverse readers. Critics attribute this to her distinct talent for confronting universal themes such as romantic commitment, family obligations, and parent-children relationships. Her novels include Mama (1987), Disappearing Acts (1989), Waiting to Exhale (1992), How Stella Got Her Groove Back (1996), and A Day Late and a Dollar Short (2001).
Both Waiting to Exhale and How Stella Got Her Groove Back made the New York Times bestsellers list and were turned into popular movies in the 1990s. McMillan co-wrote the screenplays for both films. Her unique talents earned her a National Endowment for the Arts Award in 1988, as well as a Barnes and Noble Writers award in 1998. She has also taught English at Stanford University, the University of Wyoming, and the University of Arizona at Tucson.
Terry McMillan continues to write novels and short stories.
Reference: Frailey, P. (2017, October 22) Terry McMillan (1951- ). Retrieved from blackpast.org
Research source: Colin A. Palmer, ed, Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History: the Black Experience in the Americas 2nd edition (Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2006); Hans Ostrom and David J. Macey, eds., The Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Literature (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2005; “Terry McMillan Biography,” BookRags.
BlackThen.com writer and historian Victor Trammell edited and contributed to this report.