September 16th – James Alan McPherson

I discovered that nothing really matters except not being old and being alive and having potential to dream about, and not being alone.

James Alan McPherson

James Alan McPherson was born September 16th, 1943, in Savannah, Georgia. The second of four children, McPherson’s life was changed when he discovered the ‘colored branch’ of the local Carnegie public library and dove into the world of books. 

He attended Morgan State University from 1963-1964 before transferring to Morris Brown College and receiving his degree in English and history in 1965. In 1968 he received received a bachelor’s of law from Harvard Law School, which he helped finance by working as a janitor. While at Harvard he studied fiction and worked on his writing. He published a short story “Gold Coast” in The Atlantic Monthly and established a close working relationship with the editor, Edward Weeks. He became a contributing editor to the magazine in 1969, and his fiction began appearing in other journals and magazines throughout the decade. His first collection of short stories Hue and Cry was published by Atlantic Monthly Press in 1969.

In 1971 he received his M.F.A. in fiction from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and in 1972 he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship. In 1978 he became the first black writer to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for his short story collection Elbow Room (1977). He was also one of the first to receive a MacArthur Fellowship (genius grant) in 1981. 

First edition of Elbow Room Featured on Biblio. com from Ashlar Books

James Alan McPherson died July 27, 2016 at the age of 72 from complications from pneumonia. 

Lesson from McPherson:

Growing up at time when knowledge and opportunity was limited to him as a black man, McPherson found freedom and limitless possibility in books, and made a way for himself as a writer and teacher.

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