Arnett, Marvin V. 1928–
Arnett, Marvin V. 1928–
PERSONAL: Born 1928, in Detroit, MI; daughter of William (a bartender, chef, carpenter, and chauffeur) and Gracie Sprague; children: three. Hobbies and other interests: Reading, listening to jazz, volunteering.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, University of Nebraska Press, 233 N. 8th St., Lincoln, NE 68588-0255. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Worked variously as a dishwasher, clerk, and receptionist; U.S. Dept. of Health, Education, and Welfare, Washington, DC, manager, 1962–65; U.S. Army Tank-Automotive Command, Warren, MI, manager, 1965–88. Guest writing instructor at the University of Michigan, Dearborn; member of board, Southfield Public Library, Southfield, MI.
AWARDS, HONORS: African-American Authors Helping Authors award for nonfiction, 2001.
Pieces from Life's Crazy Quilt, University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 2003.
Contributor to periodicals, including Detroit News and Lyceum Literary and Fine Arts Journal.
SIDELIGHTS: Marvin V. Arnett's Pieces from Life's Crazy Quilt is a memoir of her childhood as a black girl growing up in Detroit, Michigan, from her birth to the race riot of 1943, and like the randomly shaped pieces of a crazy quilt, her stories are a sampler of her life.
Arnett was the daughter of a father and mother who did whatever was necessary to care for their family during the Great Depression. Arnett spent most of her time at the library, devouring books, but she did not write her own until she was retired, inspired by a writing class for seniors that she attended when she was in her mid-sixties.
As a young woman, Arnett worked at several jobs before becoming a career federal employee. She married twice, had children, retired, and then found time to travel. She also coached young people in filling out job applications and volunteered at area hospitals. But her true love, as it had been since childhood, was writing. Her first published article was about a trip to Ghana. She took writing classes and self-published her book, which she then sold from a card table she set up at churches, stores, and sororities.
Arnett won a scholarship to attend the week-long Cranbrook Writers Guild Conference, where her instructor, a retired Michigan State University professor, told her she should write a book. Arnett went to her car and returned to hand him a copy of her self-published version. The instructor put Arnett in touch with an editor at the University of Nebraska Press, which published a revised version, described as a "warm and wonderful book" by Library Journal contributor Melody Ballard.
Although books have been written about growing up black in the South, the experiences of Northern black children have not been as well documented, although they experienced racism that may have been more subtle, but was no less devastating. The thirty essays in the book emphasize the kindness and goodness of Arnett's family, friends, and neighbors, all of whom sought a better way of life for themselves and their children.
Early in the book, Arnett writes of the death of her sister in "The Jewel of the Crown." Walter Benefield commented in a review for the African American Literature Book Club Online, that Arnett's mother, Gracie Sprague, "is a strong woman of faith who not only wields a needle and thread with great skill, but first and foremost, Gracie, is one of those loveliest of all creatures, she is a mother. William Sprague senior is the hero. Throughout the memoir, William is fashioned as a sort of Renaissance man, having worked as a bartender, chef, carpenter, and chauffeur. His role as neighborhood elder is evident in many of the stories." Benefield concluded by saying that "this work serves as an excellent introduction to an era in the history of black folks that many have not been exposed to firsthand." Booklist reviewer Vanessa Bush noted that Arnett "recalls her share of traumas … but her memories primarily portray a sweeter time, despite its economic strife."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Arnett, Marvin V., Pieces from Life's Crazy Quilt, University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 2003.
Booklist, April 1, 2003, Vanessa Bush, review of Pieces from Life's Crazy Quilt, p. 1372.
Library Journal, April 1, 2003, Melody Ballard, review of Pieces from Life's Crazy Quilt, p. 108.
African American Literature Book Club Online, http://www.aalbc.com/ (January 23, 2004), Walter Benefield, review of Pieces from Life's Crazy Quilt.
Marvin V. Arnett Home Page, http://www.marvinarnett.com (January 23, 2004).