Chavis Othow, Helen 1932-

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CHAVIS OTHOW, Helen 1932-

PERSONAL: Born April 21, 1932, in Oxford, NC; daughter of Benjamin Franklin, Sr. (a mason and superintendent of child-care institutions) and Elisabeth (a teacher and writer; maiden name, Ridley) Chavis; married Clarence V. Knight, 1954 (divorced June 13, 1962); married Paul Anade Othow (a teacher), June 22, 1971 (deceased); children: (second marriage) Ajulonyodier Elisabeth. Ethnicity: "African American." Education: St. Augustine's College, B.A., 1952; North Carolina Central University, M.A., 1958; University of Wisconsin, Ph.D., 1971. Religion: Episcopalian. Hobbies and other interests: Research and museum studies.

ADDRESSES: Offıce—John Chavis Historical Society, P.O. Box 1737, Oxford, NC 27565; fax: 919-693-9952. Agent—Sankofa Circle, P.O. Box 1737, Oxford, NC 27565. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER: Teacher of English and French at public high schools in North Carolina, 1952-63; St. Augustine's College, Raleigh, NC, instructor, 1963-66, associate professor, 1971-74, professor of English, 1984-2001, department head, 1984-96, director of Bush Hewlett Writing-across-the-Curriculum Program, 1989-96, faculty presidential fellow, 1998; Johnson C. Smith University, Charlotte, NC, associate professor of English and chair of humanities division, 1974-79; Howard University, Washington, DC, assistant professor of English, 1980-81; University of Juba, Juba, Sudan, associate professor of English, 1981-82; North Carolina Central University, Durham, assistant professor, 1982-83, adjunct professor of English, 2001—; high school English teacher in Chapel Hill, NC, 1983-84. University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill, visiting associate professor, 1983; lecturer at schools, including Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, 1973. North Carolina State Board of Education, consultant in teaching African and African-American literature, 1971-86.

MEMBER: Modern Language Association of America, College Language Association, National Council of Teachers of English, Conference on College Composition and Communication, American Association of University Professors, American Association of University Women, Association for the Study of African-American Life and History, Association of Departments of English, Zora Neale Hurston Society, Zora Neale Hurston Black Film Consortium, Langston Hughes Society, Anna J. Cooper Society, John Chavis Historical Society (president), Mid-Atlantic Writers Association, North Carolina Writers Network, Alpha Kappa Alpha, Sigma Tau Delta.

AWARDS, HONORS: Paul Green playwriting fellowship, North Carolina Playmakers, 1960; grant from United Negro College Fund, 1987-88; fellow of Writers' Retreat, Vermont Studio Center, 1997; certificate from Winterthur Museum, 2001; fellowships from National Endowment for the Humanities.


The Unsung Hero (drama), produced in Charlotte, NC, 1977.

A History of the Chavis, Satterwhite, and RidleyFamilies of Granville County, North Carolina, including the Greensboro, N.C. Branch, Library of Congress (Washington, DC), 1992, 2nd edition, 2002.

John Chavis: African-American Patriot, Preacher,Teacher, and Mentor, 1763-1838, McFarland and Co. (Jefferson, NC), 2001.

Also author of Guardian Angel (one-act play), produced 1960. Contributor to books, including The Black Family Heritage in North Carolina, edited by Linda Henry; contributor of articles and reviews to periodicals, including College Language Association Journal, Literary Journal of the Southern Sudan, and Zora Neale Hurston Forum. Associate editor of Southern (Sudan), 1981-82.

WORK IN PROGRESS: Whispers and Creaks in the Southern Pines, an autobiography, completion expected 2003; a novel; African-American historical and genealogical research.

SIDELIGHTS: Helen Chavis Othow commented to CA: "My primary motivation for writing is that I enjoy writing. I appreciate having the special quality time when I can think and write. Since my most recent published writing has been nonfiction, I am deeply grateful for having the time and space to engage in intensive research and to discover new worlds of knowledge, especially about my ancestors as I conducted historical and genealogical research on John Chavis. "My next important motivation for writing is my projected audience, to be able to create a shared experience with them. I wish to have a positive influence upon my audience, to inform, to entertain, and to inspire them.

"One of my early literary mentors was Alex Haley and his odyssey toward truth in Roots. Having been given the opportunity to conduct research through a United Negro College Fund fellowship grant and a year's sabbatical from my teaching position, I felt excited about the vistas that lay open for me to explore and possibly discover pertaining to John Chavis and my family's history. The film series of Roots had a great impact upon my desire to finish reading the book and to write about it in an article I published in 1982.

"My first published book is A History of the Chavis, Satterwhite, and Ridley Families of Granville County, North Carolina, including the Greensboro, N.C. Branch, published in 1992. Thereafter I was drafted to be 'the family historian' and a presenter at family reunions. Thus I have had a continuous interest in historical and genealogical research, somewhat of a testament to the impact which Roots has had upon millions of other Americans across racial and ethnic boundaries.

"I suppose my early interest in writing, however, came from my mother, who was a social studies and language arts teacher. She was also a writer and poet. Throughout her life she was called upon to speak in Oxford, North Carolina, my hometown, at special occasions honoring people in the community, Women's Day celebrations, and funerals. Through her influence I began writing poetry around ten years of age. I became the poetry editor for the Mary Potter High School Gazette in Oxford and later for the Pen, the newspaper at St. Augustine's College. I also wrote the words for my class song (class of 1952). Of course, even before my mother's influence, there was the influence of my aunt, Eliza Ridley Young, with whom I lived during my elementary school years. She had been a high school principal in Seaboard, North Carolina, and she taught me the joy of reading and writing, and that I not only could accomplish in those areas, but that I could excel.

"Another writer who has influenced me is Toni Morrison. I have always admired the content and style of her works. Her novels have a historical flavor, but are colored with the flesh and beauty of African-American culture and life. If I am successful in writing a novel, I would like for it to possess at least an iota of the charisma of Morrison. I have written and presented many papers on Morrison's novels.

"The first step in my writing process is choosing a topic of interest. I may already have a topic, or I may brainstorm and discover a better topic. The second step is taking notes, jotting ideas in my notebook, and bringing together all of the resources that are available upon the subject. Here I must be selective. The third step is meditating upon the subject and how best to present it. During the third step I may find it necessary to invent a temporary outline. Once I have an idea of the what and how of my writing, I pick the time and quiet space to begin writing.

"By starting the actual process of writing, I ignite a flow of ideas, which seems natural, wherein facts, feelings, association of ideas, and intuition meld. It is by continually writing, proofreading, revising, and rerevising that the completed product arrives, like a potter molding clay until it meets expectations. If the product does not meet the writer's expectations, then break the clay and start over again.

"My recent book, John Chavis: African-American Patriot, Preacher, Teacher, and Mentor, 1763-1838, was inspired by my family's oral tradition. I had heard my father say that we were related to John Chavis when I was around nine or ten years old. Because of John Chavis's accomplishments during the dismal period of slavery, his life had always intrigued me. However, it was Dr. Blyden Jackson, one of my professors at North Carolina Central University, who suggested I do research on Chavis, since I was a descendent of the eminent preacher and teacher. Of course, Jackson had a great impact upon my decision to explore the subject because he himself was a man of letters and a renowned intellect in academia.

"Then Dr. Prezell R. Robinson, president of St. Augustine's College in 1986, was influential in my obtaining a United Negro College Fund fellowship for research. This opportunity afforded me the time and resources to conduct research on Chavis. As I did, I discovered hitherto unknown facts about my family's history. Many thanks go to Daddy, Jackson, Robinson, and the United Negro College Fund, as well as to my mother and other relatives and friends who encouraged me."

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Chavis Othow, Helen 1932-

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