De Veaux, Alexis 1948-

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De Veaux, Alexis 1948-

(Masani Alexis De Veaux)

PERSONAL: Born September 24, 1948, in New York, NY; daughter of Richard Hill and Mae De Veaux. Ethnicity: Black. Education: State University of New York Empire State College, B.A., 1976; University of Buffalo, M.A., Ph.D. Hobbies and other interests: Studying Egyptian mythology and ancient culture, astrology, art history, "development of a new language composed of musical sounds and derived from African, Haitian, American Black, and neo-sexual sources."

ADDRESSES: Office—Department of Women's Studies, 712 Clemens Hall, State University of New York at Buffalo, Amherst, NY 14260. Agent—Charlotte Sheedy Literary Agency, 65 Bleeker St., New York, NY 10012. E-mail[email protected]

CAREER: Writer, illustrator, and educator. New York Urban League, New York, NY, assistant instructor in English for WIN Program, 1969–71; Frederick Douglass Creative Arts Center, New York City, instructor in creative writing, 1971–72; Bronx Office of Probations, New York City, community worker, 1972–73; Project Create, New York City, instructor in reading and creative writing, 1973–74; teacher of creative writing and literature at Sara Lawrence College, New York City, 1979–80, Vermont College, 1984–85, and Wabash College, 1986–87; State University of New York at Buffalo, associate professor and chair of the Department of Women's Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences, 1991–. Intern for Roundabout Theatre/Stage One, 1974; cultural coordinator of Black Expo for the Black Coalition of Greater New Haven, 1975. Has given readings at colleges, churches, and theaters; has appeared on radio and television programs in New York City, Washington, DC, and New Haven, CT; artist and co-founder of Coeur de l'Unicorne Gallery, 1975–; work has appeared on several recordings, including Sisterfire, Olivia Records; producer of independent video documentary, Motherlands: From Manhattan to Managua to Africa, Hand to Hand, in association with the MADRE Video Project, 1986.

MEMBER: Screen Writers Guild of America (East), Poets and Writers, Inc., American Theatre Association, Black Theatre Alliance, Afro-American Cultural Center (Yale University).

AWARDS, HONORS: First prize from Black Creation, 1972, for short story; best production award from Westchester Community College Drama Festival, 1973, for Circles; Art Books for Children award from Brooklyn Museum, 1974 and 1975, for Na-ni; Don't Explain: A Song of Billie Holiday appeared on the American Library Association's Best Books for Young Adults list in 1981; National Endowment for the Arts fellow, 1981; Unity in Media Award, 1982, 1983; MADRE Humanitarian Award, 1984; Fannie Lou Hammer Award, 1984; Coretta Scott King Honor Award, 1988, for An Enchanted Hair Tale.

WRITINGS:

(And illustrator) Na-ni (juvenile; picture book), Harper (New York, NY), 1973.

(And illustrator) Spirits in the Street (novel), Double-day (New York, NY), 1973.

Li Chen/Second Daughter First Son (prose poem), Ba Tone Press, 1975.

Don't Explain: A Song of Billie Holiday, Harper (New York, NY), 1980.

Blue Heat: A Portfolio of Poems and Drawings, Diva Enterprises (Brooklyn, NY), 1985.

An Enchanted Hair Tale (juvenile), Harper (New York, NY), 1987.

Warrior Poet: A Biography of Audre Lorde, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 2004.

Also author of Adventures of the Dread Sisters, privately printed, 1982, and the poetry collection Spirit Talk, 1997.

Contributor of poems and stories to Sunbury II, Encore, Black Creation, Iowa Review, Open Places, Confirmations, Essence, Village Voice, and New Haven Advocate. Poetry editor, Essence magazine.

PLAYS

Circles (one-act), first produced in New York City at the Frederick Douglass Creative Arts Center, March, 1973.

A Little Play and Whip Cream, produced in Harlem at the Young People's Workshop of All Souls Church, 1973.

The Tapestry, (first broadcast on KCET-TV [PBS], March, 1976), produced in New York City at the Harlem Performance Center, May, 1976.

A Season to Unravel, first produced Off-Broadway at St. Mark's Playhouse, January 27, 1979.

No, produced in New York City at the New Federal Theatre, 1981.

Also author of The Fox Street War, 1979.

WORK IN PROGRESS: Short stories and a collection of essays.

SIDELIGHTS: Writer and illustrator Alexis De Veaux believes that "art should confront head-on the racial and economic inequities in American life," according to a Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor. A contributor to Gay and Lesbian Literature wrote: "For Alexis De Veaux, art is not separate from living; art is life, and life is art." In her self-illustrated children's story Na-ni, for example, De Veaux writes about a poor Harlem child, Na-ni, whose dream of a new bicycle goes unfulfilled when the family's welfare check is stolen. Reviews of Na-ni praised both the storyline and its illustrations. "The style is spare, poetic—a performance startlingly personal and alive," Margaret F. O'Connell wrote in the New York Times Book Review. A Library Journal contributor commented that "this is a unique, poignant, and poetic book, illustrated with line drawings of haunting power."A critic writing in Horn Book noted: "Powerful and stark, the text itself has such a poetic quality that the reader is simultaneously aware of the tragedy and the beauty in Na-ni's life."

De Veaux also has a particular interest in addressing the image of the black woman in her work. According to a Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor, De Veaux once stated: "In all of the work I've done, there is a certain and deliberate care I've taken with laying out the image of the black woman as I have seen or experienced her, which indicates that there is a clear and conscious desire to address myself to her." In Don't Explain: A Song of Billie Holiday De Veaux recreates, in lyric form, the life of the renowned jazz singer. Ms. contributor June Jordan wrote: "De Veaux gives you the life of Billie Holiday fitted into its time, the music of Billie Holiday traced back to its source, the voice of Billie Holiday fathomed for its meaning." Don't Explain is written for young adults, and reviewers note that the book will enlighten this audience in several ways. A Publishers Weekly contributor commented that Don't Explain "can help young people understand inequity and iniquity and arm themselves against the deadly lure of drugs." Mary Laka Cannella wrote in Best Sellers that the biography "is melodic, gripping and emotional. It could turn on some young readers to poetry."

De Veaux's lesbianism is also a theme in a number of her works. "Women loving women," noted a Gay and Lesbian Literature contributor, "arises in different contexts and various forms, but it is generally not the central motif for De Veaux's projects. The issues surrounding race, gender, and class are more demanding: the violence, poverty, alienation, and, perhaps most of all, the threat of losing hope are De Veaux's main concerns." The writer continued: "De Veaux clearly demonstrates that issues of sexuality, while present and important, are very much intertwined with other issues, some of which can be far more pressing when the survival of the individual and the community are at stake."

In Warrior Poet: A Biography of Audre Lorde, De Veaux reveals the life and work of the black lesbian and feminist who also clashed with those on the political Left, including members of the women's movement. The biography primarily focuses on Lorde's productive working years. "It is clear that De Veaux ended the book early because she did not want Lorde's last years fighting cancer to define and overtake the narrative of Lorde's life," wrote Mattie Udora Richardson in the Lambda Book Report. Richardson also noted: "Ultimately, Warrior Poet is more than a tribute to Audre Lorde; it is a much needed contribution to feminist scholarship." A Publishers Weekly contributor called the biography "a satisfying portrait of a brave life." Ann Burns, writing in the Library Journal, noted that "in this revealing portrait, De Veaux … leaves no stone unturned."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 38: Afro-American Writers after 1955: Dramatists and Prose Writers, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1985.

Gay and Lesbian Literature, Volume 2, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1998.

PERIODICALS

Advocate, June 22, 2004, Rebecca Walker, review of Warrior Poet: A Biography of Audre Lorde, p. 178.

Best Sellers, October, 1980, Mary Laka Cannella, review of Don't Explain: A Song of Billie Holiday.

Black Issues Book Review, May-June, 2004, Holly Bass, review of Warrior Poet, p. 50.

Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide, May-June 2004, Martha Miller, review of Warrior Poet, p. 41.

Horn Book, June, 1973, review of Na-ni.

Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 2003, review of Warrior Poet, p. 1434.

Lambda Book Report, March-April, 2004, Mattie Udora Richardson, review of Warrior Poet, p. 7, and Lisa C. Moore, "Inside View: An Interview with Alexis De Veaux," p. 9.

Library Journal, May 15, 1973, review of Na-ni; March 1, 2004, Ann Burns, review of Warrior Poet, p. 77.

Ms., June, 1980, June Jordan, review of Don't Explain, p. 32.

New York Times Book Review, April 1, 1973, Margaret F. O'Connell, review of Na-ni.

Publishers Weekly, February 5, 1973; May 30, 1980, review of Don't Explain, p. 85; January 19, 2004, review of Warrior Poet, p. 61.

School Library Journal, August, 1980, Debra Loop Maier, review of Don't Explain, p. 75.

Women's Review of Books, December, 2004, Rebecca Johnson, review of Warrior Poet, p. 10.

ONLINE

Femme Noir, http://www.femmenoir.net/ (February 19, 2006), "Alexis De Veaux: Author."

University of Buffalo Reporter, http://www.buffalo.edu/reporter/ (February 19, 2006), interview with author.

University of Buffalo, SUNY, Department of Women's Studies Web site, http://womensstudies.buffalo.edu/ (February 19, 2006), faculty profile of author.

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