Southgate, Martha 1960(?)-

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Southgate, Martha 1960(?)-


Born c. 1960, in Cleveland, OH; married; children: two. Education: Smith College, B.A., 1982; attended Radcliffe College, 1985; Goddard College, M.F.A., 1994.


Home—Brooklyn, NY. E-mail—[email protected].


Writer, journalist, novelist, educator, and editor. Essence, New York, NY, articles editor, 1988-89; Daily News, New York, NY, entertainment reporter, 1989-91, editorial writer, 1991-92; freelance writer, 1991—; Premier magazine, senior writer, 1992-95. Goddard College, adjunct professor, 2003-04; New York University School of Continuing and Professional Studies, adjunct professor, 2003; Eugene Lang College, adjunct professor, 2004-06, associate chair of writing department, 2004-05; Brooklyn College, adjunct associate professor, 2005—.


PEN American Center, AWP.


Coretta Scott King Genesis Award, 1997, for Another Way to Dance; Virginia Center for the Creative Arts fellowship, 1997 and 1999; Yaddo fellowship, 1998; MacDowell Colony fellowship, 1998, 2002, and 2004; New York Foundation for the Arts fellowship, 2002; Alex Award for Adult Books and Young Adults, American Library Association, 2003, for The Fall of Rome; Bread Loaf Writers' Conference fellowship, 2005; Black Caucus of the American Library Association Award for Best novel, Hurston/Wright Legacy Award shortlist, and PEN/Beyond Margins Award shortlist, all 2006, all for Third Girl from the Left; named a Flying Start author by Publishers Weekly.



Another Way to Dance (young adult novel), Delacorte (New York, NY), 1996.

The Fall of Rome (novel), Scribner (New York, NY), 2002.

Third Girl from the Left (novel), Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2005.

Contributor to anthologies, including The Dictionary of Failed Relationships, edited by Meredith Broussard, Three Rivers Press (New York, NY), 2003; Rise up Singing: Black Women Writers on Motherhood, edited by Cecelie S. Berry, Doubleday (New York, NY), 2004; What Makes a Man: Twenty-Two Writers Imagine the Future, edited by Rebecca Walker, Riverhead Press (New York, NY), 2004; and Mending the World: Stories of Contemporary Black Family, BasicCivitas Books (New York, NY), 2004.

Contributor to periodicals, including the New York Times Magazine, O, the Oprah Magazine Rosie, Ebony Man, Premiere, Essence, Redbook, Glamour, and the Daily News (New York, NY).


Third Girl from the Left has been optioned for film by Washington Square Films.


Martha Southgate was a New York writer and editor for twelve years before publishing her first work of fiction, her young adult novel Another Way to Dance. Southgate, who herself studied ballet and admitted to Publishers Weekly interviewer Ellen Creager that she had "an insane crush on Mikhail Baryshnikov," said that the book is not autobiographical, although some of the issues of her fourteen-year-old protagonist "are my issues." Southgate had begun the novel in 1986, while taking a creative writing course. It sat in a drawer until the five-month newspaper strike of 1990, during which time, Southgate, who was writing for the New York Daily News, resumed working on it. She further developed it while in the M.F.A. program at Goddard College in Vermont, under the supervision of her instructor, young-adult author Jacqueline Woodson. The novel was sold during the same period Southgate graduated and had her baby son, the autumn of 1994.

Vicki is a young dancer who has received a scholarship to study ballet in New York City in the summer program of the School of American Ballet. She is uncomfortable with the fact that she is one of only two black students in the class where "visual harmony" is emphasized, even though her parents have successfully instilled in her an appreciation of her heritage. The other black student is Stacy, with whom Vicki becomes best friends. While in New York, she experiences racism that undermines her self-confidence, as well as first love, with Michael, a boy from Harlem. Vicki, whose parents have gone through a recent divorce, lives temporarily with her Aunt Hannah, who provides a strong role model for the young girl.

Vicki, like Southgate, idolizes Baryshnikov, but in the story, she actually meets him at an autograph signing, during which he spells her name incorrectly. In the end, Vicki reexamines her feeling about race and accepts the fact that she is a good, but not great, dancer. "Vicki's problems are resolved a bit too neatly," stated Karen Simonetti in Booklist, "but there is depth and beauty in her compelling first-person narrative." School Library Journal reviewer Judy R. Johnston wrote that Southgate gives readers "a portrait of a young woman striving for perfection and, ultimately, feeling good about herself." Vicki "is very believable as a young person aspiring to be a dancer," commented Mary Jo Peltier in Voice of Youth Advocates. "Southgate offers a poignant account of self-discovery, convincingly hopeful and steadfast in its refusal to settle for easy solutions," observed a Publishers Weekly contributor.

A Kirkus Reviews writer reviewed Southgate's adult novel, The Fall of Rome, observing that "the carefully organized tale has three protagonists, each representing different points of view as they negotiate the minefield of race relations." Jerome Washington is the only black teacher at Chelsea, an exclusive Connecticut boarding school for boys. Harvard-educated Jerome has been there for twenty years, teaching Latin and leading a reserved life. "Stoic and consummately self-restrained, Washington lives according to a credo based on honor, professional accomplishment, and supreme rationality," wrote Elizabeth Judd in the New York Times Book Review. "He sees Chelsea as racially egalitarian despite all evidence to the contrary, but cannot make sense of the indignities and contradictions that this view entails."

Jana Hansen, divorced and white, arrives at Chelsea, burnt out from teaching in the inner city schools of Cleveland. The third character is Rashid Bryson, a talented black student from New York City who has recently lost his brother, a scholarship student, to a random shooting and who hopes to find an ally in the black, male teacher. He is an eager, but undereducated student, who has been offered a place as the school attempts to create a more diverse student body, a requirement that accompanied the large gift of an alumnus. "The characters sometimes seem like caricatures," wrote Booklist reviewer John Green, "but the story is gripping."

Jerome, nicknamed "Wooden Washington" by the students, is uninterested in mentoring the young man with the African-sounding name and dreadlocks, and it is Jana, who has more in common with Rashid than does Jerome, who tries to create a bond between the two, without success. She also becomes attracted to Jerome, but his emotional baggage becomes a roadblock to a relationship. Rashid is graded and treated unfairly by Jerome, whose own life contains some parallels to that of the young man. "This is a deeply thoughtful, literate novel," commented a Publishers Weekly writer, "and Southgate's ability to explore the social and emotional elements that unite and divide us establishes her as a serious talent." Essence contributor Patrik Henry Bass called The Fall of Rome "a bracingly honest look at race, class, and self-acceptance."

Third Girl from the Left tells the story of three generations of African American women whose lives are inextricably connected to the film industry. Mildred lived through the Tulsa race riots of 1921; her daughter, Angela, acted in the notorious "blaxploitation" movies of the mid-1970s, but never got a big break; Tamara, Angela's daughter, is a graduate of New York University's film school and is developing her skills as a documentary filmmaker. The novel has its origins in a short story written by Southgate, "Show Business," and published in the anthology Mending the World. The story features early versions of Angela and Tamara, Southgate remarked on her Home Page. "Angela really stayed with me—this woman who wanted so much and never quite got it, and the feeling of working hard at a job that isn't really feeding your soul as an artist but having to do it anyway. So after I wrote The Fall of Rome, when it was time to begin another book I began to think about Angela and her daughter, and one thing led to another," Southgate stated.

The three main characters of the novel are drawn to films and "the power of movies to represent the longings of ordinary people and to fulfill the desire for self-expression," commented Vanessa Bush in Booklist. Mildred finds the movies provide escape from her troubles and the tragic death of her mother in the Tulsa race riots. Angela longs for a similar escape, and when she matures she leaves Oklahoma for Los Angeles and the chance to act in films herself. Her arrival in town coincides with the rise of the blaxploitation movies, and she appears in several of these action films with largely African American casts. However, her big break never comes, and her most notable credit as an actor is as the titular "third girl from the left" in a particular scene. Still, her movie dreams and friendship with fellow actor Sheila helps her endure the rigors of Hollywood and the birth of her daughter, Tamara. Equally as enamored of film as her mother and grandmother, and encouraged by growing up watching her mother in movies, Tamara eventually heads to the prestigious film school at New York University, hoping to become a serious filmmaker. Soon, Tamara's interest in documentaries and serious film causes her to develop embarrassment at her mother's movie appearances. When Mildred falls ill and Angela and Tamara must travel back to Tulsa for the first time in years, Tamara brings along her movie camera and records a profound interaction between the three generations of women, discovering a rich family history and secrets previously discovered. "Suddenly the private desires, hidden secrets and life struggles of mothers and daughters come into sharp and rich focus," noted a Kirkus Reviews critic.

"Southgate's telling of these three individual stories, particularly Angela's and Mildred's, is vibrant and well paced," stated Herizons reviewer Kerry Ryan. "This novel is full of honest, multifaceted, tangible characters," commented Antoinette Dykes in Black Issues Book Review, further remarking that "Southgate does what a good novelist should do: she takes you on a journey to see life through someone else's eyes." The Kirkus Reviews contributor called the novel "a compelling saga of love, film and family secrets."

"Southgate doesn't glorify the blaxploitation era—she goes to great lengths to skewer '70s L.A. excess. But the author does have a soft spot for that moment in time when African Americans believed they were about to snag their own little piece of Hollywood," observed Gilbert Cruz in Entertainment Weekly.



Black Issues Book Review, March, 2002, Jacklyn Monk, review of The Fall of Rome, p. 30; September-October, 2005, Antoinette Dykes, review of Third Girl from the Left, p. 64; March-April, 2006, Angela P. Dodson, "Third Girl Film Deal," p. 8.

Booklist, December 1, 1996, Karen Simonetti, review of Another Way to Dance, p. 646; September 15, 2001, John Green, review of The Fall of Rome, p. 196; September 1, 2005, Vanessa Bush, review of Third Girl from the Left, p. 66.

Book Report, November, 1996, Annette Thibodeaux, review of Another Way to Dance, p. 43.

Entertainment Weekly, August 26, 2005, Gilbert Cruz, "Coffy Break: The Brooklyn-Based Author Is no Fan of '70s Blaxploitation Movies. But She Got Down with Foxy Brown & Co. for Her New Novel, Third Girl from the Left," profile of Martha Southgate.

Essence, January, 2002, Patrik Henry Bass, review of The Fall of Rome, p. 50.

Herizons, winter, 2007, Kerry Ryan, review of Third Girl from the Left, p. 37.

Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 2001, review of The Fall of Rome, p. 1577; June 15, 2005, review of Third Girl from the Left, p. 663.

Library Journal, September 1, 2001, Faye A. Chadwell, review of The Fall of Rome, p. 235; July 1, 2005, Beth E. Andersen, review of Third Girl from the Left, p. 71.

New Yorker, March 4, 2002, review of The Fall of Rome, p. 83.

New York Times, March 14, 2002, Janet Maslin, review of The Fall of Rome, p. B11.

New York Times Book Review, March 17, 2002, Elizabeth Judd, review of The Fall of Rome, p. 18; October 9, 2005, Chelsea Cain, "Fiction Chronicle," review of Third Girl from the Left.

O, The Oprah Magazine, January, 2002, Lisa Shea, review of The Fall of Rome, p. 103.

Publishers Weekly, November 11, 1996, review of Another Way to Dance, p. 77; December 16, 1996, Ellen Creager, interview with Southgate, p. 32; December 10, 2001, review of The Fall of Rome, p. 51; July 18, 2005, V.R. Peterson, "PW Talks with Martha Southgate: From Fact to Fiction," p. 178; July 18, 2005, review of Third Girl from the Left, p. 183.

School Library Journal, December, 1996, Judy R. Johnston, review of Another Way to Dance, p. 139; August, 2002, Christine C. Menefee, review of The Fall of Rome, p. 223.

Voice of Youth Advocates, October, 1996, Mary Jo Peltier, review of Another Way to Dance, p. 214.

Washington Post Book World, February 21, 2002, Jonathan Yardley, review of The Fall of Rome, p. C02.


Backstory, (September 28, 2006), "Martha Southgate's Backstory," profile of Martha Southgate.

January Magazine, (January 31, 2007), Lincoln Cho, review of The Fall of Rome.

Martha Southgate Home Page, (January 10, 2007).

Sisters and Brothers of Hotlanta Book Club Web site, (January 10, 2007), Chelsea A. Vines, "A ‘Reel’ Good Conversation with Martha Southgate."

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Southgate, Martha 1960(?)-

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Southgate, Martha 1960(?)-