Born 24 September 1948, New York
Daughter of Richard Hill and Mae DeVeaux
Feminist, poet, playwright, fiction and children's book writer, illustrator, and political journalist, Alexis DeVeaux places African Americans, most often black women, at the center of her artistic world. Her work concentrates on the personal struggles and resolve of women, especially as they deal with love and sexuality. DeVeaux focuses on intimate relationships, whether they involve lesbian lovers ("The Sister"), contending forces in a love triangle (Don't Explain, 1980), or a daughter and her parent ("Adventures of the Dread Sisters"). Because she believes that an understanding of the self in relationship with the intimate other leads to an understanding of the community, the nation, the world, DeVeaux's work also gives testimony to black culture. As Mary Helen Washington notes, Nigeria, the central character in "Dread Sisters" (1989), is then not "an isolated teenager but a collective protagonist." DeVeaux's writing projects her feminist perspective that the personal is the political.
DeVeaux grew up in Harlem and the South Bronx, which serve as the settings for most of her work. Both Na-Ni (1973), which received an Art Books for Children Award from the Brooklyn Museum (1974-75), and Spirits in the Streets (1973) are set in Harlem and revolve around the theme of "preserving spiritual vitality in a ghetto environment." While DeVeaux's stories often embrace the harsh realities of poverty and exploitation, they are also infused with hope and beauty.
Spirits in the Streets (1973) reflects DeVeaux's array of artistic talents. It integrates innovative use of language within narrative, lyric, and dialogue, with illustrations and variations of typography. Spirits is at once a poem, a mural, and a song.
Music has a great influence on DeVeaux's writing. "The Riddles of Egypt Brownstone" (1977), she explains, "is like jazz, each instrument/character playing variations on the melody so that the story is told not as a linear experience but as a holistic one." Jazz and language come together fully in Don't Explain: A Song of Billie Holiday (1980), a fictionalized biography of the singer, written in lyric form for young adults.
DeVeaux earned a B.A. from the State University of New York-Empire State College (1976) and a Ph.D. from the SUNY at Buffalo (1992). She has been a community worker, an instructor of reading and English, and a teacher of creative writing and theater workshops in New York and Connecticut. A freelance writer since 1974, she has also been a contributing editor and editor-at-large of Essence magazine. DeVeaux has written a number of essays for Essence in which she reasserts her global feminist perspective, calling for the political and social liberation of black and Third World women. Her stories and poems have appeared in several publications, including Black Creation, Conditions: Five, and the Iowa Review.
As a playwright, DeVeaux's Tapestry and Circles were produced for the television series Visions in 1976, while three other plays were produced by different theatre groups: A Season to Unravel (1979), No (1981), and Elbow Rooms (1987). In the late 1990s, DeVeaux was back at SUNY Buffalo, where she'd completed her Ph.D., to teach in the American Studies Department.
Li Chen/Second Daughter, First Son (1975). Blue Heat: a Portfolio of Poems and Drawings (1985). An Enchanted Hair Tale (1987). The Woolu Hat (1997). Audre Lorde (1997).
Contributor to: Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology (1983); Black-Eyed Susans; "The Tapestry" in 9 Plays by Black Women (1986); "An Enchanted Hair" in The Lady with the Ship on Her Head (videocassette and book, 1987, 1991); Midnight Birds: Stories by Contemporary Black Women (1990); Memory of Kin: Stories About Family by Black Writers (1991); and others.
Clarke, C., "Blue Heat by Alexis DeVeaux" in Conditions, Thirteen: International Focus I (1986). Kraft, M., "Alexis De Veaux: The Riddles of Egypt Brownstone" in The African American short story, 1970-1990: A Collection of Critical Essays (1993). Tate, C., ed., Black Women Writers at Work (1983). Washington, M. H., "Commentary on Alexis De Veaux," Memory of Kin. Wilkerson, M. B. ed., Nine Plays by Black Women (1985).
Black Authors and Illustrators of Children's Books (1988). Black Writers (1989). CA (1977). CANR (1989). DLB (1985). Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States (1995).
Ms. 8 (June 1980).
—DALE A. DOOLEY
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