Davis, George 1939–
Davis, George 1939–
George Davis 1939–
Award-winning author George Davis has written several books, though perhaps his best-known work is Black Life in Corporate America: Swimming in the Mainstream. Publishers Weekly called the book, coauthored with Glegg Watson, “candid [and] enlightening.” Davis’s beginnings pointed to his future as a writer. Davis told Contemporary Black Biography (CBB), “I started writing when I was very young, a teenager, really…. My writing became for me a kind of secular ministry. It has always felt like a calling.”
Davis was born on November 29, 1939, in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, the son of Clarence Davis, a member of the clergy, and Winnie Ross Davis. Davis’s father, whose religious beliefs have had a great impact on him, was a descendent of Henry Davis, who escaped slavery in North Carolina and became a preacher in Baltimore in the 1840s and 1850s.
While in high school in West Virginia, Davis was among a handful of students who racially integrated Baltimore City College (high school), where he won honorable mention in a citywide short fiction contest. He graduated in 1957 and went on to study at Colgate University, where he earned a bachelor of arts degree in anthropology in 1961. After graduation from Colgate he joined the Air Force and went to officers’ candidate school and navigator training school. Later he flew reconnaissance missions over Vietnam and rose to the rank of captain. In 1963 he married Mary Cornelius, now the campus director of the Harlem campus of the College of New Rochelle. The couple have two children, Pamela and George.
After his seven-year stint in the Air Force, where he won a military air medal, Davis was employed at the Washington Post in Washington, D.C., as a staff writer from 1968 to 1969. Then he moved to the New York Times in New York City, where he became a deskman. He remained there until 1970, when he departed to study creative writing at Columbia University, earning a master of fine arts degree in creative writing in 1971.
In 1971 Random House published Davis’s debut novel, Coming Home, which was set in Vietnam. When asked how he came to write this first book, Davis told CBB, “I am an idealist. I went to Vietnam, made sure I didn’t fly strike missions because I did not want to be involved with the killing there, but I wanted to be close enough to it to write a book that would be so true it would stop the war. Of course it did not do that. No book can, but it did allow me to ‘speak my word,’ and that word was added to many other words that did eventually stop the war.”
An Academy Award-winning film of the same title with Jane Fonda was loosely based on Davis’s novel. The novel was also judged to be among the Notable Works of Fiction of 1972 by the New York Times Book Review. In a review of the book, the New York Times wrote, “Davis writes with complete assurance. The geometry of his novel is cinematic—so is the writing, which is itself explanatory, so that Davis sacrifices little for the immediacy he has achieved. His people speak from completely plausible states of mind, briefly, without extravagance. [It] is our war novel.” After the book was published, Davis received an award from the New York State Council on the Arts to write more fiction.
Born George Davis on November 29, 1939, in Shepherdstown, WV; son of Clarence (a clergyman) and Winnie (Ross) Davis; married Mary Cornelius, August, 31, 1963; children: Pamela, George. Education: Colgate University, B.A., 1961; Columbia University, M.F.A., 1971. Military Service: U.S. Air Force, 1961-68.
Career: Washington Post, staff writer, 1968-69; New York Times, deskman, 1969-70; Bronx Community College, City University of New York, assistant professor, 1972-78; Rutgers University, Newark, NJ, assistant professor, 1980, associate professor, currently; teacher of writing workshops at Columbia University and Greenhaven Prison; Contemporary Communications, founder and president.
Memberships: Authors Guild; Authors League of America.
Awards: Awards from the New York State Council on the Arts, America the Beautiful Fund, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Addresses: Home —101 Ellwood Avenue, Mt. Vernon, NY, 10552. Office —English Dept., Rutgers University, 360 Martin Luther King Blvd., Newark, NJ, 07102.
In addition to writing, Davis became a teacher. He told CBB, “This is my work, my ministry. It feeds my writing.” He taught writing at Greenhaven Prison, and from 1972 to 1978 taught African-American literature as an assistant professor at the Bronx Community College of the City University of New York. During that time he received a National Endowment for the Humanities award which enabled him to expand his literary studies. In 1980 he became an assistant professor at Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey
Davis told CBB that he experienced much dissatisfaction teaching African-American literature at Rutgers because most of the literary canon focused on what is unfortunate about being black—the “woe is us” tradition. He launched what he has called the Spiritual Intelligence Research Project, in order to explore what is fortunate, for both the African-American individual and American society as a whole, about being black in America. The author has lectured widely on spiritual intelligence at the Sidewalk University in Memphis and at a joint conference sponsored by Harvard Divinity School and MIT Media Labs. In 1978 a nonfiction series of Davis’s interviews, Love, Black Love, was published by Doubleday.
In 1982 Black Life in Corporate America: Swimming in the Mainstream was published, becoming a national bestseller. Davis received invitations from major business schools, including Harvard Graduate School of Business and the Wharton School, to develop and teach a course based on the book. He subsequently taught the course at the Yale School of Organization and Management and at Rutgers University Graduate School of Management.
Davis explained the inspiration for the book to CBB: “I was a contributing editor to Black Enterprise and as such I learned a lot about corporate America. I saw that the biggest problem for people from our spirit-oriented background was learning to operate in the kind of spiritual vacuum that exists in major corporations.” In writing Black Life in Corporate America, Davis and his co-author spoke with 160 African-American and white men and women who have risen to the position of manager in American corporations. In a straightforward, conversational way, they sum up the experiences of blacks in the business world, from the days of token black employees through the struggles and accomplishments of the 1960s, to the conservative backlash of the 1980s.
According to Library Journal, the authors use the interviews as well as scholarly and popular management literature “to clearly depict the strugggles and rewards of black men and women trying to ‘fit’ in America’s corporations.” Library Journal commented that the book portrays a variety of experiences in a humanistic way and added that “the different problems that face black men and women in their struggles to gain corporate reward and power as well as the psychological prices they pay are well delineated.”
Other reviewers portrayed the book as taking a harsher view of the reality that faces black men and women in corporate life. Black Enterprise observed that the book “describes the racism, alienation, and grueling workload involved in corporate life, and gives some painful insights into why black workers endure it all…. The picture the writers paint is not a pretty one, and their use of anecdotes and direct quotations tell a chilling story…. In an easy-to-read impressionistic style, Davis and Watson offer a compelling look at what may be the most important aspect of life for blacks in America’s companies: ‘interacting across racial lines.’”
In the 1990s Davis wrote books about astrology, love and sex, and the search for the American dream. He co-authored Soul Vibrations: Astrology for African Americans, which started out as a role-model exercise used in children’s classes and evolved into a book. Davis described Soul Vibrations to CBB as “a book using spiritual astrology as a paradigm through which to view African-American folk culture uninfluenced by the ‘woe is us’ view of African-American and human existence.” The book gave rise to a website which, Davis told CBB, informally educates against the effects of the “pedagogy of the oppressed.”
Davis wrote Love Lessons: African Americans and Sex, Romance, and Marriage in the Nineties, and a year later published a volume titled Branches: the Human Spirit in Search of the American Dream. The latter is about how, during the social, cultural, and political turmoil of the 1960s, eight African-American students set out to create their vision of the American dream, a topic Davis has been concerned with. The author is at work on completing two more volumes in the Branches series. He has stated that he considers this work to be his most important to date.
Davis has exhibited an interest in tribal roots, experiencing God, and the way African Americans have been sustained by spirituality through the years. The author has also been working on a musical play, Alex and the Search for God Within. He told CBB that the play is about Alex Haley’s “historic journey as the only American ever to trace the ‘roots’ of his family back to the universal tribal past. Back to where we did not know ourselves to be separate from all creation, where we experienced God as life itself acting all around us, through us, as each and all of us.” Davis added, “I am deeply invested in spirituality—in the joy, love, faith, true freedom and peace that surpasses human understanding. It sustained African-American people during times much more difficult than these, and the ability to reach those places is the greatest gift that African Americans bring to modern American life.”
Coming Home, Random House, 1971.
Love, Black Love, Doubleday, 1978.
(With Glegg Watson) Black Life in Corporate America: Swimming in the Mainstream, Doubleday, 1982.
(Co-author) Soul Vibrations: Astrology for African Americans, Quill, 1996.
Love Lessons: African Americans and Sex, Romance, and Marriage in the Nineties, William Morrow, 1998.
Branches: the Human Spirit in Search of the American Dream, Authorlink Press, 1999.
Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 9, Gale, 1983.
Black Enterprise, June 1983, p. 27.
Library Journal, August, 1982, p. 1456.
Los Angeles Times, September 9, 1982.
Newsweek, April 6, 1970.
New York Times Book Review, October 24, 1982, p. 12.
Publishers Weekly, June 18, 1982, p. 67; December 22, 1997, p. 48.
Additional information was obtained through a personal interview with Contemporary Black Biography, July 2002.
—Alison Carb Sussman