Fuller, Hoyt 1923–1981

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Hoyt Fuller 19231981


At a Glance

Selected writings


Hoyt Fuller was an influential figure in the African-American cultural landscape of the 1960s. As editor of the esteemed black literary journal Negro Digest (later Black World), he championed a new generation of forceful, eloquent black writers that emerged out of the eras daring new radicalism. In the introduction to a 1984 book, Homage to Hoyt Fuller, Robert L. Harris Jr. called him a major architect of the Black Consciousness Movement.

Fuller was born on September 10, 1923, in Atlanta, Georgia, to Thomas and Lillie Fuller. His father died when he was four, and when his mother became an invalid, the young Fuller was sent to Detroit to live with an aunt. He graduated from the citys public university, Wayne State, in 1950, but was already working for one of Detroits daily newspapers, the Tribune, as a reporter by that time. He left the paper in 1951 to become feature editor of the citys largest black newspaper, the Michigan Chronicle, and three years later moved to Chicago to take a job at Ebony, the leading magazine of African-American life at the time. He worked as an associate editor there until 1957, when a minor incident with a white man on a Chicago street enraged him and caused him to realize that he could no longer live in country so deeply divided by race.

Fuller landed a job as the West African correspondent for a newspaper in the Netherlands, and he traveled extensively on the continent. It was a significant time to be reporting from many newly independent African countries. Fuller was determined to share his pride in these African successes with black audiences in the United States. He returned to the United States in 1960, taking a job at Colliers Encyclopedia in New York City before heading back to Chicago when his former employer, Johnson Publications, decided to revive a defunct black literary journal called Negro Digest. Much had changed in the decade since its last issue, and Fuller made it clear to his readers that a new era was coming. He wrote of a new Black spirit wafting gingerly across the land, about the changing times since the 1940s, when Negro Digest first appeared, according to Homage to Hoyt Fuller. The new Black spirit fomented a full-fledged revolt, and Black Consciousness flashed like lightning into every corner of America.

As Negro Digests editor, Fuller commissioned articles about politics in Africa, and accepted prose and poetry submissions from a new generation of young African-American writers, such as LeRoi Jones (later Amiri Baraka), Gwendolyn Brooks, and Toni Cade Bambara. Fuller made Negro Digest the most influential and most widely read Black literary magazine in this country, Harris asserted. The publication sometimes took heat for retaining its original title, and Fuller was interviewed for a 1968 New York Times article that discussed the debate in the African-American community over the term Negro. Some black militants of the day, the article noted, had been known to heckle civil-rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. when he used the word, in part because the term negro derived from the Spanish and Portuguese languages, and was thus linked to the slavery era. Afro-American

At a Glance

Born Hoyt William Fuller on September 10, 1923, in Atlanta, GA; died on May 11, 1981, in Atlanta, CA; son of Thomas and Lillie Beatrice Ellafair (a housewife; maiden name, Thomas) Fuller; married; children: James Harold, Robert, Hoyt William. Education: Wayne State University, BA, 1950, graduate study, 1950-51. Military Service: U.S. Army; private first class.

Career: Detroit Tribune, reporter, 1949-51; Michigan Chronicle, Detroit, feature editor, 1951-54; Ebony, Chicago, associate editor, 1954-57; Haagse Post, Amsterdam, Holland, West African correspondent, 1957-60; Colliers Encyclopedia, New York, NY, assistant editor, 1960-61; Negro Digest (later Black World), Chicago, executive editor, 1961-76; Northwestern University, 1969-70; Indiana University, visiting professor of Afro-American literature, 1970-71; World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture, North American zone vice-chair, 1972-77; Wayne State University, visiting professor of Afro-American literature, 1974; First World, Atlanta, GA, editor, 1976-81.

Memberships: Organization of Black American Culture, founder and chairman, 1967-81.

Awards: John Hay Whitney Opportunity Fellowship, 1965-66; Kuumba Liberation Award, 1972; African Heritage Studies Association Award, 1975; Broadside Press Award, 1975; Doctor of Determination Award, University of Michigan Center for Afro-American and African Studies, 1976.

was coming into vogue, but whether one adopted it or not became symbol of where one stood in the civil rights struggle. There is definitely a generation gap in usage, Fuller told the New York Timess John Leo, and admitted that the magazine was under pressure to change its title. Those of us who have adjusted to things as they are use Negro; those that havent, use black and Afro-American, he said.

Negro Digest finally capitulated and became Black World in 1970. When an African-American journalist came from Time magazine to interview him that same year, Fuller asserted that he would not have spoken with a white reporter, and was dismissive of the whole semantic debate over the word and the white establishments interest in it by then. I dont really have any interest in having any publicity in a national magazine, he said, according to Harris. Its not going to help me. Its not going to help Black people. Its certainly not going to help Black World.Ive been alive a long time. Sure, things change and things have the appearance of change. But I dont expect things to change from the white side, so Im working to change things from the Black side.

Fuller remained editor of the publication until 1976, when Johnson Publications announced it would close. With several other prominent black intellectuals, Fuller established the First World Foundation, which took over the Black Worlds publication under a new name, First World. He continued to edit it until his death in 1981, and also taught classes in African-American literature at Northwestern University, Indiana University, and at his alma mater, Wayne State University. He founded the Organization of Black American Culture in 1967, and later became the North American zone vice-chair for the World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture for a number of years in the 1970s. In addition to his editorship of Black World, Fuller also wrote for other publications, including the New York Times Book Review. In one 1969 exposition on the significance of Native Son author Richard Wright, he wrote in rather frank terms about black literature and its relationship to the revolutionary spirit among African Americansat a time when the Federal Bureau of Investigation had infiltrated and set out to eradicate many of the more radical political movements of the day. American prisons are jammed with black men of extraordinary vigor and imagination. Their valor and boldness, and their undauntable masculinity, make it impossible for them to function within the law, when the law, nakedly racist, affronts and violates their self-respect and their manhood.

Fuller died of a heart attack on May 11, 1981, in his hometown of Atlanta, where he had returned in the 1970s. At the time, he was writing a novel and two volumes of literary criticism: History and Analysis of Black Aesthetic Movement, and The New Black Renaissance. His African travel essays were collected and published in 1971 as Journey to Africa. His death robbed the African-American literary community of an important figure. Some years before, he had written of a new era for black writers. We are in the middle of a literary renaissance, New York Times Book Review writer Mel Watkins quoted one of his 1969 Negro Digest articles as asserting. Black Americans have glimpsed new possibilities in the world, and there is excitement everywhere. The new black writers do not have to court the critical establishment; they have their own publications and when the publishing establishment beckons, it mustmore often than nottake the black writer on the black writers terms. That is revolutionary.

Selected writings

(Contributor) Beyond the Angry Black, edited by John A. Williams, Cooper Square, 1966.

(Contributor) Black Expression: Essays in the Creative Arts By and About Black Americans, edited by Addison Gayle, Jr., Weybright & Talley, 1969.

Journey to Africa, Third World Press, 1971.

(Contributor) Black Literature in America, edited by Houston Baker, McGraw, 1971.

(Contributor) The Black American Writer, edited by C. W. E. Bigsby, New York University Press, 1972.

Contributor of articles and reviews, under the pseudonym William Barrow, to the New Yorker, New Republic, Christian Science Monitor, and New York Times Book Review.



Randall, Dudley, ed., Homage to Hoyt Fuller, Broadside Press, 1984.


New York Times, February 28, 1968, p. 31; May 18, 1969, p. BR8; February 22, 1981, p. BR1.


Hoyt (William) Fuller, Contemporary Authors Online, http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/BioRC(February 1, 2004).

Carol Brennan

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