Redding, Jay Saunders

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Redding, Jay Saunders

October 13, 1906
March 2, 1988

Born and raised in a middle-class family in Wilmington, Delaware, writer J. Saunders Redding attended Lincoln University in Pennsylvania for one year before transferring to Brown University, where he received his Ph.B. (bachelor of philosophy) in 1928 and his M.A. in 1932; afterward, he studied at Columbia University for one year on a graduate fellowship. Redding began his career teaching English at a series of colleges and universities: Morehouse College in Atlanta (19281931), Louisville Municipal College (19341936), and Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where he was chair of the English department (19361938).

After Redding's publication of To Make a Poet Black (1939), a critical study unique in its time for its examination of African-American literature from the perspective of a black scholar, the Rockefeller Foundation awarded Redding a fellowship to write No Day of Triumph (1942), an exploration of the condition of African Americans in the South. The partly autobiographical book was a critical success and established Redding's reputation as an acute observer of social realities who spoke eloquently both to black and white Americans about the struggles and the achievements of African Americans. In 1943 Redding returned to teaching, this time as a professor at the Hampton Institute in Virginia, where he remained until 1966, and subsequently at George Washington University (19681970) and at Cornell University (19701975; as professor emeritus, 19751988). He also served as an official of the National Endowment for the Humanities (19661970) and as a State Departmentsponsored lecturer at colleges and universities in India (1952), Africa (1962), and South America (1977).

During his career, Redding wrote ten books, among them an influential psychological study of race relations, On Being Negro in America (1951), a novel, Stranger and Alone (1950), and several sociohistorical studies, including They Came in Chains: Americans from Africa (1950), An American in India (1954), and The Negro (1967). He coedited two anthologies, Reading for Writing (1952), with Ivan E. Taylor, and Cavalcade: Negro American Writing from 1760 to the Present (1971), with Arthur P. Davis. Redding's many articles and book reviews have appeared in anthologies and in such periodicals as The Atlantic Monthly, The Saturday Review, The Nation, The North American Review, and American Heritage. While denying neither the specificity of his perspective nor his abiding interest in the experience and culture of African Americans, Redding continually stressed in his works the necessity for full integration of African Americans into the larger community.

Redding received many awards and honorary degrees for his work, including two Guggenheim fellowships (19441945 and 19591960), a citation from the National Urban League (1950), a Ford Foundation fellowship (19641965), and honorary degrees from Brown University (1963), Virginia State College (1963), Hobart College (1964), the University of Portland (1970), Wittenberg University (1977), Dickinson College, and the University of Delaware. Redding died in Ithaca, New York, at the age of seventy-one.

See also Intellectual Life; Literary Criticism, U.S.


Davis, Arthur P. From the Dark Tower: Afro-American Writers, 19001960. Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press, 1974.

Metzger, Linda, ed. Black Writers: A Selection of Sketches from Contemporary Authors. Detroit, Mich.: Gale, 1989.

Thompson, Thelma Barnaby. "J. Saunders Redding." In Dictionary of Literary Biography. Vol. 76, Afro-American Writers, 19401955. Detroit, Mich.: Gale, 1988.

Wagner, Jean. Black Poets of the United States: From Paul Lawrence Dunbar to Langston Hughes. Translated by Kenneth Douglas. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1973.

steven j. leslie (1996)

alexis walker (1996)