"I didn't know anything other than my own life, so that was what I wrote..."
C l a u d e B r o w n
born February 23, 1937, New York, NY
died February 2, 2002, New York, NY
During his youth Claude spent years in and out of juvenile detention centers and juvenile homes as a result of stealing, and selling drugs. Claude's life of crime led him into a situation where he was shot in the abdomen, at 13 years of age, during a burglary.. This incident and the encouragement of a friend helped Claude leave his life of crime behind him.
Shortly afterward he entered Howard University and began writing. Toni Morrison, one of his teachers, often critiqued Claude's work. Claude wrote about what he knew best -- his own life experiences. Claude's Manchild in the Promised Land, is a best selling autobiography on his youth in Harlem, New York. In 1976, Claude Brown, also published The Children of Ham, a story about struggling young blacks in Harlem.
in the Promised Land
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Date Published: May 1999 (originally published in 1965)
Format: Paperback, 416pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group
Since it's release in 1965 Manchild is the 2nd best selling book ever published by Macmillan (over 4 million copies as of 2000)
During his first year at Howard University, Claude Brown wrote an article for the magazine Dissent about growing up in Harlem. The piece attracted the attention of a publisher, who encouraged him to write his autobiography. The result, Manchild in the Promised Land, traces Claude Brown's own transformation from a hardened, streetwise young criminal to a successful, self-made man.
This autobiographical novel, in print for more than thirty years, has been widely praised for its portrayal of the "lost" generation of African-Americans whose parents left the sharecropping lifestyle of the South for the crowded inner cities of the North.
"I said, 'So what?' as if I didn't care. But I cared. I had to care. that was the first time I had seen Mama crying like that. She was just standing there by herself, not moving, not making a sound as if she didn't even know it was cold out there. The sun was shining, but it was cold and there was ice on the ground. The tears just kept rolling down Mama's face as the bus started to pull away from the curb. I had to care. Those tears shining on Mama's face were falling for me. When the bus started down the street, I wanted to run back and say something to Mama. I didn't know what. I thought, maybe I woulda said, "Mama, I didn't mean what I said, 'cause I really do care." No, I wouldn'a say that. I woulda said, "Mama, button up your coat. It's cold out here." Yeah, that's what I forgot to say to Mama."
From Sacred Fire: The QBR 100 Essential Black Books
Manchild in the Promised Land is the story of the first generation of blacks who had left the South in search of a northern "promised land" of equality, abundance, and prosperity but found instead a vastly overcrowded and violent urban ghetto'a generation that went "from the fire into the frying pan."
"There was a tremendous difference in the way life was lived up North. There were too many people full of hate and bitterness crowded into a dirty, stinky, uncared-for, closet-sized section of a great city. The children of these disillusioned colored pioneers inherited the total lot of their parents'the disappointments, the anger. To add to their misery, they had little hope of deliverance. For where does one run to when he's already in the promised land?" So begins Claude Brown's literary masterwork.
Claude (Sonny boy) Brown wrote his extraordinary autobiography in his late twenties. At nine, he was a member of two notorious gangs who thrived on bullying and stealing. At eleven, he was sent to a school for "emotionally disturbed and deprived boys," where he stayed for two years; at fourteen, he was sent to a reformatory for the first of three times. In his mid-twenties, he would graduate from Howard University, and at thirty, he would start law school. Manchild in the Promised Land is the story of his life growing up in Harlem, to him a wondrous place where if you were quick, smart, and tough enough you could live, for a while, like a king or die like a pauper.