Toni Cade Bambara
, born Miltona Mirkin Cade
(March 25, 1939 – December 9, 1995) was an African-American author, documentary film
Documentary films constitute a broad category of nonfictional motion pictures intended to document some aspect of reality, primarily for the purposes of instruction or maintaining a historical record...
-maker, social activist and college professor.
Toni Cade Bambara was born in New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...
to parents Walter and Helen (Henderson) Cade. She grew up in Harlem
Harlem is a neighborhood in the New York City borough of Manhattan, which since the 1920s has been a major African-American residential, cultural and business center. Originally a Dutch village, formally organized in 1658, it is named after the city of Haarlem in the Netherlands...
, Bedford Stuyvesant (Brooklyn), Queens and New Jersey, NJ. In 1970 she changed her name to include the name of a West African ethnic group Bambara.
Bambara graduated from Queens College with a B.A.
A Bachelor of Arts , from the Latin artium baccalaureus, is a bachelor's degree awarded for an undergraduate course or program in either the liberal arts, the sciences, or both...
in Theater Arts/English Literature
English literature is the literature written in the English language, including literature composed in English by writers not necessarily from England; for example, Robert Burns was Scottish, James Joyce was Irish, Joseph Conrad was Polish, Dylan Thomas was Welsh, Edgar Allan Poe was American, J....
in 1959, then studied mime
A mime artist is someone who uses mime as a theatrical medium or as a performance art, involving miming, or the acting out a story through body motions, without use of speech. In earlier times, in English, such a performer was referred to as a mummer...
at the Ecole de Mime Etienne Decroux in Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...
, France. She became also interested in dance before completing her master's degree in American studies
American studies or American civilization is an interdisciplinary field dealing with the study of the United States. It traditionally incorporates the study of history, literature, and critical theory, but also includes fields as diverse as law, art, the media, film, religious studies, urban...
at City College, New York (from 1962), while serving as program director of Colony Settlement House in Brooklyn. She has also worked for New York social services and as a recreation director in the psychiatric ward of Metropolitan hospital. From 1965 to 1969 she was with City College's Search for Education, Elevation, Knowledge
-program. She taught English, published material and worked with SEEK's black theatre group.
She was made assistant professor of English at Rutgers University
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey , is the largest institution for higher education in New Jersey, United States. It was originally chartered as Queen's College in 1766. It is the eighth-oldest college in the United States and one of the nine Colonial colleges founded before the American...
's new Livingston College
From 1969 to 2007 Livingston College was one of the residential colleges that comprised Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey's undergraduate liberal arts programs. It was located on Livingston Campus in Piscataway, NJ. In the Fall of 2007 the New Brunswick-area liberal arts undergraduate...
in 1969, was visiting professor in Afro-American Studies at Emory University
Emory University is a private research university in metropolitan Atlanta, located in the Druid Hills section of unincorporated DeKalb County, Georgia, United States. The university was founded as Emory College in 1836 in Oxford, Georgia by a small group of Methodists and was named in honor of...
and at Atlanta University (1977), where she also taught at the School of Social Work (until 1979). She was writer-in-residence at Neighborhood Arts Center (1975–79), at Stephens College
Stephens College is a women's college located in Columbia, Missouri. It is the second oldest female educational establishment that is still a women's college in the United States. It was founded on August 24, 1833 as the Columbia Female Academy. In 1856, David H. Hickman turned it into a college,...
at Columbia, Missouri
Columbia is the fifth-largest city in Missouri, and the largest city in Mid-Missouri. With a population of 108,500 as of the 2010 Census, it is the principal municipality of the Columbia Metropolitan Area, a region of 164,283 residents. The city serves as the county seat of Boone County and as the...
(1976) and at Atlanta's Spelman College
Spelman College is a four-year liberal arts women's college located in Atlanta, Georgia, United States. The college is part of the Atlanta University Center academic consortium in Atlanta. Founded in 1881 as the Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary, Spelman was the first historically black female...
(1978–79). From 1986 she taught film
A film, also called a movie or motion picture, is a series of still or moving images. It is produced by recording photographic images with cameras, or by creating images using animation techniques or visual effects...
-script writing at Louis Massiah
Louis J. Massiah is an American documentary filmmaker.He graduated from Cornell University with a B.A., and from Massachusetts Institute of Technology with an M.S...
's Scribe Video Center in Philadelphia.
Bambara participated in several community and activist organizations, and her work was influenced by the Civil Rights and Black Nationalist movements of the 1960s. She went on propaganda trips to Cuba in 1973 and to Vietnam in 1975. She moved to Alabama
Alabama is a state located in the southeastern region of the United States. It is bordered by Tennessee to the north, Georgia to the east, Florida and the Gulf of Mexico to the south, and Mississippi to the west. Alabama ranks 30th in total land area and ranks second in the size of its inland...
with her daughter, Karma Bene, and became a founding member of the Southern Collective of African-American Writers. Toni Cade Bambara was diagnosed with colon cancer in 1993 and died of it in 1995, at age 56.
Her first book, Gorilla, My Love
(1972), collected fifteen short stories, written between 1950 and 1960. Most of the stories in Gorilla, My Love
are told through a first-person point of view. The narrator is often a sassy young girl who is tough, brave, and caring. Bambara called her writing upbeat
fiction. Included were "Blues Ain't No Mockin Bird
"Blues Ain't No Mocking Bird" is a short story by Toni Cade Bambara written in 1971. It is told through the point of view of a young girl in southern America. Blues Ain't No MockINGBird is about a family whose privacy is invaded by two cameramen who are making a film for the county's food stamp...
" as well as "Raymond's Run."
Bambara was active in the 1960s Black Arts movement and the emergence of black feminism. Her anthology The Black Woman
(1970) with poetry, short stories, and essays by Nikki Giovanni
Yolande Cornelia "Nikki" Giovanni is an American poet, writer, commentator, activist, and educator. Her primary focus is on the individual and the power one has to make a difference in oneself and in the lives of others. Giovanni’s poetry expresses strong racial pride, respect for family, and her...
, Audre Lorde
Audre Lorde was a Caribbean-American writer, poet and activist.-Life:...
, Alice Walker
Alice Malsenior Walker is an American author, poet, and activist. She has written both fiction and essays about race and gender...
, Paule Marshall
Paule Marshall is an American author. She was born Valenza Pauline Burke in Brooklyn to Barbadian parents and educated at Girls High School, Brooklyn College and Hunter College . Early in her career, she wrote poetry, but later returned to prose...
and herself, as well as work by Bambara's students from the SEEK program, was the first feminist collection to focus on African-American women. Tales and Stories for Black Folk
(1971) contained work by Langston Hughes
James Mercer Langston Hughes was an American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist. He was one of the earliest innovators of the then-new literary art form jazz poetry. Hughes is best known for his work during the Harlem Renaissance...
, Ernest J. Gaines, Pearl Crayton, Alice Walker
Alice Malsenior Walker is an American author, poet, and activist. She has written both fiction and essays about race and gender...
She wrote the introduction for another groundbreaking feminist anthology by women of color, This Bridge Called My Back
This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color is a feminist anthology edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria E. Anzaldúa. The anthology was first published in 1981 by Persephone Press, and the second edition was published in 1984 by Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press...
(1981), edited by Gloria Anzaldúa and Cherríe Moraga
Cherríe L. Moraga is a Chicana writer, feminist activist, poet, essayist, and playwright.-Biography:Moraga was born in Whittier, California. She earned her Bachelor's degree from Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles, California and her Master's from San Francisco State University in 1980...
. While Bambara is often ascribed as a "feminist," in her chapter titled "On the Issue of Roles", she writes, "Perhaps we need to let go of all notions of manhood and femininity and concentrate on Blackhood."
Her novel The Salt Eaters
(1980) is centered around a healing event that coincides with a community festival in a fictional city of Claybourne, Georgia. The novel Those Bones Are Not My Child
or If Blessings Come
(title of the manuscript), was published posthumously in 1999. It deals with the disappearance and murder of forty black children in Atlanta between 1979 and 1981. It was called her masterpiece by Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison is a Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist, editor, and professor. Her novels are known for their epic themes, vivid dialogue, and richly detailed characters. Among her best known novels are The Bluest Eye, Song of Solomon and Beloved...
, who edited it and also gathered some of Bambara's short stories, essays, and interviews in the volume Deep Sightings & Rescue Missions: Fiction, Essays & Conversations.
Her work was explicitly political, concerned with injustice and oppression in general and with the fate of African American communities and grassroots political organizations in particular, esp. The Salt Eaters
. Her script for two awards-winning Louis Massiah film The Bombing of Osage Avenue
dealt with the massive police assault in Philadelphia on the headquarters of MOVE
MOVE or the MOVE Organization is a Philadelphia-based black liberation group founded by John Africa. MOVE was described by CNN as "a loose-knit, mostly black group whose members all adopted the surname Africa, advocated a "back-to-nature" lifestyle and preached against technology." The group...
, at 6221 Osage Ave., on May 13, 1985.
Female protagonists and narrators dominate her writings, which was informed by radical feminism and firmly placed inside African American culture, with its dialect, oral traditions and jazz techniques. She was always influenced by the people of Harlem and by her strong-willed mother, Helen Bent Henderson Cade Brehon, who urged her and her brother Walter (an established painter) to be proud of African American culture and history.
Bambara contributed to PBS's American Experience
documentary series with "Midnight Ramble"
Midnight Ramble is a 1994 documentary about Black Hollywood movies from the period between 1910 and 1950, which were commonly known as "race movies." This documentary is a tribute to a film genre that lasted for over forty years, produced over 500 movies, and created a foundation for contemporary...
: Oscar Micheaux and the Story of Race Movies. She also was one of four filmmakers who made the collaborative 1995 documentary W.E.B. Du Bois: A Biography in Four Voices
- Gorilla, My Love. Random House, New York 1972 (short stories)
- The Sea Birds Are Still Alive: Collected Stories. Random House, New York 1977 (short stories)
- The Salt Eaters. Random House, New York 1980 (novel)
- Toni Morrison (editor): Deep Sightings and Rescue Missions: Fiction, Essays and Conversations. Pantheon, New York 1996. (various)
- Those Bones Are Not My Child. Pantheon, New York 1999 (novel)
- The American Adolescent Apprentice Novel. City College of New York, 1964. 146 pp.
- Southern Black Utterances Today. Institute of Southern Studies, 1975.
- What Is It I Think I'm Doing Anyhow. In: J. Sternberg (editor): The Writer on Her Work: Contemporary Women Reflect on Their Art and Their Situation. W.W. Norton, New York 1980, pp. 153–178.
- Salvation Is the Issue. In: Mari Evans
Mari Evans is an African-American poet, living in Indianapolis.-Education and Employment:Evans attended the University of Toledo where she majored in fashion design in 1939. The fashion design major did not hold her interest and she left the University of Toledo without a degree...
(editor): Black Women Writers (1950-1980): A Critical Evaluation. Anchor/Doubleday, Garden City, NY 1984, pp. 41–47.
- as Toni Cade (editor): The Black Woman: An Anthology. New American Library, New York 1970
- Toni Cade Bambara (ed.): Tales and Stories for Black Folks. Doubleday, Garden City, NY 1971
- This Bridge Called My Back. Persephone Press, 1981. (foreword)
- Zora. WGBH-TV Boston, 1971
- The Johnson Girls. National Educational Television, 1972
- Transactions. School of Social Work, Atlanta University 1979.
- The Long Night. American Broadcasting Co., 1981.
- Epitaph for Willie. K. Heran Productions, Inc., 1982.
- Tar Baby. Screenplay based on Toni Morrison's novel Tar Baby. Sanger/Brooks Film Productions, 1984.
- Raymond's Run. Public Broadcasting System, 1985.
- The Bombing of Osage Avenue. WHYY-TV Philadelphia, 1986.
- Cecil B. Moore
Cecil Bassett Moore was a Philadelphia lawyer, civil rights activist who led the fight to integrate Girard College, president of the local NAACP, and member of Philadelphia's City Council....
: Master Tactician of Direct Action. WHY-TV Philadelphia, 1987.
- W.E.B. Du Bois: A Biography in Four Voices (1995)