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Frank Yerby was one of the most popular and successful African-American novelist of the 20th century. He wrote more than 30 novels, most of which are historical romances. His novels made him rich but brought him little critical acclaim; rather, his works sold in the millions while being dismissed by most critics as melodramatic potboilers aimed solely at the cash register. He was also consistently attacked for betraying his race by not continuing to write social protest fiction.
Yerby was born in Augusta, George in 1916 and graduated from Paine College (1937) and Fisk University, (M.A. 1938), he then taught at various southern colleges. During the war he worked a laboratory technician for the Ford Motor Company, and turned to writing full time in 1945 and his works were immediately successful. However, he never obtained acceptance by either black or white American writers, and moved permanently to Spain in 1954, where he died in 1991.
Yerby's work ranges widely in history. His first novel, The Foxes of Harrow, which is set in Louisiana, was a gigantic success, and it was followed by a number of antebellum, Civil War, and Reconstruction novels, including The Vixens, Floodtide, A Woman Called Fancy, Benton's Row, Griffin's Way, and A Darkness at Ingraham's Crest. As a result, Yerby was associated with the romance of the old South, but it is hardly a `moonlight and magnolias' South, though all of the trappings of the Old South are present--white-columned mansions on huge plantations, extensive description of food, manners, etc. Instead, it is a world of greedy entrepreneurs, racists, and blind chauvinists, where wealth and position are more important than humanity. When not writing about his native South, Yerby moved back in time from the French and American Revolutions (The Devil's Laughter and Bride of Liberty), through the 17th century (The Golden Hawk), the Middle Ages (An Odor of Sanctity and The Saracen Blade), the time of Christ (Judas, My Brother) to ancient Greece (Goat Song). He did extensive research for his novels and they will often contain notes and references. Nevertheless, the basic plot is always the same – heroic male, emotionally immature and an even more immature beautiful heroine, the lovers often separated by social circumstances, caught up in the turmoil of various historic events.
His work was hugely popular and many of his works were published as Book Club Editions. Three novels, were adapted for movies: The Foxes of Harrow (1947), The Golden Hawk (1952), and The Saracen Blade (1954).
WORKS of Frank Yerby
The Foxes of Harrow, (1946)