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Remembering Paule Marshall

ACCLAIMED AUTHOR CELEBRATED: Paule Marshall's works have inspired countless black writers and readers

EVER SINCE it was announced that renowned author Paule Marshall died aged 90 on August 12, the literary world has been remembering the celebrated writer and her influential works.

Marshall, born Valenza Pauline Burke, was born in Brooklyn, New York on April 9 1929 to Barbadian parents.

Throughout her life, Marshall wrote five novels and several collections of short stories and works of fiction. Her work was both inspired by and a commentary on the lives of Caribbean and African American people, including her own. In one interview with the University of Richmond, she said that her own experience of marriage had partly influenced her writing in Daughters, particularly Estelle’s marriage.

“I drew in part on my own experiences as someone who was once married to a West Indian with political ambitions, but I also made use of what I perceived to be the experiences of other people I came to know during the periods I spent in the Caribbean. But not in any direct way. It's always in bits and pieces. As with everyone, everything that has happened to me, that I have experienced firsthand or heard about or read about – however it's come to me – ­­it's all stored in the data bank of the mind, this repository, this hopper. And in creating a story, in creating Daughters, I simply go to the data bank and select and that word is crucial­­ select what I need, those elements that will help me tell this particular story. What I don't find I invent. I'm always inventing,” she said.

Fans of her writing from all different backgrounds have expressed both their sadness at the news of her passing but also their gratitude at her contributions to the literary landscape and their individual lives.

President and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund described Marshall as “an extraordinary American novelist. A chronicler of the complex experience and ambitions of Caribbean American women and girls” and her debut novel as a classic.

“Rest in power #Paulemarshall. Your stories taught me about myself, about it our community and most of all what it means to be human. Thank you. The Feminist Press family will love you always,” Jamia Wilson, director and publisher at Feminist Press wrote on Twitter.

“Her work delved deeply into what she considered her triangular journey from her ancestral homeland on the African continent, to the Caribbean, then the United States. Reading her novels often felt like reading my own family's history on a global scale. She will be greatly missed,” Haitian-American author Edwidge Danticat told AP.

Writer Lynn Nottage, Marshall’s goddaughter, shared the profound impact the writer had on her professional and personal life.
“She introduced my parents to each other. She was the first champion of my work, telling my mother with gentle authority, ‘just let her write’. I wouldn't be here without her. #RIP Another beloved elder has crossed over,” she tweeted.

Many readers fell in love with Marshall’s fiction because of the relatability of her stories and her characterisation of black women.

Writing in Essence in 1979, Marshall said: "Traditionally in most fiction men are the wheelers and dealers. They are the ones in whom power is invested.

"I wanted to turn that around. I wanted women to be the centers of power. My feminism takes its expression through my work. Women are central for me. They can as easily embody the power principles as a man."

Brown Girl, Brownstones, Marshall’s first novel, described by professor Cheryl Wall as “the novel that most black feminist critics consider to be the beginning of contemporary African-American women’s writings”, follows Selina Boyce, the daughter of Barbadian immigrants. The coming-of-age story charts Boyce’s journey to determine her identity as her mother longs to buy their home and her father yearns to return to his birth country.

Considering how Marshall viewed herself, it is no wonder that her writing has united readers of African and Caribbean heritage on both sides of the Atlantic.

“I don't make any distinction between African­-American and West Indian. All o' we is
one as far as I'm concerned. And I, myself, am both,” Marshall said.

The unifying nature of her work is acutely apparent as fans and friends mark her passing. Proving that while Marshall may be gone but the love for her and her work lives on.

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