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Waters Turpin


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(1910–1968), educator, novelist, playwright, director, television lecturer, and drama critic.

Waters Edward Turpin, the only child of Simon and Mary Rebecca (Waters) Turpin, was born 9 April 1910 on the eastern shore of Maryland in Oxford. At the time of his death, 19 November 1968, he had been married to Jean Fisher Turpin for thirty-two years. They had two children–Rosalie Rebecca Turpin Belcher and John Edward Turpin.

Although Turpin's career was multifaceted, he was primarily a teacher. He began his teaching career in 1935 at Storer College in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, where he taught English and coached football. In June 1938, he left Storer to pursue a doctoral degree at Columbia University, where he had received his master's degree in 1932. (He received the EdD in 1960.) In 1940 Turpin joined the faculty at Lincoln University (Pa.) and stayed there until 1950, when he was invited by Nick Aaron Ford, chair of the English Department, to come to Morgan State College, where his wife Jean was already teaching. Returning to Morgan was returning to his roots. He had received his high school diploma from Morgan Academy and his BA from Morgan State College, where he was editor in chief of the Morgan Newsletter.

During his eighteen years at Morgan, Turpin was a teacher of composition and literature, assistant director of drama, chair of the Division of Humanities for two years, television lecturer, coauthor with Nick Aaron Ford of a textbook: Basic Skills for Better Writing (1959), and coeditor with Ford of Extending Horizons: Selected Readings for Cultural Enrichment (1969). As assistant director of drama, Turpin produced and directed two of his plays: And Let the Day Perish (1950) and St. Michael's Dawn (1956), a three-act drama of the life of Frederick Douglass. There are other plays, short stories, and poetry in Turpin's unpublished collection.

However, Turpin's novels are what gained him recognition in African American literary history. Turpin's creative abilities were recognized early, and among those encouraging him to write was novelist Edna Ferber, who was the employer of Turpin's mother. Although Turpin worked on several novels, only three were published. The first, These Low Grounds (1937), set on the eastern shore of Maryland, tells the story of four generations of an African American family. The second novel, O Canaan! (1939), traces the progress of migratory farmers who left the South for Chicago during the depression. Turpin's third and final published novel, The Rootless (1957), is a historical novel that depicts slave practices in eighteenth-century Maryland.

Turpin's eloquent, dramatic, and imaginative writings are accurate portrayals of African American life during the first half of the twentieth century. The literary legacy of Waters Turpin to his students, colleagues, friends, and reading audience is most memorable.

Nick Aaron Ford, “The Legacy of Waters E. Turpin, Part I and II,” Afro-American Newspaper, Magazine Section, 14 and 21 Dec. 1968, 1.

Margaret Ann Reid

Subjects: Literature

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