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Lance Jeffers


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(1919–1985), poet, short fiction writer, and novelist.

Lance Jeffers might accurately be described as a black nationalist without a movement. While he spanned the decades identified with the Black Aesthetic and writers of the 1960s, he was not included in the circles of those most associated with those militant times (though Broadside Press, which published many writers of the 1960s, did publish a couple of his volumes). Yet Jeffers's political stances as a poet are culturally nationalistic and informed by a consistent appreciation of the beauty and possibilities in black people. Though a few critics have paid attention to his work, he is among many less well-known African American writers whose works have not been incorporated into the mainstream of critical commentary on African American or American literature. In addition to singly published volumes, however, his works have appeared in anthologies such as The Best Short Stories of 1948, Burning Spear, A Galaxy of Black Writing, New Black Voices, and Black Fire, as well as in journals such as Phylon, Quarto, and the Tamarack Review.

Lance Jeffers was born in Fremont, Nebraska, on 28 November 1919 to Henry Nelson and Dorothy May Flippin; he was their only child. His grandfather, Dr. George Albert Flippin, raised him in Stromburg, Nebraska, from the time Lance was one year old; it was this relative who inspired Grandsire, one of Jeffers's volumes of poetry. Lance lived in Nebraska until his grandfather died in 1929. These years turned out to be the most formative of his career, and his grandfather proved to be perhaps the strongest influence on his life, but Lance was in essence separated from large numbers of black people. Reclaiming ties to African heritage and African peoples would occupy Jeffers for the rest of his life. At the age of ten, Lance moved to San Francisco to join his mother and stepfather, Forrest Jeffers, who was a janitor in a building whose tenants were white. Thus Jeffers did not immediately encounter many more black people than he had living with his grandfather and his white wife in Nebraska. Forrest Jeffers encouraged Lance to seek out other blacks, and he taught Jeffers the value of endurance under racially difficult circumstances.

Lance attended three high schools before graduating in 1938, then a succession of colleges before he joined the army in 1942 and served in Europe. When he left the military in 1946, he married Camille Jones, a social worker he had met in England, and, over the next few years, completed his undergraduate (cum laude) and master's work at Columbia University. Jeffers divorced Camille and married Trellie James in 1959; he had a son with Camille and three daughters with Trellie.

Like many practicing African American writers, Jeffers did not support himself exclusively through his writing. He taught at colleges and universities throughout the country, beginning in 1951 and including California State College at Long Beach and North Carolina State University in Raleigh, where he joined the faculty in 1974 and was still there at the time of his death on 19 July 1985. Trellie Jeffers continues her career as a college professor.


Subjects: Literature

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