Jackson, Angela, 1951-
- Existence: 1951
Angela Ruth Jackson, poet, novelist, playwright, and biographer, was born on July 25, 1951 in Greenville, Mississippi to Angeline Virginia Robinson-Jackson and George Jackson, Sr. She is the fifth of nine children, with two brothers and six sisters. Her father, described by Jackson as a “great storyteller,” was also born in Mississippi and graduated from the Mississippi Trade School for the Colored. Angeline Robinson-Jackson, her mother, was born in Mississippi as well to land-owning farmers, graduating at the top of her class from Sacred Heart High School. Jackson, Sr. went on to serve in the Armed Forces from 1944-1946 and upon his return to the United States, specifically the segregated South, he made the decision to move to and work in Chicago, Illinois at the Post Office. After working and preparing a home for his family, including Angela Jackson, they joined him in the summer of 1952 when she was a year old.
According to Jackson, growing up on the Southside of Chicago, including the sights, smells, and sounds of the area, influenced her and her writing. The many bakeries in her neighborhood, events she witnessed at a park near her home, and stories of playing with children that lived nearby all made an appearance in a few of her writings. She also has mentioned that books and reading were of interest to her from a young age, walking to the library every Saturday with her siblings and knowing that she wanted to be a writer at the age of eleven. She attended primary school at St. Anne’s Catholic School, where she skipped the fifth grade. The nuns working there and their independence as women had an effect on Jackson and her affinity for writing that she describes as being subconscious. Years later, her high school, Loretto Academy, is where her plans for the future began to develop, determining that she wanted to become a doctor due to her success in biology and her attendance at a biomedical careers program sponsored by the University of Chicago. Throughout her time at the Academy, Jackson’s political views also began to form, debating the Vietnam War, initially taking a “conservative” approach, attending Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.’s rally at Soldier Field in Chicago in 1966. She eventually graduated in 1968 and earned a pre-medical scholarship to Northwestern University.
At Northwestern, Angela Jackson participated in a summer program called Northwestern University Chicago Action Project (NUCAP) that she describes as a “preparatory acculturation program.” Through her experience with NUCAP, she developed a sense of self and independence in relation to her racial identity which led her to begin wearing her hair in a natural style and taking a liking to Malcolm X, a human rights activist, calling him a “hero.” She was a member of For Members Only (FMO), the black student union on campus, serving on the central committee in an effort to establish an African American Studies department. With that group, she participated in protesting and organizing to ensure that their demands were being heard and met. Throughout her time in college, she often took time off to accommodate her mental health, working as an au pair and in the hematology lab at Rush Presbyterian St. Luke Hospital (due to her pre-med major). In 1977, Jackson graduated from Northwestern University with a B.A. in English and American Literature after switching majors because the pre-med track proved to be unsatisfying.
While at Northwestern, she met her mentor, Hoyt M. Fuller, who was teaching an African American literature class. She gave him a few of her poems to look over, and afterwards he invited her to OBAC, the Organization for Black American Culture, so that she could be “judged by [her] peers”. The Organization was founded to encourage “the conscious development and articulation of a Black Aesthetic” and Fuller was just one of a few founding members. Ultimately, she was a member of OBAC for 20 years, eventually becoming one of the Organization’s leading authors after her writing matured under the advising of other experienced writers and various life events, such as traveling to Africa for FESTAC, the Festival of Arts and Cultures, in 1977, which she explained as marking “a turning point in [her] art”.
Her first play, titled Shango Diaspora, was produced in 1980. She got the inspiration for it while at FESTAC, and also while in school at Northwestern, detailing it as a series of love poems. Eventually, after being read by her sister, it was developed into a play. Her other works of poetry, such as The Greenville Club and The Man with the White Liver, were also being crafted in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s. Her book of poetry about various spiders, Dark Legs and Silk Kisses: The Beatitudes of the Spinners, was published in 1993 by Northwestern University Press and went on to be awarded the Carl Sandburg Award. Her work And All These Roads be Luminous was nominated for the National Book Award. According to Angela Jackson, she primarily considers herself a poet above all other professions and titles she holds.
However, she is also a novelist, having written several books. This includes the Where I Must Go novels, loosely based on the stirring years of her time at Northwestern University. It was written as a means to counteract the dominant narrative of the African American lifestyle that she sees portrayed in the media. In the past decade, she has been teaching classes and workshops, including writing and African American Literature, at various colleges and universities across the United States, but primarily in Chicago, Illinois, as that is where she calls home. She continues to be involved with the Black Arts Movement, supporting other artists, and is currently finishing the third installment of the Where I Must Go trilogy.
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Angela Jackson (1951- ), a member of Northwestern University's class of 1977, is a poet, novelist, playwright, and biographer. Her papers span the years 1966-2018 in 39 boxes and 5.86 gigabytes; they contain biographical materials, correspondence, manuscripts, teaching material, and publications in physical and born-digital formats.