Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Happy birthday, Frank Yerby.

Expatriate African American writer Frank Yerby was born today in Georgia in 1916. He died in Madrid in 1991.

Well known for his historical fiction, Yerby published The Foxes of Harrow in 1946, which sold more than 2 million copies in the 1940s and was adapted into a film with Rex Harrison and Maureen O'Hara. Much of his work draws on his Southern roots, such as Benton's Row (1954) and Captain Rebel (1956). The Voyage Unplanned (1974) deals with OSS and Resistance activities in World War II France. Yerby was also a fine short story writer, winning the O. Henry Memorial Prize in 1944 for "Health Card."

5 comments:

Bill Crider said...

I remember doing a book report on a Yerby novel when I was in high school, a century or so ago. My wife has read nearly every book he ever wrote.

Ed Gorman said...

Wow. Frank Yerby. When I was growing up he was inescapable. I recall reading a few of his books and liking them.

Elizabeth Foxwell said...

I understand that Yerby was criticized during his lifetime for works that were perceived as insufficiently engaged with racial issues (perhaps because many of his characters were white), but as Yerby wrote _The Dahomean_ and _A Darkness at Ingraham's Crest_, which both deal with slavery, I was somewhat mystified by this point of view. He called what he wrote "costume novels."

Richard Heft said...

Is he the best-selling African-American writer of all time? He wrote something like dozens of best-sellers, but I never have seen anyone crunch the numbers as to who actually sold more books in total, Yerby or Toni Morrison or Alex Haley.

Elizabeth Foxwell said...

The figure I've seen for Yerby is more than 55 million copies of his books sold worldwide (between the years 1946 and 1985). The sales figure I've seen for Haley's _Roots_ is 7.5 million. I'm not certain what Morrison's sales figures are, although I did see in one Publishers' Weekly that her novel _Sula_ sold upward of 500,000 copies.