This sample Eugenia Collier Essay is published for informational purposes only. Free essays and research papers, are not written by our writers, they are contributed by users, so we are not responsible for the content of this free sample paper. If you want to buy a high quality essay at affordable price please use our custom essay writing service.
Eugenia Collier is an African American writer and educator best known for her frequently anthologized short story ”Marigolds” (1969). Reflecting on her career as an author and critic, she has commented,
The fact of my blackness is the core and center of my creativity. After a conventional Western-type education, I discovered the richness, the diversity, the beauty of my black heritage. This discovery has meant a coalescence of personal and professional goals. It has also meant a lifetime commitment.
Works in Biographical and Historical Context
Eugenia Collier was born on April 6, 1928, in Baltimore, Maryland. She is the daughter of Harry Maceo Williams, a physician, and Eugenia jack son Williams, an educator. The year after Collier was born, the American stock market crashed and sent the country into the Great Depression. Economic hardship was felt across the country and created particular difficulty for already low-income African American neighborhoods such as Collier’s. Collier would later use her childhood experiences in the Depression to create the setting for her most famous story, “Marigolds.”
Public Service and Activism
Because of racial segregation and unequal rights for women, girls—especially black girls—were rarely given the opportunity for an education. But Collier, a precocious child, was encouraged by both her mother and father to obtain a university education and pursue a professional career. She graduated magna cum laude from Howard University in 1948, and then received a master’s degree from Columbia University in 1950. After receiving her degree at Columbia, Collier became a case worker at the Baltimore Department of Public Welfare, where she tended to the needs of the urban poor of all ages. Collier would draw many of her future stories from her five years in this job and emerged from the experience dedicated to improving social and economic conditions for black Americans. In particular, her story “Ricky,” which she would adapt to a stage play in 1973 and appeared in the 1993 collection Breeder and Other Stories, captures the experiences of troubled African American youths in the inner city as they deal with a bureaucratic and insensitive social justice system.
“Marigolds” and the Civil-Rights Movement
Collier became an assistant instructor at Morgan State College in Baltimore in 1955, and continued to work on her fiction while she taught and worked toward the PhD she would receive from the University of Maryland in 1976. She also became an activist in the civil rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s, when Martin Luther King Jr. and others spoke out for the social and political changes that would ultimately inspire racial equality and end segregation. In 1969, at the height of the movement, Collier published her best-known short story, ”Marigolds,” in which she described the experiences of a girl moving from innocence to adolescence during her Depression-era childhood. For this story she won the Gwendolyn Brooks Award for Fiction.
”Marigolds” has been repeatedly anthologized and was also included in Collier’s 1993 collection Breeder and Other Stories. Aside from fiction, Collier has written or contributed to various collections of academic nonfiction, including Impressions in Asphalt: Images of Urban America (1999) and Langston Hughes: Black Genius (1991). She has also written for a wide variety of periodicals and has held teaching posts at the University of Maryland, Howard University, and Southern Illinois University. Since retiring in 1996, she has dedicated herself to writ ing and spending time with her family. She lives in Baltimore.
Works in Literary Context
Like her contemporaries Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Nikki Giovanni, and Maya Angelou, Collier focuses her work on the experiences of African American women.
She is also known for her emphasis on children and adolescents—particularly their experiences with often hostile justice systems in urban environments.
The Urban Black Experience
Drawing from her background as a social worker in inner-city Baltimore, Collier dedicates much of her fiction to recreating the city environments affecting African American women and children. Often, the characters of Collier’s stories are lost—both on the streets and within the system—and must depend on familial or bureaucratic systems that ultimately fail them. For example, the second tale of the collection Breeder and Other Stories, entitled ”Ricky,” features an eleven-year-old boy left orphaned and homeless by the disappearance of his father and the psychological deterioration of his mother. His elderly great aunt, Vi, takes him in but soon finds that even her love cannot undo the damage the child has endured from domestic and institutional neglect. Incompetent parenting and the insensitivity of courts, schools, and child welfare agencies have left the child violent and unmanageable. Similarly, the last story of the collection, ”Dead Man Running” tells the story of a teenager caught in a drug deal that ultimately ends in a murder. In both of these tales, Collier uses a grim realism to depict lives significantly compromised by the demands of modern urban life.
Almost all of the stories in Collier’s collection Breeder are told from a female point of view. In many of these narratives, women face difficult decisions brought on by the demands of parenting in a hostile society. In ”Rachel’s Children,” for example, a lonely college professor confronts the ghost of a slave mother seeking beyond the grave for her children. In ”Journey,” the character Azuree takes her own child’s life as a protective measure. Though these stories vividly portray the difficulties black women face, they also often cast these women as the linchpins of their families and communities.
Coming of Age
Collier’s stories also tend to feature child protagonists. Indeed, ”Marigolds” has become one of the classic coming-of-age stories in American literature. Lizabeth, the fourteen-year-old narrator, destroys the beautiful marigolds in old Miss Lottie’s yard in a fit of misguided rage. She describes the moment after her destructive act, when she looks up into the ”sad, weary eyes” of Miss Lottie, as ”the end of innocence.” She states that ”innocence involves an unseeing acceptance of things at face value, an ignorance of the area below the surface. In that humiliating moment I looked beyond myself into the depths of another person. This was the beginning of compassion, and one cannot have both compassion and innocence.”
Works in Critical Context
Though Eugenia Collier is recognized for her academic and theoretical work, she is best-known for her collection Breeder and Other Stories and, in particular, ”Marigolds” which it includes.
Breeder and Other Stories
Upon its publication in 1993, critics praised the feminist point of view taken by Collier in Breeder and Other Stories and argued for its sophistication. Critic T. Jasmine Dawson stated, ”the title alone suggests that Collier was thinking beyond black and female as she repeatedly raised the notion that women indelibly hold families together by embracing the spoils of community despite repeated pitfalls.” In addition, many reviewers commented on Collier’s ability to weave seamlessly the past and the present. For example, Opal J. Moore, in Black Issues in Higher Education, commented that ”Far from indulging in self-pity, these stories should engage our understanding and questioning of our revulsion of the past, as well as our self-protective embracing of it.” Moore also examined the overall theme of the collection, finding that ”each of the stories in Breeder and Other Stories describes a condition of profound loss—not the loss of love itself, its pulse or impulse, but of its embrace. They tell of a loss of orderliness, of any of the traditional illusions of safety, of the pure luxury of expectancy.”
- Peterson, Bernard L., Jr. Contemporary Black American Playwrights and Their Plays. New York: Greenwood Press, 1988.
- Williams, Ora. American Black Women in the Arts and Social Sciences: A Bibliographic Survey. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow, 1973.
- Dawson, T. Jasmine. ”Eugenia W. Collier” In The Encyclopedia of African American Writers. New York: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2007: 103-105.
- Moore, Opal J. ”The Bill of Wrongs: Stories for the Children” Black Issues in Higher Education 14.2 (March 20, 1997): 34.
- Kaganoff, Peggy. ”Forecasts: Paperbacks.” Publishers Weekly 241(January 17, 1994): 427.
Free essays are not written to satisfy your specific instructions. You can use our professional writing services to order a custom essay, research paper, or term paper on any topic and get your high quality paper at affordable price. UniversalEssays is the best choice for those who seek help in essay writing or research paper writing in any field of study.