THOMAS, JOYCE CAROL (1938- )
Born in Ponca City, Oklahoma, on May 25, 1938, novelist, poet, and playwright Joyce Carol Thomas was the daughter of Floyd D. and Leona Haynes. The family moved to California in 1948. The future writer was educated at San Francisco City College, the University of San Francisco, and San Jose State College (University), where she earned a bachelor's degree in 1966. She completed a master's degree at Stanford University in 1967. From 1969 to 1972 she was a professor of African American studies at San Jose State, and she has also served on the English faculty at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and Purdue University. Twice married, Thomas has four children.
Although she is best known for her adult and young adult fiction, her poetry first propelled her into academic prominence in the 1970s as she explored of the African American experience in America. These works are collected in Bittersweet (1973), Crystal Breezes (1974), and Blessing (1975). She produced and directed four plays during this time and also edited Ambrosia, a black women's magazine. Her first novel, Marked by Fire (1982), found a national audience. Marked by Fire and Bright Shadow (1983), both set in Ponca City, are based on experiences with her family and childhood friends among the city's African American community. Named 1982 best book of the year by the New York Times and by the Young Adult Services Division of the American Library Association (ALA), Marked by Fire also earned the 1983 National Book Award. Bright Shadow received the ALA's 1984 Coretta Scott King Award. A professor at the University of Tennessee until 1994, Thomas returned to California, where she became a Berkeley resident. In 2000 she received the Arrell M. Gibson Lifetime Achievement Award from the Oklahoma Center for the Book.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Afro-American Fiction Writers After 1955, Vol. 33, Dictionary of Literary Biography, ed. Thadious M. Davis (Detroit, Mich.: Gale Group, 1984). "Joyce Carol Thomas," Contemporary Authors (Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale Group, 2001). "Joyce Carol Thomas," Vertical File, Research Division, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
© Oklahoma Historical Society