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Black History Has Many Tongues: Black History around the World

Black History Biographies

Black History Month often focuses on the American (US) story, but as we know in Modern Languages & Literatures, the history of people of color extends beyond the borders and language of Anglophone countries. During Black History Month, the LLC will highlight stories of black history that go beyond the English speaking world.

Submit a Biography

Will you contribute a biography? We will post these stories here, including a photo and a brief (50-100 word) story or biography. Links to other external resources are strongly encouraged. We would love to collect many voices (both students and professors) writing about the diverse experiences and lives of black people, art, and writings around the globe.


tayeb salih

Tayeb Salih (1929-2009)

Tayeb Salih was born in 1929 in rural Karmakol, in northern Sudan. He has been described as the "genius of the modern Arabic novel." Salih worked as a teacher in Sudan. However, he has lived abroad for most of his life. He worked in a variety of diplomatic positions. His most well-known work is the modern classic novel: “Mawsim al-hijra ila’l-shamal” (1967; Season of Migration to the North), which received great critical attention in both the west and the east and brought new vivacity to the Arab novel. - by Dr. Inas Hassan


Chika Unigwe (b. 1974) 

Chika Unigwe studied English Literature in her native Nigeria. After moving to Belgium to follow her husband, she got Ph.D.  in Literature, and became the first African woman to write novels and short stories in Dutch. She raised four children, became a member of the city council in her adoptive city Turnhout, and started raking in prestigious international literary prizes. The Guardian called her one of the five most important African authors living today. You can visit her webpage here. - by Dr. Paul Oorts


aime cesair un tempete book coverAimé Césaire (1913-2008)

Born in Martinique, Aimé Césaire was a French and Francophone author, poet, and politician. Césaire attended school in Paris where he helped to create L’Étudiant Noir, a literary review. In Paris, Césair also began work on one of his long poems, Cahier d’un retour au pays natal, which was focused on life in the Caribbean. Césair then returned to Martinique, where he wrote some of his most famous pieces, such as Une Tempête and Discours sur le colonialisme. - by Meghan Nichols ('19)

maryse conde segu book cover

Maryse Condé (b. 1937)

Maryse Condé, a Francophone historical-fiction author, was born in Guadeloupe in 1937. She attended Lycée Fénelon and majored in English at Sorbonne in Paris. After finishing college, Condé became a teacher in Guinea, Ghana, and Senegal. She divorced her first husband in 1981 and married Richard Philcox, an English translator who translated most of her books, the next year. Condé received the Fullbright Scholarship in 1985, which allowed her to teach in the United States, and she is now a professor at Columbia University. Condé is most celebrated for her novel Segu. - by Meghan Nichols ('19)


Igiaba Scego (b. 1974)

Scego was born in Rome in 1974, both of her parents of Somalian descent. Always intrigued by literature and history, she received a degree in Foreign Literature at the First University of Rome. She went on to obtain her doctorate and in 2003 published the novel La Nomade che amava Alfred Hitchcock, which was awarded the Eks & Tra prize. She is also famous for her autobiography, La Mia casa è dove sono, published in 2010. Interview and blog by Afro-Europe. - by Alexa Maratos ('19)


Augustine of Hippo (c. 354-430)

Considered a saint by the Catholic Church, Augustine was born in Northern Africa near what would be modern day Algeria. Although most surviving records concerning St. Augustine give no indication of his racial background, he was ethnically African, at least on his mother’s side. While he followed the sect of Manichaeism as a youth, he later converted to Catholic Christianity — the faith of his mother, Monica, and the influential bishop Ambrose. After becoming a bishop himself, Augustine wrote his Confessions and The City of God, which continue to influence western Christianity to this day. Augustine died during a raid on Hippo in 430 CE. - by the Honors Seminar HN202.03 "Human Drama: The Medieval World", Class of 2019


Mohamed Hussen (1904-1944)

Mahjub bin Adam Mohamed (also known as Bayume Mohamed Husen) was born in German East Africa in 1904 and served in the German colonial army as a child during the First World War. In 1929, Husen moved to Germany, settled in Berlin, and married a German woman in early 1933.hussen He worked as a waiter at the entertainment venue “Haus Vaterland” and taught Swahili at the university in Berlin. After the Nazi takeover, he had increasing difficulty finding stable work and, with a family to support, turned to the colonial advocacy groups as a source of income. Husen appeared frequently at colonialist festivals and rallies throughout the 1930s and in at least twenty-three films between 1934 and 1941. Denounced and arrested on the charge of Rassenschande or racial defilement in 1941 after an affair with a German woman, Husen was sent without trial to Sachsenhausen concentration camp, where he died in 1944. For more information see his Stolpersteine Projekt webpage. - by Dr. Willeke Sandler

marie nejar memoir book cover

Marie Nejar (b. 1930)

Born in 1930 in Mülheim an der Ruhr, Marie Nejar grew up in the shadow of the Nazi rise to power in Germany. As the only black child in a community of white Germans, she soon learned that others had a hard time reconciling her German-birth with her skin color. Notably, as she spent time with other girls who were becoming well-indoctrinated Nazis, it took Nejar a few failed attempts to participate in typical events and groups held for Nazi German girls before she realized: "Oh, my grandma is right. Adolf Hitler doesn't love me." Yet, soon she found out that Hitler - or rather Goebbels - did want her! Goebbels personally excused her from school to act in his propaganda films under the stage name: Leila Negra. During the 1940s and 1950s (well after the defeat of the Nazi regime), Nejar acted in 8 films and recorded several popular songs. For an interview (with English subtitles) visit the Afro-German project website for Schwarz, Rot, Gold. Click the cover of her book Mach nicht so traurige Augen, weil du ein Negerlein bist to see her Amazon page. - by Dr. Patrick Brugh


Elizabeth Acevedo 

Born and raised in New York City, Elizabeth Acevedo’s African and Latin background helped her find her passion in performing arts from an early age. She received MFA in Creative Writing from The University of Maryland and a BA in Performing Arts from The George Washington University. In addition, Elizabeth is well known for her poetry videos which have been featured in major mediums such as PBS and Cosmopolitan. She has been known to be an advocate for black rights through her performances as well. In her piece "Hair" she says, "My mother tells me to fix my hair. And by fix she means straighten. She means whiten ... and so many words remain unspoken because all I can reply is, 'You can't fix what was never broken.'" Elizabeth lives in Washington DC, but performs in many areas. Through her twelve years of experience and degrees in performance arts, Acevedo had the opportunity to appear on BET and Ted Talks.  She is a National Slam Champion, Beltway Grand Slam Champion, and the 2016 Women of the World Poetry Slam representative. You can visit her homepage here. - by Ana Ilisinovic ('18) 

Nelson Estupiñán Bass (1912-2002)

Nelson Estupiñán Bass was born in 1912 in the city of Sua. He grew up in the Esmeraldas province in Ecuador, which was predominantly populated by Afro-Ecuadorians. He was originally homeschooled by his mother, but eventually went on to graduate with a public accounting degree from Escuela Superior Juan Montalvo in 1932. Bass’ communist ways are portrayed in his poems "Canto a la Negra Quinceañera" and "Anúteba," which were published in 1934 by the socialist diary, La Tierra. One of Bass’ most famous novels, Cuando Los Guayacanes Florecían, was completed in 1943 and published in 1950 by the Casa de la Cultura Ecuatoriana. The novel portrayed the oppressed situations that Afro-Ecuadorians encountered during the Liberal Revolution in Ecuador in the year 1895. Bass was heavily influenced by global Pan-Africanism and clearly invoked black aesthetic and political project in his work during the 1940s and 50s. In 1955, Bass was elected as the first president of a regional museum in Esmeraldas called Archaeological Museum,‘Carlos Mercado Ortiz’. In the year 1998, Bass was nominated for a Nobel Prize in Literature. Sadly, in 2002 Bass became sick with pneumonia while giving a series of lectures at Penn State University. Within the year, Bass passed away at the Hershey Medical Center. He is remembered as one of the most creative Afro-Latin American writers in Ecuador and represents a South American expression of the African Diaspora. - by Dr. Emma Cervone and Victoria McNamara ('17)

Luz Argentina Chiriboga (b. 1940)

Luz Argentina Chiriboga is a prominent female Afro-Ecuadorian writer who explores the different aspects of her identity through her writing. Born in Esmeraldas, Ecuador as a woman of color she discusses and challenges stereotypes about gender and race through both prose and poetry. Chiriboga earned a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences at the Central University of Ecuador but spent the majority of her young life raising children and researching for her husband, writer Nelson Estupiñán Bass’s, work. Having been inspired one day by a circus which came to town Chiriboga took up writing in 1968. Encouraged by her husband she went on to write many pieces including her first prize wining short story “El Cristo de la mirada baja.” Inspired by nature and fighting for human rights for black women, her work catalogs the connection between Hispanic and African cultures and explores how her writing can be used as a tool for change. - by Eliana Marzullo

Nicolás Guillén (1902-1989)


Nicolás Guillén was an Afro-Cuban poet, journalist, and activist. He was best know as the national poet of Cuba during the revolutionary period, as he used his poetry to portray his social and political ideas. He drew on both his African and Cuban heritage to write his poetry, the most famous being Motivos de son. - by Allison Gavin ('18)

toto la momposina

Totó La Momposina (b. 1940)

Totó La Momposina’s life has been dedicated to represent the music of Afro-Colombians. Due to La Violencia in the 1950’s, Totó was forced to move to Bogotá as a child. During that time, she learned some of the musical skills that enabled her to become the legacy she is today. Being an innovator, she embodies the diverse cultures of her homeland, since the music she plays incorporates the Indigenous and African roots of her ancestors. She is known worldwide and has been artistically active for nearly 60 years. - by Dr. Margarita Jácome

Sofía Quintero (b. 1969)

Sofía Quintero is a writer, social media activist, educator, speaker, filmmaker, and comedienne who also is a cancer survivor. The author of Efrain’s Secret, she has also written several hip-hop novels under the pen name “Black Artemis.” This self-proclaimed “Ivy League homegirl,” in Sofía’s words, graduated from Columbia University and currently lives in the Bronx. Follow her on Twitter where a majority of her writing and work can be found. - by Colleen Hudak ('19)

Nicomedes de Santa Cruz (1925 – 1992)

Nicomedes de Santa Cruz was born in Lima, Peru in 1925. Coming from a large family of low income, as a teenager, he worked as a blacksmith to support his family. In 1956 he was inspired by his friend Don Porfirio Vásquez and he helped form him into a writer. Santa Cruz began to travel around Peru and Latin America to spread his knowledge of the Afro-Peruvian world culture. He did this through various mediums of media such as radio broadcasts, his collaborations in daily newspapers such as El Comercio and he even organized a theater company with his sister, Victoria. - by Kelsey Maddox ('19)

Victoria Santa Cruz (1922-2014)

Victoria Eugenia Santa Cruz Gamarra was born on October 27, 1922 in Lima, Peru. She was a writer, dancer and designer who represented Afro-Peruvian culture. She is considered the “mother of Afro-Peruvian dance and theatre” and is credited to be the reason for its revival. Her younger brother is Nicomedes Santa Cruz Gamarra, is known for his poetry. She had nine other brothers who took after their parents’ artistic sides. Her father Nicomedes Santa Cruz Aparicio was a writer and immersed his children into the Afro-Peruvian arts, including the dances of zamacueca and marinera. In 1961, Victoria studied at the University of National Theater and the School of Dance in Paris, France where she earned her title of writer and set designer. When she returned to Peru she founded the Teatro y Danzas Negras del Perú. Here, she put on the most popular productions in the country and this earned the group a spot to represent Peru in the Olympic Games in Mexico 1968. They received a medal and diploma for their work during the Olympics. She went on to be recognized as the best folklorist in 1970 by the Catholic University of Chile. The following year, she was invited by the Colombian government to speak at the Festival of Cali. There, she let it be known that the African roots run deep in every Latin American country, not just in Peru. She became a professor at Carnegie Mellon from 1982-1999 and set up theaters all over the world. She continued to show love for the country that was her home for years until her death in 2014. - by Tiffany Nano-Miranda ('18)

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