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Toni Cade Bambara

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"Our lives preserved. How it was; and how it be. Passing along in the relay. That is what I work to do: to produce stories that save our lives." -Toni Cade Bambara

"Writing is a legitimate way, an important way, to participate in the empowerment of the community that names me." -Bambara in Black Women Writers, 1984

Toni Cade Bambara

Toni Cade Bambara was born on March 25th, 1939 as Miltona Mirkin Cade. She changed her name to Toni when she was in Kindergarten. Bambara lived in Harlem for the first ten years of her life, during an era in Harlem’s history that had a particular impact on Bambara’s development as an artist and a community activist. As she says “ I was born in 1939, and the radical thirties were still spilling over into the forties. There was still that notion that an active political life was a perfectly normal thing. People had to organize against the crackdown forces which, in those days, was the police, the FBI, Immigration, the Draft Board, and the Mob, which are pretty much the crackdown forces today, except people don’t acknowledge Mob participation too much.” Harlem’s political life also had a tremendous influence on Bambara as “speaker’s corner” encouraged her to view politics as a vocal, community based activity.

Toni Cade Bambara moved around New York City and in 1959 graduated from Queens College with a BA in Theater Arts/ English. In 1961 she went to Europe, studying acting and mime in Italy and in France. In Italy Bambara served at the Venice Ministry of Museums. She returned to New York and received an M.A. in 1964 from City College of the City University of New York. Bambara taught at City College of New York from 1965 to 1969, as well as at Rutgers University and Spelman College. Bambara also worked as a social investigator for New York City's Department of Welfare, a recreation director in New York Metropolitan, a psychiatric hospital and a program director at Colony House Community Center.

In the mid 1970s Bambara traveled as part of the “North American Academic Marxist-Leninist Anti Imperialist Feminist Women” delegation to Cuba, Vietnam, Brazil, Guinea Bissau which had an important impact on shaping her understanding of feminist concerns globally and laid the foundation for ideas she would express in works later in life on the importance of collaboration and unity among all people of color. This unity is an important thread through much of Bambara's work as it functions to discredit the counter-productive binary logic of the mainstream.

Bambara also credits this trip to Cuba with encouraging her to believe that “writing could be a way to engage in struggle, it could be a weapon, a real instrument for transformation politics.”

While Bambara says "I never thought of myself as a writer, I always thought of myself as a community person who writes and does a few other things," she was a prolific writer, contributing her unique voice to literary discussions across genres. Her works include, short stories, essays, films, and novels. Much, if not all of Bambara's work was directly related to Bambara's activism as it functioned to fulfill various need's of the community. When speaking of Tales and Stories for Black Folks Bambara says these stories are also representative of the kinds of stories "I wished I had read growing up." With a similar goal of fulfilling a need not previously met for her community, Bambara was responcible for editing and developing the ideas behind one of the defining texts of black feminism, "The Black Woman: An Anthology."

Not only is community a thread that binds her work together, but also the identity of women within community appears as a significant theme.

Ms. Bambara passed away December 9th 1995 after battling colon cancer.


A poem & paragraph about Bambara by Alice Lovelace:

Created By: Wendy François, Wilson Sherwin, Candace Lumae Brazier-Thurman