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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Quandra Prettyman, Champion of Black Women’s Literature, Dies at 88

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Quandra took to literature at an early age; in high school she fell in love with the works of Gwendolyn Brooks and decided to be a poet. In the late 1940s, she and a biracial group of friends took a road trip to Mexico, a journey, she later said, that was more dangerous than she had realized at the time, traveling through parts of the country where a Black person seen in the company of white people might get arrested, or worse.

She attended Antioch College, in Ohio, graduating in 1954 with a degree in history. A year later she began graduate studies in English at the University of Michigan, and in 1957 she moved to New York to work in publishing and teach literature at the New School.

She married John Stadler in 1963; they later divorced. She married William L. Smith in 1984. Along with her sister, she is survived by her daughter, Johanna Stadler, and her stepson, Sean Smith.

Professor Prettyman joined Barnard in 1970 after a friend had arranged a meeting for her with Barry Ulanov, the chairman of its English department. She was still writing her dissertation for a doctorate at the time, but Professor Ulanov asked if she could start teaching that fall, as an instructor. She never finished her Ph.D.

Before and after joining the Barnard faculty, Professor Prettyman traveled widely, and frequently to Amsterdam and Paris, where she befriended James Baldwin.

She never gave up her childhood love of poetry, both reading and writing it, and published several poems over her career. As her career lengthened, she became especially interested in cookbooks written by Black women — her kitchen shelves were lined with them, Ms. Danticat recalled.

Professor Prettyman said that many such volumes, though presented as cookbooks, were more like memoirs, offering powerful insights into the lives of Black families in the South.

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