Jane Austen's life is striking for the contrast between the great works she wrote in secret and the outward appearance of being quite dull and ordinary. Austen was born in the small English town of Steventon in Hampshire, and educated at home by her clergyman father. She was deeply devoted to her family. For a short time, the Austens lived in the resort city of Bath, but when her father died, they returned to Steventon, where Austen lived until her death at the age of 41. Austen was drawn to literature early, she began writing novels that satirized both the writers and the manners of the 1790's. Her sharp sense of humor and keen eye for the ridiculous in human behavior gave her works lasting appeal. She is at her best in such books as Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814), and Emma (1816), in which she examines and often ridicules the behavior of small groups of middle-class characters. Austen relies heavily on conversations among her characters to reveal their personalities, and at times her novels read almost like plays. Several of them have, in fact, been made into films. She is considered to be one of the most beloved British authors.Born in Jacksonville Fla. in 1871, James Weldon Johnson was one of the leaders of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. His career was varied and included periods as a teacher, lawyer, songwriter (with his brother J. Rosamond Johnson), and diplomat (as United States Consul to Puerto Cabello, Venezuela, from 1906 to 1909). Among his most famous writings are Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man, published anonymously in 1912, and God's Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse (1927), the winner of the Harmon Gold Award. He was also editor of several anthologies of African-American poetry and spirituals, and in 1933 his autobiography, Along This Way, was published. He served as Secretary to the NAACP from 1916 to 1930 and was a professor of literature at Fisk University in Nashville from 1930 until his death in 1938.
Arna Bontemps was one of many African American writers associated with Fisk University, where he taught for 20 years. He became a visiting professorship at Yale University and returned to Fisk to spend the last years of his life there. Bontemps grew up in the South and wrote of the condition and spirit of the southern black in memoirs and in fiction. His historical and topical novel Black Thunder (1936) is perhaps his best known, along with Drums at Dusk (1935). As an active leader in the Harlem Renaissance, however, Bontemps wrote prolifically in all genres and for children as well as adults. He produced several important collections of narratives about enslaved people and African American folk tales. Bontemps was a major anthologizer of Harlem Renaissance work and helped shape the new black writing as theoretician and critic. Bontemps died in 1973.