Hall of Fame Honorees

Frank Yerby

Born September 5, 1916, to Rufus Garvin and Wilhelmina Yerby, Augusta, GA native Frank Yerby began his literary career as a writer of fiction protesting the marginalization of African-Americans in American -- particularly Southern -- society and ended his career, living a self-imposed exile in Madrid, Spain, as a best-selling author of historical-fiction. Frank Yerby's early life was marked by racial conflict, a theme which would dominate his fiction. Though he identified himself as black, Yerby was the son of a racially mixed couple and, as a young man, found acceptance by either white or black society difficult; he explained to People magazine:

When I was young, a bunch of us black kids would get in a fight with white kids and then I'd have to fight with a black kid who got on me for being so light.

After obtaining a B.A. in English at Paine College in 1937 and an M.A. in English at Fisk University in 1938, Yerby began teaching English at Florida A. & M. College (now Florida A. & M. University) in Tallahassee, Florida; he taught English at Florida A. & M. for one term and then moved to Southern University in Baton Rouge, LA, where he taught for another year. Yerby quickly tired of teaching and felt constrained by the demands of academia, so he gave up his teaching career and began work with the Ford Motor Co. in Detroit, MI, which gave the time needed to concentrate on writing.

Yerby's first published short story, "Health Card" (Harper's Magazine, 1944), garnered critical attention and the O. Henry Memorial Award for best first short story. In "Health Card", Yerby explored the emotional and psychological impact of racism on a young African-American soldier, whose young wife is assumed to be a prostitute by a group of white Military Policemen. Yerby dealt with similar issues in two more of his early stories, "White Magnolias" (Phylon, 1944) and "The Homecoming". In each of these three stories, Frank Yerby explores the difficulties faced by African-Americans who want to transcend the negative stereotypes of blacks held by whites. Drawing upon his own youthful experiences, Yerby crafts African-American characters who are strong and intelligent, yet still held at the margins of society by the inability of the white characters they encounter to see beyond the stereotypical views of blacks as illiterates, prostitutes, or servants.

Though his early short fiction was received well critically, Yerby was dismayed by its lack of commercial success. He'd hoped to reach out to the public through his fiction and expose the follies of segregation and racial stereotyping, but the public, he felt, wasn't interested in what he was trying to say. Yerby expressed his frustration thusly in an interview with Harper's Magazine:

The idea dawned on me that to continue to follow the route I had mapped out for myself was roughly analogous to shouting one's head off in Mammoth Cave.

Disillusioned by the public's lack of interest in his work, Yerby took a new direction in his writing career: instead of dealing with racial problems directly in serious short fiction pieces, he would explore ideas of race and identity in the form of the historical novel, which, he felt, would be more appealing to a wide audience.

Yerby's move to the historical novel format and away from serious short fiction was not without controversy. Some critics felt that he was abandoning the cause of racial equality in order to achieve personal fame and fortune, yet they did not see that Yerby was still dealing with the same issues he'd dealt with before in stories like "Health Card" and "White Magnolias", but that he was dealing with those issues in a new, more subtle way. Yerby spoke to those critical of his work by saying that, "people who know the themes I've written about either by reason of having lived through them, or deeply and professionally studied them, find no fault in my novels."

While his first historical novel, The Foxes of the Harrow (New York: Dial Press, 1947), did not win the same type of critical praise that his short stories garnered, it did gain a wide audience, as it became one of the best-selling novels of the l950s by selling over 2 million copies worldwide. Yerby continued to publish best selling historical novels -- most set in the Antebellum South, but some set in ancient Greece, Spain, the Near East, and Africa - throughout the next three decades. While not all of these novels dealt with the racial problems of American society, he continued to explore ideas of identity, ambition, and marginalization.

Disillusioned by the racial problems in America, Frank Yerby chose to relocate to Spain in 1955. He passed away in Madrid in 1991.

Photo by Jerry Bauer. Copyright Jerry Bauer. Reproduced by permission.


The following titles may be found in the Hall of Fame Library:

Benton's Row. New York: Dial Press, 1954.

Bride of liberty. Melbourne: Heinemann, 1955.

Captain Rebel. London: Heinemann, 1957.

El cielo esta´ muy alto, novella. Barcelona: Editorial Planeta, 1954.

The Dahomean. New York: Dial Press, 1971.

The Dahomean. New York: Dell Book, 1975, c1971.

A Darkness at Ingraham's Crest: a Tale of the Slaveholding South. New York: Dial Press, c1979.

The Devil's Laughter. New York: Dial Press, 1953.

The Devil's Laughter. New York: Dial Press, 1975, c1953.

Devilseed. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1984.

Fairoaks. New York: Dell, 1974.

Floodtide. New York: Dial Press, 1950.

Floodtide. New York: Dial Press, 1972, c1950.

Floodtide. London: Heinemann, 1951, 1973.

The Foxes of Harrow. New York: Dial Press, 1946.

The Foxes of Harrow. New York: Dial Press, 1976, c1946.

The Foxes of Harrow. New York: Dial Press, 1972, c1946.

The Garfield Honour. London: Heinemann, 1962.

Gillian. New York: Dial Press, 1960.

Gillian. London: Heinemann, 1961, c1960.

Gillian. New York: Dell, 1976, c1960.

The Girl From Storyville. London: Heinemann, 1972.

The Girl From Storyville. New York: Dial Press, 1972.

The Girl From Storyville. New York: Dell Pub., 1975.

Goat song: a novel of ancient Greece. New York: Dial Press, 1967.

Goat song: a novel of ancient Greece. New Dell ed: New York: 1974, c1967.

Goat song a novel of Ancient Greece. London: Heinemann, 1979, c1967.

The Golden Hawk. New York: Dial Press, 1948.

The Golden Hawk. New York: Dell, 1975, c1948.

The Golden Hawk. London: Heinemann, 1949.

Griffin's Way. New York: Dial Press, c1962.

Hail the Conquering Hero. New York: Dial Press, c1977.

Hail the Conquering Hero. London: Heinemann, 1978.

Jarrett's Jade. New York: Dial Press, 1959.

Jarrett's Jade. London: Heinemann, 1960, c1959.

Jarrett's Jade. New York: Dell, 1976, c1959.

Jarrett's Jade. New York: Pocket Books, 1960, c1959.

Judas, My Brother; the Story of the Thirteenth Disciple. New York: Dell, 1975.

Judas, my brother; the story of the thirteenth disciple. New York: Dial Press, 1968.

Judas, my brother: the story of the thirteenth disciple. London: Heinemann, 1969, c1968.

The man from Dahomey. London: Heinemann, 1971.

McKenzie's hundred. London: Grafton, 1986, c1985.

McKenzie's Hundred. New York: Doubleday, 1985.

Novelas. Barcelona: Editorial Planeta, 1970s.

An odour of sanctity: A Novel of Moorish Spain. London: Heinemann, 1966, c1965.

An Odor of Sanctity. New York: Dell, 1975, c1965.

The Old Gods Laugh: a Modern Romance. New York: Dial Press, 1964.

Pride's castle. New York: Dial Press, 1949.

Pride's castle. New York: Dell, 1975.

A Rose for Ana Maria. New York: Dial Press, 1976.

A Rose for Ana Maria. London: Heinemann, 1976.

The Saracen Blade. London: Heinemann, 1969, c1953.

The Saracen Blade. New York: Dell, 1974.

The Saracen Blade. New York: Dial Press, 1952.

The Serpent and the Staff. New York: Dial Press, 1958.

The Serpent and the Staff. London: Heinemann, 1959.

The Serpent and the Staff. New Dell ed, New York: Dell, 1976.

Speak now; A Modern Novel. New York: Dial Press, 1969.

Tobias and the Angel. London: Heinemann, 1975.

Tobias and the Angel. New York: Dial Press, 1975.

The Treasure of Pleasant Valley. New York: Dial Press, 1955.

The Treasure of Pleasant Valley. New York: Dell Publishing ; 1976, c1955.

The Vixens. New York: Dell, 1947.

The Vixens. London: Heinemann, 1948.

The Vixens. New York: Dell, 1976, c1947.

The Voyage Unplanned. New York: Dial Press, 1974.

The Voyage Unplanned. London: Heinemann, 1974.

The Voyage Unplanned. New York: Dell, 1975.

Western: a Saga of the Great Plains. New York: Dial Press, c1982.

Western: a Saga of the Great Plains. London: Granada , 1983, c1982.

A Woman Called Fancy. New York: Dial Press, 1951.

A Woman Called Fancy. New York: Dell, 1975.

A Woman Called Fancy. London: Heinemann, 1952.

A Woman Called Fancy. New York: Pocket Books, 1966, c1951.

Additional Links

Frank Yerby

Born: September 5, 1916
Augusta, Georgia

Died: November 29, 1991
Madrid, Spain

University of Georgia Libraries | Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library