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Willard Motley (Willard Francis Motley) Biography

(1912–65), (Willard Francis Motley), Knock on Any Door, Native Son, We Fished All Night

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African-American novelist, born and raised in Chicago; he spent several nomadic years during the Depression as a migrant labourer and freelance journalist. His first and most successful work was Knock on Any Door (1947), a grim narrative of urban poverty, vice, and violence in the naturalistic tradition of Dreiser, J. T. Farrell, and Richard Wright. Like Wright in Native Son, Motley saw crime as environmentally determined, and drew on sociological research and actual criminal trials for his portrait of a slum youth's inexorable progress towards the electric chair. We Fished All Night (1951) and Let No Man Write My Epitaph (1958) continue to explore the social pathology of inner-city Chicago. It is significant that none of the novels depicts a black protagonist: focusing on Italian, Polish, and Hispanic Americans, Motley is one of the few black writers whose protest against social injustice is not concerned with the specific determinants of colour and race prejudice. While some critics applauded this as a step in the direction of ‘universality’, others saw it as a regrettable betrayal of the distinctive concerns of black America. His last novel, Let Noon Be Fair (1966), is set in Mexico, where he lived as an expatriate for the last twelve years of his life.

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