American writer, 1916-1991, born Augusta, Georgia.
So far, he is the best-selling African-American novelist of all time. His 33 novels sold more than 55 million copies and were reprinted in 14 languages.
Although modern readers don't recall the name of Frank Garvin Yerby, during the 1940's and 1950's, his novels were often at the top of the bestseller lists. Yerby wrote costume dramas-- historical novels, that, although meticulous in attention to historical detail, were primarily meant to entertain. (The original editions of the books, which you can still find on eBay, have garish and lurid covers well-suited for the romance/adventure story inside). As Africana.com notes about him:
Yerby believed he was not talented enough to create really great literature, so he decided, after consumer research, to give the public what it wanted. He believed that writers had no social responsibility because the problems of the world were finally insolvable. He particularly believed that American racism was inevitable. Was he cynical and opportunistic or practical and realistic? His personal answer was to entertain with escapist literature, and personally escape by having his large royalty checks mailed to him in Spain.
Though he wanted to be taken seriously as a writer, Yerby was shunned by the intellectual establishment, not only for writing popular novels, but for failing to play the role of the "Negro intellectual" addressing civil rights
and the issue of race
in America (although several of his novels feature slavery
as a setting). It didn't help that Yerby moved to Spain in 1955 to spend his time at the beach and racing cars, choosing to enjoy his financial success far from the racial discrimination he experienced in his youth in the American South.
Bestsellers and other notable works:
The Foxes of Harrow (1946)
sold 500,000 copies in two months, became a million seller within a year
The Vixens (1947)
The Golden hawk (1948)
Pride's Castle (1949)
A Woman Called Fancy (1951)
The Saracen Blade (1952)
Benton's Row (1954)
Goat Song (1967)
The Dahomean/The Man from Dahomey (1971)
Girl from Storyville (1972)
A Darkness At Ingraham's Crest (1979)
Several of Yerby's works including The Foxes of Harrow and The Golden Hawk were made into movies.
"1940s Bestsellers." Cader Books Web site. <http://www.caderbooks.com/best40.html> (15 August 2002)
"1950s Bestsellers." Cader Books Web site. <http://www.caderbooks.com/best50.html> (15 August 2002)
"Frank Yerby." Augusta.com <http://www.augusta.com/leaders/slideshow_national/slide45.html> (15 August 2002)
"Who is the best-selling African American author?" Africana.com <http://www.africana.com/research/blackfacts/bl_fact_74.asp> (16 December 2003)
Sanders, Arlene. "Frank Yerby: African American plus iconoclast in world of literature." The Mid-South Tribune. <http://members.aol.com/prepaidsvs/page105.html> (16 December 2003)