Life and Work
Lorene Cary was born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. As a high school student, she left Philadelphia to attend St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire. She was among the first African American students to attend this prep school that had previously only accepted white male students. Cary received her diploma from St. Paul’s in 1974.
After graduating from St. Paul’s, Cary was accepted to the University of Pennsylvania, where she obtained both a bachelor of arts and a master of arts. A Thouron Fellowship gave her the chance to study at the Sussex University in the United Kingdom, where she received a master of arts in Victorian literature. In addition to these degrees, Cary has been awarded honorary doctorates from Colby College, Keene State College, and Chestnut Hill College.
After finishing college, Cary worked in publishing for several magazines, including Time, TV Guide, and Newsweek. She also worked as a freelance writer forEssence, American Visions, Mirabella, Obsidian, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. Additionally, Cary has worked as a teacher. She returned to St. Paul’s prep school to teach classes and currently teaches creative writing at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. About this return to her native city, Cary says: “Being here is sort of a homecoming. I now live in the city where I grew up.… I like to come back to places and work the territory deeper than the first time around” (“Faculty Profile”).
Cary has won several awards for her community service in Philadelphia. One example of this community involvement is the Art Sanctuary program, which Cary created in 1998. As part of this program, Black writers and artists—jazz musicians, hip hop performers, poets, filmmakers, artists, photographers—come to the Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia to speak and perform for local audiences. Cary believes this program “teaches creativity and hope, slipping them under the skin and into the brains of as many as possible where it will raise IQs and EQs.… art is not a luxury” (Lorene Cary Homepage).
Throughout her writing career, Cary has published one memoir, two novels, and essays in several magazines. Her memoir, Black Ice, recounts her time as a student and teacher at St. Paul’s School. The Price of a Child, Cary’s first novel, narrates the story of an escaped slave who is forced to abandon her baby when she flees. Later in life, the runaway works as an abolitionist and with the Underground Railroad to help others obtain freedom. Set in nineteenth century Philadelphia, this novel was chosen as part of the “One Book, One Philadelphia” program, which involves book readings, discussion groups, and a town hall meeting to promote literacy as a whole.
Cary’s novel Pride also centers on life in Philadelphia, but this novel is set in contemporary times. Each of the book’s four parts is dedicated to one of the four Black female friends who are the novel’s main characters: Roz, Tamara, Arneatha, and Audrey. Cary uses the first person voice in this novel, and as it shifts from one character to another, distinct voices and personalities emerge. Because the novel uses this shifting first person point of view, the reader often hears two or even three versions of the same event.
While the four sections each focus on a different character, they have a similar arc. Each woman faces a crisis in her life. Roz, the wife of an up and coming political candidate, must deal with surviving breast cancer, her husband’s infidelity, her sixteen year old daughter’s pregnancy, and her son’s marriage to a woman Roz considers to be beneath him. Tamara fails to achieve tenure and is dismissed from her position at a university, and she risks losing her friends when the other women discover she has had a long-term affair with Roz’s husband. Arneatha, a minister, fears she has lost the ability to preach and to love after her husband dies. Audrey attempts to overcome alcoholism that has resulted in estrangement from her son and an unsuccessful suicide attempt.
Just as each section chronicles the crises in these women’s lives, each section ends with hope. Roz and her husband reaffirm their love and establish new boundaries, while Tamara finds success in love with a man that understands her need for independence and success in her career when she follows her passion and creates a television cooking show. Arneatha adopts a child, falls in love, and finds her voice as a preacher again. Audrey struggles to stay sober with the support of her AA sponsors and begins to build a relationship with her estranged son and his new family. For these four women, their lifelong friendship, love relationships, and spiritual beliefs help them overcome the crises in their lives.
In addition to following these women as they deal with their individual difficulties, Cary’s novel also examines broader issues of racial division in the United States. Roz comments on the position of Black women in America when she says, “If you’re a black woman with ambition–or man, for that matter–you better be aggressive…. Because we are supposed to be sub. Subservient. Subsistent. Substandard. Subliterate. Subordinate. Subdued” (11-12). Arneatha echoes these feelings when she describes how Blacks historically commemorated July fifth as a day to strive for independence and equal rights. In a racially divided country, these women reach for success while being constantly reminded of their second class status.
Pride does not just describe racism in the United States; the novel takes the next step and provides some solutions. One way to fight against racism is to preserve and celebrate Black culture. The four women attend the annual Odunde festival held in Philadelphia, and Tamara self-publishes a book about Black culture to educate others about history and tradition. Another solution proposed in the novel is detailed in Arneatha’s sermon to her congregation. She discusses Martin Luther King, Jr. who “was a warrior who taught us to fight for freedom, and we’ve made him look like a midwife who stood next to history and let justice slide out naturally” (244). Arneatha reminds her congregation that the civil rights movement was not an easy, unavoidable result, but rather a “fight for justice” that involved much hard work (245). While Arneatha ultimately loses her fight with city government, Pride does end on a note of optimism for the future with the celebration of a wedding and images of hope and rebirth.
Publications and Awards
By the Author
- The Price of a Child: A Novel. New York: Knopf, 1995; New York: Vintage Books, 1996.
- Pride: A Novel. New York: Doubleday, 1998; New York: Anchor, 1999.
Young Adult Fiction Books
- Free! Great Escapes from Slavery on the Underground Railroad. New York: New City Community Press and Third World Press, 2006.
- Black Ice. New York: Knopf, 1991; New York: Vintage Books, 1992.
- “As Plain as Black and White.” Newsweek 4 Nov. 1991.
- “The Children’s Crusade: The Journeys of a Black Prep School Graduate.” Newsweek 4 Nov. 1991.
- “The Dinner Hour: The Evening Meals of My Youth Served Up Nightly Lessons in Life and Family: What Will Happen with the Next Generation?” Inquirer Magazine 6 Sept. 1998.
- Growing Up Black: From the Slave Days to the Present—25 African-Americans Reveal the Trials and Triumphs of Their Childhoods. Ed. Jay David. New York: Avon, 1992.
- Gumbo: A Celebration of African American Writing. Ed. Marita Golden and E Lynn Harris. New York: Harlem Moon, 2002.
- I Know What the Red Clay Looks Like: The Voice and Vision of Black Women Writers. Ed. Rebecca Carroll. New York: Crown, 1994. New York: Carol Southern, 1994.
- Shaking the Tree: A Collection of New Fiction and Memoir by Black Women. Ed. Meri Nana-Ama Danquah. New York: Norton, 2003.
- Writing Women’s Lives: An Anthology of Autobiographical Narratives by Twentieth Century American Women Writers. Ed. Susan Neunzig Cahill. New York: Harper, 1994.
- American Library Association Notable Book Award for Black Ice, 1992
- Pew Fellowship in the Arts, 1995
- Shirley Chisolm Award in the Humanities from the Philadelphia Congress of the National Congress of Black Women, 1996
- Philadelphia Historical Society Founder’s Medal for History in Culture, 1999
- First World Theatre’s H. German Wilson Griot Award, 2002
- One Book, One Philadelphia Award for The Price of a Child, 2003
Criticism and Interviews
About the Author
- Bray, Rosemary L. “Making Peace with Her Girlhood.” New York Times Book Review 31 Mar. 1991: 77.
- Brush, Paula Stewart. “Problematizing the Race Consciousness of Women of Color.” Signs 27.1 (Autumn 2001): 171-98.
- Dictionary of Literary Biography. 2003. Gale Literary Databases. 12 Nov. 2004. <http://www.galenet.com/servlet/GLD>.
- Eberstadt, Fernanda. “Freedom Rider.” Rev. of The Price of a Child. New York Times Book Review 18 June 1995: 7.
- Furman, Jan. Rev. of The Price of a Child. African American Review 31.3 (Autumn 1997): 554-56.
- Lasch-Quinn, Elisabeth. “How to Behave Sensitively: Prescriptions for Interracial Conduct from the 1960s to the 1990s.” Journal of Social History 33.2 (Winter 1999): 409-27.
- Lopate, Phillip. “An Epistle from St. Paul’s.” Rev. of Black Ice. New York Times Book Review 31 Mar. 1991: 77.
- “Lorene Carey.” 18 Mar. 2000. Voices from the Gaps. 2003. University of Minnesota. 27 Jan. 2004 <http://voices.cla.umn.edu/newsite/authors/CARYlorene.htm>.
- Mitchell, Angelyn. The Freedom to Remember: Narrative, Slavery, and Gender in Contemporary Black Women’s Fiction. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 2002.
- Rovner, Michael. “The Group.” Rev. of Pride. New York Times Book Review 22 Mar. 1998: 19.
- Steinberg, Sybil. Rev. of Pride. Publishers Weekly 244.52 (Dec. 1997): 37.
- —. Rev. of The Price of a Child. Publishers Weekly 242.16 (Apr. 1995): 36.
- Stuttaford, Genevieve. Rev. of Black Ice. Publishers Weekly 238.6 (Feb. 1991): 72.
- Vega-González, Maria Susana: “Negotiating Identity in African American Autobiography: Lorene Cary’s Black Ice and Shirlee Taylor Haizlip’s The Sweeter the Juice.” Interactions: Aegean Journal of English and American Studies/Ege Ingiliz ve Amerikan Incelemeleri Dergisi 14:1 (Spring 2005): 269-78.
- “Faculty Profile: A Conversation with Lorene Cary.” 2003. Lorene Cary Homepage. 19 Sept. 2004 <http://www.lorenecary.org/site/lorenecary/section.php?id=7004&pos=0&print=1>.