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Toni Cade Bambara was born Miltona Mirkin Cade on March 25, 1939, in Harlem, New York. During her childhood, Cade and her parents lived in Harlem, Bedford Stuyvesant, Queens, and New Jersey. At the age of six, young Miltona changed her first name to Toni. The Bambara surname would be added much later.
After completing high school, Cade attended Queens College. She graduated in 1959, earning her B.A. in Theater Arts/English Literature. Later, she studied mime at the Ecole de Mime Etienne Decroux in Paris, France. She then attended New York City College where she earned her M.A. in 1964.
While completing her M.A., Cade worked as the program director of Colony Settlement House in Brooklyn. She then worked as a recreation director in the psychiatric ward of the Metropolitan Hospital. In 1965, she began working for the Search for Education, Elevation, Knowledge (SEEK) program at New York City College. She worked with SEEK’s Black theater group until 1969.
In 1969, Cade had been offered the position of assistant professor of English at Rutgers University. She remained in that position until 1974. During the 1960s, she had become active in the Black Arts Movement and the Black Feminist Movement. She also focused on her writing more diligently.
While rummaging through her great-grandmother’s belongings, Cade found a sketchbook inside a trunk. The name of the African tribe, Bambara, was written in the sketchbook. After seeing the word written out, she decided to adopt it as her surname.
In 1970, Bambara published an anthology, The Black Woman. The anthology includes work from Nikki Giovani, Audre Lorde, Alice Walker, Paule Marshall, as well as some of her original work. She also included work from some of the students in her SEEK program.
The following year, Bambara compiled another anthology, titled Tales and Stories for Black Folk. This anthology contained work from Langston Hughes, Ernest J. Gaines, Pearl Crayton, Alice Walker, and some of Bambara’s students. In 1972, she published Gorilla, My Love, a collection of 15 short stories that she wrote from 1960 to 1970.
From 1975 to 1979, Bambara was a writer-in-residence at the Neighborhood Arts Center. She was also a writer-in-residence at Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri in 1976 and at Spelman College in Atlanta from 1978 to 1979. She taught Afro-American Studies at Emory University and Atlanta University in 1977.
By 1980, Bambara published her novel, The Salt Eaters. From that point, she focused on filmmaking. Throughout the 1980s, she produced at least one film every year, including documentaries. She also taught screenwriting at Louis Massiah’s Scribe Video Center in Philadelphia.
In addition to her artistic works, Bambara also co-founded the Southern Collective of African American Writers in the late 1970s. She drew inspiration from the Civil Rights and Black Nationalist Movement. In 1993, she was diagnosed with colon cancer. As a result, Toni Cade Bambara died in 1995 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She was 56 years old.
**The views and actions of the DDH historical figures that are featured may not reflect the views and beliefs of Ramiro The Writer (Nikodemus Mwandishi). Thank you.**