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In Belated Tribute: KRISTIN HUNTER LATTANY (1931-2008)




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Kristin Hunter Lattany

18 December 2008

Dear Mr. Baraka, I was recently told Mrs. Kristin Hunter Lattany died. I know that you all are contemporaries. So, I’m reaching out to you with the news. I have attached her address here if you need it. By chance, if you can, please forward this information to Ishmael Reed and Al Young. I spoke to Mrs. Lattany about them, and she had fond memories.

Thank you and all the best,

Kristin Hunter Lattany
721 Warwick Road North
Magnolia, NJ 08049


“The world has lost yet another powerful, unheralded novelist and storyteller. Kristin Hunter Lattany’s stories, situations and characters were almost always bold and unpredictable.  She was wry and often hilarious.  My favorite novel of hers, The Lakestown Rebellion, was inspired, she said, by my 1975 novel Who Is Angelina? Whether she was writing for grown folks or children, Kristin Hunter always gave full attention to subtle worlds within worlds and psyches within psyches. Her books are a joy.”
— Al Young


Go to the Philadelphia Daily News original

Kristin Hunter Lattany, novelist and activist, dies at 77

THERE IS A restaurant in Carlisle, Pa., that may still be shaking from the one and only visit to it by Kristin Hunter Lattany and her family.Her husband’s four children were in school nearby back in the ’60s, and they thought they would stop in the joint for a meal, even though it looked like a place that might not be friendly to African-Americans.

She was right. And after being ignored by waiters for 20 minutes, she quietly told her family to leave.

“They started for the door,” she wrote. “I then stood up, yanked the tablecloth and all the condiments off the table and kicked over all six chairs.

“I should have known we would not be welcome, since the meanest spirits dwell in the drabbest places.”

Kristin did not tolerate discrimination in any form, but her anger at the racism she encountered over the years was channeled more into her writing than in kicking over chairs.

The author of about a dozen books for adults and children, plus scores of stories and articles in various publications, Kristin was frequently honored and hailed as an important chronicler of the black experience in America.

She died Friday of a heart attack after collapsing in her home in Magnolia, N.J. She was 77.

Kristin had a varied career, including writing copy for a Philadelphia advertising agency, writing press releases and speeches for the Philadelphia City Representative’s Office, and teaching creative writing for 23 years at her alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania.

As a teenager, she wrote a column about young people and their concerns for the Philadelphia edition of the Pittsburgh Courier. That experience convinced her she wanted to be a writer.

Her first novel, “God Bless the Child,” published in 1964, was highly praised and set her course as a fiction writer. The Christian Science Monitor described the book as “a story of people who have had the doors slammed on them once too often, who have been hobbled by the deformities of a fabricated society.”

Her last book, “Breaking Away,” published in 2003, can’t help but be seen as autobiographical. It concerns a black woman who is a creative-writing teacher at an unnamed Ivy League university. The teacher’s complacent life is shaken when a group of black sorority sisters who have been harassed by white students ask her for help.

It is reminiscent of Kristin’s experience in the notorious “water buffalo” incident at Penn in 1993, when a student called a group of black women students “water buffaloes” and said they should go to the zoo if they wanted to party.

“It seemed that everybody in the university and beyond, except me, supported his right to do so,” she once wrote. “I erupted in print, in class, online and everywhere else I could erupt, and found that I had almost no support.”

She said a published protest she had written and posted on her office door was set on fire, an Aunt Jemima pancake-mix box was placed where she could see it, and a student insulted her to her face.

The incident led her to an early retirement two years later.

Her second novel, “The Landlord,” was made into a movie starring Lou Gossett Jr. and Beau Bridges in 1970. It didn’t do well at the box office and she disliked the whole Hollywood experience.

Among her popular books for young adults was the well-received “The Soul Brother and Sister Lou,” published in 1968, and its 1981 sequel, “Lou in the Limelight,” 1975.

“The Lakestown Rebellion” (1978), which focused on an all-black town in New Jersey that was fighting a proposed highway that would destroy it, was also reminiscent of an event in her life.

She was in the forefront of the fight in the ’60s to stop the proposed east-west Crosstown Expressway that would have run between South and Bainbridge streets and would have separated predominantly white neighborhoods to the north from predominantly black areas to the south. It also would have destroyed the ambience of her beloved South Street.

Kristin wrote an article for Philadelphia magazine challenging the proposal and it eventually was abandoned.

She was living in Magnolia when she first was exposed to the charms of South Street, from which, she said, much of her fiction sprang.

She and her second husband, John Lattany, lived just below South Street at one time.

“South Street has always been vividly alive and a nurturing matrix for artists in many media,” she wrote. “During my teen years, it was a center of black culture and publishing.”

Four black newspapers, the Tribune, the Independent, the Afro-American and the Philadelphia bureau of the Pittsburgh Courier had their offices at or near Broad and South streets.

Kristin wrote four books when she and her husband lived for a time in Cape May, N.J.

“She was not just into civil rights,” John Lattany said. “She was into human rights. She wanted to help everybody.”

Lattany, who had four children when he met Kristin, is a onetime Merchant Marine seaman and also was active in civil rights. He marched with Cecil B. Moore to integrate Girard College, among other activities.

Kristin was born in Philadelphia to George L. Eggleston and the former Mabel Manigault. She graduated from Haddon Heights High School in 1947 and majored in elementary education at the University of Pennsylvania.

While teaching third-graders at Fetters Elementary School, in Camden, she realized after only four months that teaching was not for her.

She took a job with the Philadelphia advertising agency, then went to the City Representative’s Office before returning to Penn as a writing teacher in 1972. She retired in 1995.

She and John Lattany were married in 1968.

“She was always standing up for people who couldn’t stand up for themselves,” her husband said.

He is her only survivor.

[Services: A noon service was held at Ferry Avenue United Methodist Church, 729 Ferry Ave., Camden. Burial was at Sunset Memorial Park, Cinnaminson, N.J.]

© 2008 Philadelphia Daily News



Kristin Hunter Biography/Critique at About.Com Answers

Kristin Hunter Lattany Bio at Voices from the Gaps (Women Artists & Writers of Color) 



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2 Responses to “In Belated Tribute: KRISTIN HUNTER LATTANY (1931-2008)”

  1. Karen Johnson- The Readers Journey Book Club Network Says:

    I met Mrs. Kristin Hunter Lattany in 2003 when she graciously accepted my invitation to be the guest author at Borders Bookstore in Mays Landing, NJ. She was marvelous!!

    I recently learned of her passing. My sincerest condolences to the family.

  2. piano bench Says:

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