Famed author and Augusta native Frank Yerby was honored Thursday with a state historic plaque
March 21, 2023
"Frank Yerby was one of the most accomplished writers of the 20th century," said Corey Rogers, historian for Augusta's Lucy Craft Laney Museum of Black History. "This marker will serve as a physical reminder of his literary acclaim and international success." Fighting for change: Augusta activist walks in ancestors' footsteps The Georgia Historical Society dedicated the marker that recognizes "Frank Garvin Yerby: King of the Costume Novel" in partnership with the Lucy Craft Laney Museum of Black History, the Haines Alumni Association and Paine College.
The marker dedication took place near the intersection of Eighth and Hall streets, off Laney-Walker Boulevard.
Yerby (1916-1991), the author of more than 30 novels, began his writing career in earnest shortly after enrolling at Paine in 1933. His first published short story, "Salute to the Flag," appeared in the November 1936 issue of the college newspaper, The Paineite. Yerby graduated Paine in 1937.
Perhaps his best-known novel is "The Foxes of Harrow," published in 1946, which became the first novel written by a Black author to sell more than a million copies. In 1947, by accepting a $150,000 offer from 20th Century Fox, he became the first Black author to have a book purchased by a Hollywood studio for film adaptation. The resulting film, starring Vivien Leigh and Rex Harrison, was nominated for an Oscar. Two more of his novels, "The Golden Hawk" (1948) and "The Saracen Blade" (1952), also were made into films.
The author of more than 30 novels, Yerby died in Spain in 1991. Today, Paine curates the Frank Garvin Yerby File, which contains decades' worth of papers, photos and other mementoes marking Yerby's life.
The Georgia Historical Society (GHS) dedicated a new historical marker that recognizes "Frank Garvin Yerby: King of the Costume Novel." GHS unveiled the new marker in partnership with the Lucy Craft Laney Museum of Black History, Haines Alumni Association, and Paine College on Thursday, March 16, 2023, in Augusta.
"The Georgia Historical Society is pleased to dedicate the Frank Garvin Yerby historical marker," says Elyse Butler, GHS Marker Manager. "The historical marker discusses Yerby's life and career and illustrates how popular fiction can address themes such as racism and social injustices."
Frank Garvin Yerby was born in 1916 in Augusta, where he lived on Hall Street and graduated from the Haines Institute and Paine College. Over his lifetime, Yerby published poetry, short stories, and 33 novels. His use of the costume novel, a form of popular fiction, propelled him to international and commercial success. Yerby's novels tackled themes of identity, ambition, and marginalization. Yerby is recognized in the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame.
The marker dedication took place near the corner of 8th and Hall Streets, off Laney-Walker Boulevard in Augusta. Speakers included Corey Rogers, Historian, Lucy Craft Laney Museum of Black History; Jared Williams, District Attorney, Augusta Judicial Circuit; Leon Maben, Vice President, Board of Directors, docent, and Frank Yerby reenactor, Lucy Craft Laney Museum of Black History; Gerald Yerby, family member of Frank Yerby; Dr. Cheryl Evans Jones, President, Paine College; Dr. Lejeune Hickson, Haines Alumni Association; and Breana James, Historical Marker and Program Coordinator, Georgia Historical Society.
The marker text reads: Frank Garvin Yerby King of the Costume Novel Born in Augusta on September 5, 1916, author Frank Garvin Yerby graduated from Haines Institute and Paine College, and also attended Fisk University and the University of Chicago. He published poetry, short stories, and 33 novels, 12 of which became best sellers. His early novels depicted White characters in historical events; his later works focused on Black characters. Widely celebrated, he was criticized by some African Americans for not confronting racial injustice more openly in his writings. In rebuttal, Yerby challenged critics to read several of his works, including Speak Now and The Dahomean, which he felt addressed racism. Yerby moved to France in 1951 and then Madrid, Spain, in 1955, where he lived until his death on November 30, 1991. His works have been adapted for motion pictures and translated into 30 languages. Erected by the Georgia Historical Society, the Lucy Craft Laney Museum of Black History, Haines Alumni Association, and Paine College.
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