Terri McMillan’s Tribute to Literacy Essay

Terri McMillan’s Tribute to Literacy

Terry McMillan, an American author, was born in 1951 in Port Huron, Michigan. Her father, Edward Lewis McMillan and mother, Madeline Tillman divorced when she was thirteen. Being the eldest of the five children, she sought for a job to help her mother support the family. Her passion for books was nurtured while working at a library at the age of sixteen. When she was working in a local library, she discovered the world of imagination and indulged in avid reading of literary works of Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Thomas Mann, and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Reading these literary works made McMillan believe writing was only for whites until she read a book by James Baldwin which made her change her view of African Americans and no doubt inspired her writing career. She studied journalism at the University of California at Berkeley where she graduated with a B.A. degree after which she moved from California to New York City (Richards 23).

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Terry McMillan Major Literary Works

Terry McMillan has contributed greatly to the world of literature with her many literary works that in no doubt will remain inspirational to the hearts of many. Her first novel, Mama, became the best-selling novel in 1987. This novel will remain in the history of literature for its empowerment role on women in a patriarchal society. It explores the humorous and grim realities of an urban African American family (BookRags ¶ 1). Through her female protagonist character, McMillan paints the grim picture of the role women play in bringing up single parent families in the contemporary society. Through her eye-for-detail, readers are able to conceptualize inequality realities in the contemporary societies and embark on efforts for change. The strength of a woman is depicted in the way her character, Mildred, decides to fend off the abusive husband and balances her life chores of providing for her five children, working and carrying on with her social life and on top of all manages to maintain her sanity. This inspires the women folk a great deal and those aping her characters get the encouragement to live on despite the life challenges that accost them (Richards 54).

Her other novel, Disappearing Acts, of 1989 earned her fame among the great literature writers. Through this novel, McMillan illuminates the world of romance in what many critics would call a boy-meets-girl story told from the black person’s perspective. This was a deviation and pioneering literary spirit in African American writers in presenting the romance genre as was classically presented in Mills and Boons stories. The issue of identity is aesthetically tackled by McMillan in this novel as Franklin and Zora’s love affair blossoms. Problems that accost ones life are entwined in the love affair bringing out great perspectives of the socio-economic, cultural and political issues that affect our contemporary society. (Richards 75) McMillan delicately handled with a professional touch the issues of racism and unemployment that are with us even today drawing sideshows that embroider the lives of African Americans who she encourages to get along with life distractions notwithstanding. Through her charm of infusing words with advices on situations, McMillan’s readers identify with the situations she dwells on being the bedrock in the motivation on life struggles. Zora has to play the role of a provider and a mother fending off the psychological and physical abuse she is exposed to by Franklin (Darnell and Pendergast ¶ 1). What else do we want from literature other than encouraging the masses to get on with their lives and create the best of every situation? McMillan achieves this feat in this novel which still remains a legacy in the literature world.

  Waiting to Exhale, published in 1992 remains another magnum opus in the literature stage. McMillan depicts to us the world of four professional African-American women in their late thirties. Although they are self-reliant, McMillan paints to us a clear picture of the friendship amongst themselves and their romantic frustrations. In the lives of her characters, McMillan brings out the shortcomings of the African American society in the life spectrum of its people (Dandridge 127). These characters are not only representative of women issues in the society but also other issues like society’s moral decay and the falling family ties which are our own undoing. With the novel’s plot revolving around the four women characters, the author wants the world to feel the failings, social ills and family failings from the perspective of a woman and try to see the sense in changing (Richards 102). Through the eyes of McMillan, and as the eyes of the society, she depicts these issues as experienced in the society so that we can change our moral behaviors for the better. The ideal in the society is being negated and through her literary works, McMillan writes on these issues for a better society, which is one of the aims of literature.

McMillan’s Fourth best-selling novel, How Stella Got Her Groove Back written in 1996 shows her achieving heights in literature. McMillan shows her mastery in literature despite all odds to bring out to the world the woman perspective and how the woman can break the boundaries of an oppressing patriarchy. In this novel, she recounts the fancy vacation of her protagonist, Stella Payne, who is in her early forties and who falls in love with Winston, a guy half her age. The author takes us beyond the boundaries of social customs for one to attain solutions in the expression of the woman (BookRags ¶ 1). McMillan tackles contemporary issues in the society which exist amidst denial as depicted in the case of her characters, Stella and Winston. In this novel, McMillan presents her personal quest of self-realization by trying to make things have purpose. On top of these four novels, she has also written others namely; It’s Ok if You’re Clueless, The interruption of Everything, and A Day Late and a Dollar Short. Also to her credit is her immense contribution to the anthology, Breaking Ice (Darnell and Pendergast ¶ 1).

Critical Reception

Terry McMillan is recognized in literature as a prominent force to reckon with in contemporary African American women’s fiction. Through her first two novels, Mama and Disappearing Acts, she established her name in the literature world. The two novels received a standing ovation from critics as the voice of middle-class black Americans. She is praised for presenting to us her thoughts in the first person, present tense stream of consciousness narration. Her work as the editor of the anthology Breaking Ice has earned praise in the literature stage to a celebrity status (BookRags ¶ 1). Her novels have also been made into movies as is the case with How Stella Got Her Groove Back and Disappearing Acts. Her literary works have without doubt been about empowerment, a feat she has been able to achieve by communicating to the learned masses (Dandridge 125). Despite the influence her work has had on the contemporary society, her critics have not lacked to lash their biting tongues against her work. They have critically compared it with other acclaimed African American writers like Alice Walker and Toni Morrison and found it wanting. This is understandable given that we are all not of the same cut and we are bound to express our views differently and with different intensity and points of views. Terry McMillan has had her place among great literary writers and her share of readers too (Darnell and Pendergast ¶ 1). We should accord her the respect she deserves for her earnest literary work for she deserves her credit.


Terry McMillan has written great literary works worth international recognition. She is therefore a great among others literary icons who have written influential and motivational works. She has established a cliché fans of her works which will forever remain a rich literary legacy even when she will be gone of this world. She has in no doubt inspired others who are interested in the writing career and will live to contribute and continue literary works on the literature stage.

Work cited

Darnell, Debra G. and Pendergast, Sara. Terry McMillan Biography. 2009. July 3, 2009. <http://biography.jrank.org/pages/2812/McMillan-Terry.html>

Dandridge, Rita B. Debunking the Beauty Myth in Terry McMillan’s Waiting to Exhale,” in Language, Rhythm, and Sound: Black Popular Cultures into the Twenty-First Century, ed. Joseph K. Adjaye and Adrianne R. Andrews, 1997, p 121–133.

Richards, Paulette. Terry McMillan: a critical companion. Westport, Conn. [u.a]: Greenwood Press, 1999.

“BookRags”. Terry McMillan Biography. 2006. July 3, 2009. ;http://www.bookrags.com/biography/terry-mcmillan/;