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Turner, Darwin T.



  • Existence: 1931-1991


Darwin T. Turner was an authority on African American literature and was a leader in gathering African American writings and bibliographies, while shining a spotlight on African American culture. According to a Des Moines Register announcemnt of Turner's death on Februay 11, 1991, he grew up in a family that stressed the importance of education. His mother, Laura (Knight) Turner, was a fiction writer and sixth grade school teacer who held two bachelor's and two master's degrees; his father, Darwin Romanes Turner, was a pharmacist; Turner's maternal grandmother, Laura Troy Knight, was a school principal; his grandfather, Charles Henry Turner, a distinguished biologist, was the first African American to earn a Ph.D. from the University of Cincinnati; and his great-great grandfather, Owen Nichols, was one of the first African American instructors in Cincinnati, Ohio, as well as the first African American to establish a successful private school for Black students in Cincinnati. Darwin Theodore Troy Turner was born on May 7, 1931, in Cincinnati, Ohio. From childhood, he enjoyed reading science fiction, mystery and comic books, and was an avid sports fan. He was enrolled at the University of Cincinnati at age 13 and earned his bachelor's degree in three years (1947). He was admitted to the Phi Beta Kappa honor society at the age of 15, as reported in The Key Reporter (Winter 1985-1986). In 1949 he took his master's degree in English, also at the University of Cincinnati. He received his doctorate in English Dramatic Literature from the University of Chicago in 1956. At the young age of 18, Turner began his teaching career at Clark College in Atlanta, Georgia. Turner's faculty vertical file notes other teaching positions he held at Morgan State College (1952-1957) and Florida A & M University as head of the English department (1957-1959). Turner served as head of the English department and dean of the Graduate School at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical (A & T) State University (1959-1970). Turner was a prolific writer. He was author and editor of over 20 books, and published numerous scholarly articles and books of poetry. The bulk of his manuscripts housed in this collection are from his time at North Carolina. At the University of Iowa, Turner was a visiting professor in the English department in 1971. One year later, he was on faculty. The Afro-American Studies program at Iowa was developed by Robert A. Corrigan, under the presidency of Willard Boyd. Corrigan, secretary of the UI Committee on Afro-American Affairs in 1968, developed the program. It was a task presented to him by the University Faculty Senate in June of that year (see correspondence from Philip G. Hubbard in the Robert A. Corrigan faculty vertical file). Charles Twitchell Davis was the first head of the Afro-American Studies Department. Davis left the UI program in 1971 for a similar program at Yale University. In 1974, Turner was named the second head of the department, while serving concurrently as professor of English. The program was renamed African-American World Studies in 1986. Courses he developed at Iowa include Afro-American poetry, fiction, drama, and bibliography, as well as the curriculum for the master's degree in Afro-American Studies (established in fall 1978) and some Ph.D. courses in American Studies. Turner presented annual institutes at Iowa to offer further training for college instructors of Afro-American history and culture. Similar institutes were funded nationwide through grants from the National Endowment for the Humanitites (NEH). The impetus for this surge in interest in Afro-American history and culture -- according to Robert A. Corrigan -- was a result of the civil rights struggles during the 1960s. With his interest in theatre, Turner promoted Black Action Theatre, which was established at Iowa in 1968 for the production of plays having cultural significance to African Americans. Today, this unit of the University of Iowa Theatre Arts is named the Darwin Turner Action Theatre. In 1984 Turner was named Distinguished Professor of English by the University of Iowa Foundation. Turner served as editor for numerous authors. Of his many writing projects, it was reported that he was last working on a collection of his own writings, Black Drama in America, which was published in 1994. Turner was married to Edna Bonner from June 1949 to August 1961. Turner married Maggie Jean Lewis on February 29, 1968. His family included three children, Pamela, Darwin Keith, and Rachon.

Author: Denise Anderson, 2015

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Darwin T. Turner Papers

Identifier: RG99.0340

These papers describe the work of Dr. Darwin T. Turner and his collections of writings by African American authors. These papers document his development of the African American World Studies Program, within the English Department at the University of Iowa.

Dates: 1946 - 1991