John Oliver Killens: Writer and Activist Known for Politically Charged Novels


John Oliver Killens was an American writer and activist known for his politically charged novels and his contributions to the Black Arts Movement and as a founder of the Harlem Writers Guild.


Killens was born January 14, 1916, in Macon, Georgia, to Charles Myles Killens Sr., a restaurant manager, and Willie Lee Coleman, an insurance company clerk. His parents were well-read and kept on top of the latest trends and events important to African-Americans. His mother introduced him to the work of poet and novelist Paul Laurence Dunbar when he was a young boy. The Jim Crow laws had an enormous impact on Killens’ political and social outlook; it was the source of many of his writings.

Killens attended several colleges and universities. He ultimately graduated from Howard University with a bachelor’s degree and then pursued a law degree by taking evening classes at Terrell Law School. He was interrupted while attending Terrell by military service during World War II. While serving, he encountered intense racism in the South Pacific, which later inspired his novel And Then We Heard the Thunder.

He wrote six novels for adults. His works include Black Man’s Burden, essays on race in America; Great Black Russian, a biographical work on the poet Alexander Pushkin; and two books for young readers, Great Gittin’ Up Morning, a biography of Denmark Vesey; and A Man Ain’t Nothin’ but a Man (1975), which recounts the adventures of John Henry. Killens also wrote plays, screenplays, and numerous articles and short stories.

With his work came several honors, which include the vice presidency of the Black Academy of Arts and Letters, a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, and a Distinguished Writer Award from the Middle Atlantic Writers Association. The Before Columbus Foundation, which sponsors the American Book Awards, cited Killens for lifetime achievement in 1985. He is also a member of the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame. John Oliver Killens died on October 27, 1987.



  • rosida burton November 10, 2016 - 10:29 am

    very interesting i am curious enough to locate these books by killens and read them to help me spread what i learned and possibly help society in some small way, by sharing what i learn with people especially the youth helps all of us gain a powerful tool for our struggle against ignorance, hatred, ailenation and desolation.

  • gamefly free trial June 1, 2019 - 8:52 pm

    Right here is the right site for everyone who wishes to find out about this topic.

    You realize so much its almost tough to argue with you (not that I really
    would want to…HaHa). You definitely put a
    fresh spin on a topic that’s been discussed for years.

    Great stuff, just wonderful!

  • gamefly free trial June 3, 2019 - 10:54 am

    Hey There. I found your blog using msn. This is a very well written article.
    I will be sure to bookmark it and come back to
    read more of your useful info. Thanks for the post. I’ll certainly return.

  • gamefly free trial June 6, 2019 - 7:56 pm

    Greate article. Keep writing such kind of information on your
    site. Im really impressed by your blog.
    Hey there, You’ve done a great job. I will certainly digg it and in my view recommend
    to my friends. I’m confident they will be benefited from this web site.

  • ps4 best games ever made 2019 June 11, 2019 - 7:36 pm

    Actually no matter if someone doesn’t be aware of then its
    up to other viewers that they will help,
    so here it occurs.

  • noob vs pro vs hacker vs god June 16, 2019 - 12:01 pm

    Deference to op , some superb selective information .