Williard Motley: African-American Novelist for Film

Written by Jae Jones

Williard Motley was an African-American who wrote novels for film. Motley was born on July 14, 1909, and grew up in the Englewood neighborhood on the Southside of Chicago. His family was one of the only African-American families residing there. He is related to the noted artist Archibald Motley.

He began his writing career when, at the age of 13, he submitted a short story to the Chicago Defender. That magazine gave him the chance to write a weekly column in the children’s section under the pen name “Bud Billiken.”

After graduating in 1929, Motley knew he wanted to be a writer. He planned to attend the University of Wisconsin, but was unable to do so due to the Great Depression. Instead, he took a bicycle trip from Chicago to New York, as well as two automobile trips to California and the west. Around 1940, he lived in Chicago’s slums, an experience that gave him the material for his first novel, “Knock on Any Door.”

His last novel, “Let Noon Be Fair,” looked at the gradual demise of a Mexican fishing village that was popular with American tourists. According to the nomination statement for the 2013 Chicago Literary Hall of Fame awards, “Motley was criticized in his life for being a black man writing about white characters, a middle-class man writing about the lower class, and a closeted homosexual writing about heterosexual urges.”

Motley died on March 4, 1965. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2014.



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About the author

Jae Jones

Jae Jones has been writing professionally for over 10 years. She holds a degree in Business Administration, and enjoys writing on various topics.

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