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Terry McMillan is born

On this day, bestselling novelist Terry McMillan is born in Port Huron, Michigan. McMillan’s contemporary fiction draws on her own experiences as a middle-class black woman.

McMillan’s father, an alcoholic, died when McMillan was 16. Her mother, who raised five children on her own, was the model for the protagonist of Mama (1987), McMillan’s first novel. McMillan finished high school in Port Huron, attended Los Angeles City College, and transferred to Berkeley. She later studied film at Columbia University in New York but dropped out. She was working as a word processor in New York in the 1980s, a single mother raising one son, when she enrolled in a writing workshop in Harlem. She was accepted to a writer’s colony in 1983, and in two weeks wrote the first 40 pages of her first novel.

The book was favorably received and sold out its first printing of 5,000 copies, largely thanks to McMillan’s letter-writing campaign to black groups around the country, suggesting they sell her book and offering to do readings and public appearances. Her second book, Disappearing Acts (1989), was also well received, but her break-out success came in 1992 with Waiting to Exhale, a novel about four middle-class black women looking for love while dealing with their children, parents, friends, and jobs. The book became a phenomenal success and revealed a huge audience for contemporary fiction by black women. Paperback rights for Waiting to Exhale sold for $2.64 million, one of the highest paperback prices ever paid. The book was made into a movie in 1995, starring Whitney Houston and Angela Bassett.

After the death of her mother, McMillan endured two years of depression. She went to Jamaica to cheer herself up and returned with the idea for a new novel, How Stella Got Her Groove Back (1996), an autobiographical novel. The book became a bestseller and movie. She later married the younger man, Jonathan Plummer, that inspired the character “Winston Shakespeare” in the book. However, she recently filed for divorce in June 2005 after admitting to McMillan that he was gay.

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