For most people, Parks’s accomplishments as a photographer would be sufficient to merit claiming a lifetime of satisfying achievement. The same could be said about his writing, his filmmaking, his painting, and even his composing. Parks’s writings include his books on photography (Flash Photography, 1947; Camera Portraits: Techniques and Principles of Documentary Portraiture, 1948); his best-selling autobiographical novel (The Learning Tree, 1963); his collection of essays and photographs (Born Black, 1971); four collections of poetry and photographs (Gordon Parks: A Poet and His Camera, 1968; Gordon Parks: Whispers of Intimate Things, 1971; In Love, 1971; and Moments without Proper Names, 1975); his collection of his photographs, his poems, and his paintings (Glimpses toward Infinity, 1996); his second (nonautobiographical) novel (Shannon, 1981); and three—in his case, three might be too few—autobiographies (A Choice of Weapons, 1966; To Smile in Autumn, A Memoir, 1979; and Voices in the Mirror, An Autobiography, 1990).
In addition to the photographs featured in his books, his photographs have appeared in nearly every prestigious magazine, including fashion magazines such as Vogue and Glamour as well as the ultimate lifestyles magazine Life. His musical compositions include a libretto and music for a five-act ballet titled Martin, which aired on national TV on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, as well as several pieces performed by symphony orchestras around the country and many musical scores for his films. Some of his films have been documentaries: Diary of a Harlem Family and Mean Streets, both made in the 1960s; and biographies, Leadbelly (1976, on the folk-music legend), Flavio (1978, on impoverished Brazilian boy Flavio da Silvia), The Odyssey of Solomon Northrup (1984, about a freeborn man who was kidnapped in 1841 and enslaved for 12 years), and of course, Gordon Parks: Moments without Proper Names (1988). Parks’s first nondocumentary film was The Learning Tree (1968, Warner Brothers), adapted from his autobiographical novel of the same name. This film made him the first African American to produce, direct, and script a major Hollywood movie, and in 1989 the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress named it among the 25 most significant films in the United States. Parks also knew how to make commercially successful films: Shaft (1971, featuring Richard Roundtree), Shaft’s Big Score (1972), and The Super Cops (1974).
On December 7, 1934, Gordon Parks, Jr., entered the lives of Parks and his wife, Sally Alvis. Junior worked as a camera operator on several of Senior’s films, and as an adult, Junior started making his own films, virtually creating the blaxploitation genre with his film Superfly (1972), which grossed more than $24.8 million at the box office. After producing three more feature films in this country, he moved to Kenya, where he tragically died in a plane crash April 3, 1979.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Parks and his wife also have a daughter and another son. Parks’s books also include Arias in Silence (1994) and Half Past Autumn: A Retrospective (with Philip Brookman, 1997).
(See list of abbreviations here.)
Aguiar, Marian, “Parks, Sr., Gordon” and “Parks, Jr., Gordon,” in EA-99.
Houston, Helen R. , in BH2C.
Schultz, Elizabeth, in OCAAL.
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