...During graduate school at Columbia, Adoff had worked as a seventh-grade social studies teacher at a yeshiva in the Brownsville area of Brooklyn, a move he said gave him confidence that he could earn a living in the real world. After abandoning his
history studies in favor of becoming a writer, he rented an apartment in Greenwich Village and supported himself with a day job substitute teaching while he continued writing poetry and frequenting jazz clubs at night. In this period, he became Mingus’
s manager. It was Mingus who introduced Adoff to a young writer and occasional nightclub singer named Virginia Hamilton. The couple married in 1960 and would welcome two children, daughter Leigh and son Jaime. (Hamilton, of course, went on to become one
of the most distinguished authors of children’s literature, earning nearly every award and honor in the industry, including the Newbery Medal and a MacArthur Fellowship.)
Adoff had begun collecting Black literature in the late 1950s, and that pursuit dovetailed with his observation that the ethnically diverse students in his classrooms were exposed to racist textbooks and didn’t have access to books and magazines that
accurately reflected their experiences. Wanting to address that, he shared his favorite poems and works by Black writers with the kids. Once, Adoff recruited a friend—an editor at Macmillan—to make photocopies of some poems so he could distribute
them to his class. The friend was impressed by the selections and suggested Adoff meet with the editor-in-chief about turning them into a book. The result was his first anthology, I Am the Darker Brother: An Anthology of Modern Poems by Negro Americans,
published by Macmillan in 1968. Of his passion for curating collections like this one, Adoff told SATA, “I want my anthologies of Black American writing to make Black kids strong in their knowledge of themselves and their great literary heritage—give
them facts and people and power. I also want these Black books of mine to give knowledge to White kids around the country, so that mutual respect and understanding will come from mutual learning. We can go beyond the murders and the muddles of the
Arnold Adoff started writing when he was eleven years old-when he discovered that "girls and poetry were different from boys and prose." This was not the limit of his inspiration, however. Born in a Russian immigrant family and raised in New York City's
East Bronx, he read "everything in house" to satiate his curiosity. Later, he would carry stacks of books home from Bronx libraries. In his world, "books and food, recipes and political opinions, Jewish poetry and whether the dumplings would float on top
of the soup" were all worthy topics for literature.
After graduating from New York's City College with degrees in history and government, Adoff went on to Columbia University and then the New School for Social Research. He stayed in New York for twelve years afterward, teaching and counseling public
school students in Harlem and the Upper West Side. His experience with young adults gave him a simplified outlook for writing to the audience. "I just try to create real kids and say real things for real readers."...