9 Award-Winning Authors Who Attended MSIs

By Briana O’Neal

For years, writers have used literature as a tool to reflect the experiences of their race and impact of their culture. Today’s Monday Morning MSI Line Up features 9 award-winning authors who attended MSIs and used their writing to give a voice to the underrepresented communities in which they were raised.

1) Toni Morrison – Howard University

Toni Morrison’s works of fiction span several time periods and pay homage to the Black experience in America. Among several other accolades, Morrison holds the 1988 Pulitzer Prize and American Book Award as well as the 1993 Nobel Prize for Literature. She earned her B.A. in English from Howard University in 1953.

2) Rudolfo Anaya – University of New Mexico

Heavily influenced by the Chicano Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, this University of New Mexico alumnus is a Mexican-American author whose writing is known for its Chicano themes. He is hailed as the most widely read author in Hispanic Communities, best known for his book Bless Me, Ultima. “I write for my New Mexican community,” he says, “the Spanish-speaking world, but also for the entire world.” His novel Albuquerque received the PEN-West Fiction Award in 1992.

3) Paula Gunn Allen – University of New Mexico

Paula Gunn Allen is a Native American author who received her Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of New Mexico and was a professor of Native American and Ethnic Studies. She is credited as the “founding mother of the contemporary women’s spirituality movement” and has published several works of poetry and fiction. These have earned her several awards, including the Native American Prize for Literature.

4) Amy Tan – San Jose City College and San Jose State University

Tan was born in Oakland, California to Chinese immigrants. Her choice of college was a source of contention with her mother, who wanted Tan to attend a Baptist school as a pre-med student. Tan decided instead to attend two AANAPISIs: San Jose City College and San Jose State University where she earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree in English. Tan’s mother was a huge influence on her writing. The Kitchen God’s Wife (named Booklist Editor’s Choice) was inspired by her mother’s early life, and her most famous book, The Joy Luck Club (winner of the Bay Area Book Reviewer’s Award, among others), is a reflection of her rocky relationship with her mother.

5) Octavia Butler – California State University, Los Angeles

Butler began her academic journey at Pasadena Community College, an HSI, and eventually enrolled at California State University, Los Angeles. She went on to become one of the most well-known female science fiction writers with over 10 awards under her belt, including the MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Grant. Noting a lack of Black characters in the science fiction genre, Butler resolved to change that. “The only black people you found were occasional characters or characters who were so feeble-witted that they couldn’t manage anything, anyway,” she said. “I wrote myself in, since I’m me and I’m here and I’m writing.”

6) Gary Soto – Fresno City College and California State University, Fresno

This Mexican-American author’s academic career was shaped by his attendance at two Hispanic Serving Institutions—Fresno City College and California State University, Fresno. Soto graduated in 1974 with a B.A. in English and is known for both his poetry and fiction. In 1999, he received the Literature Award from the Hispanic Heritage Foundation.

7) Janet Campbell Hale – City College of San Francisco

As a Native American writer, Hale’s works discuss issues of poverty, abuse, and women in Native American culture. Hale began her academic journey at the City College of San Francisco and has received several fellowships. Her book The Jailing of Cecelia Capture received a Pulitzer Prize nomination in 1985.

8) Ralph Ellison – Tuskegee University

Ralph Ellison attended Tuskegee University (known then as Tuskegee Institute) to study music in 1933, but the Great Depression rendered him unable to afford the tuition for his senior year. He then began writing a series of essays and shorts stories and eventually made a name for himself as an influential twentieth century African American author. In 1953, he won the National Book Award for his novel Invisible Man, which addresses issues of racial identity for African Americans in the mid-twentieth century.

9) Ana Ludia Vega – University of Puerto Rico

“I believe that everything we are affects our writing. My being Puerto Rican shows up in my writing,” says Ana Ludia Vega, a distinguished Puerto Rican writer who graduated from the University of Puerto Rico and writes in her native language. Vega has been recognized nationally and internationally for her work.

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