CAIRO – 18 October 2017: October 18 is the birthday of African-American best-selling novelist Terry McMillan, who turns 66 this year.
Born in Michigan, 1951, McMillan was the oldest of five children, and so began working at a library when she was 16 to help support her family after her alcoholic father passed away. There, she began cultivating a love for books and imagination; though she feared that only white authors were allowed to be part of the world of literature. That quickly changed after she read a book by African-American writer James Baldwin, which convinced McMillan to take up writing herself.
After moving to California at the age of 17, she began working as a secretary and wrote on the side; taking an African-American literature class to learn more about other black writers. She first got published in 1976, with the short story "The End." McMillan’s first novel, "Mama," came in 1987, and was partly based on the life of her own mother. The book received positive feedback; marking a promising start for McMillan.
Her second novel, "Disappearing Acts," was published in 1989. This romantic novel followed an affair between a junior high school music teacher and a high school dropout carpenter, and the personal issues and circumstances that prevent them from finding happiness together. It was adapted into an HBO film in 2000, starring Wesley Snipes and Sanaa Lathan.
In 1992, McMillan hit a breakthrough with her next novel "Waiting to Exhale." Following the lives of four African-American women in Phoenix, Arizona as they deal with and discuss problems in their love lives, the book proved to become an immense critical success. Rights for the paperback copy of the book were sold for over $2.64 million; amongst the highest amount ever paid for a paperback. The book sold three million copies by 1996.
"Wating to Exhale" was made into a film in 1995, and featured Whitney Houston, Angela Bassett, Loretta Devine and Lela Rochon, and was directed by acclaimed actor Forest Whitaker. The film grossed $67 million in its first year and resonated with African-American women, proving them to be an untapped market eager for more.
Following the death of her mother, McMillan visited Jamaica in order to lift her spirits, where she met her husband, a young Jamaican man, who she married in 1998. This became the basis for her 1996 novel "How Stella Got Her Groove back," which proved to be another hit and was quickly adapted into a film in 1998, starring Angela Bassett and Whoopi Goldberg.
Real life would prove to be even more dramatic than the events of the book because McMillan’s husband eventually confessed to her that he was gay and the two divorced in 2005. Though initially feeling betrayed at first, McMillan eventually forgave him and managed to move on.