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Willard Motley

Willard Motley (1909-1965) was an African-American author and novelist known for his contributions to American literature in the mid-20th century. He was born on July 14, 1909, in Chicago, Illinois. Motley’s most famous work is his debut novel “Knock on Any Door,” which was published in 1947.

KNOCK ON ANY DOOR, from left: Humphrey Bogart, John Derek, 1949

“Knock on Any Door,” tells the story of Nick Romano, an Italian-American youth growing up in Chicago’s South Side. The novel explores themes of poverty, crime, and social injustice, as well as the pressures and challenges faced by young people in urban environments. It became a bestseller and was later adapted into a successful film starring Humphrey Bogart. Motley’s second novel, “Let No Man Write My Epitaph,” was published in 1958 and served as a sequel to “Knock on Any Door.” It continued to explore the struggles of urban life and the impact of societal conditions on individuals.

Motley’s writing was praised for its realistic portrayals of life in Chicago’s marginalized communities and its exploration of racial and social issues. He was often compared to other prominent African-American writers of the time, such as Richard Wright and James Baldwin. Motley’s works contributed to the emerging genre of African-American literature and were recognized for their social commentary and exploration of identity.


Despite his early success, Motley faced challenges and struggled to replicate the same level of achievement with his subsequent works. He continued writing, but none of his later novels achieved the same acclaim as his first two books. Willard Motley passed away on March 4, 1965, in Mexico City, Mexico, at the age of 55. Although his literary career was relatively short, his impact on American literature, particularly in addressing issues of race and urban life, remains significant.

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