Illinois State Library

Illinois Center for the Book

Individual Author Record

General Information

Name:  Cyrus Colter  

Pen Name: None

Genre: Fiction

Audience: Adult;

Born: January 8, 1910 in Noblesville, Indiana

Died: April 17, 2002

-- Cyrus Colter on WorldCat --

Illinois Connection

Colter lived in Chicago and attended Chicago-Kent College of Law. He was a Professor Emeritus of English at Northwestern University and was also the chairman of the department of African-American Studies and Chester D. Tripp Professor of Humanities.

Biographical and Professional Information

Cyrus Colter was a novelist, short story writer and lawyer. He published his first fiction at age 60, after a career as a Chicago attorney and serving on the Illinois Commerce Commission. The collection of stories, ''The Beach Umbrella'', and the novels ''The River of Eros'', ''The Hippodrome'' and ''Night Studies'' explore black life in Chicago across a wide range of social class and circumstances. Colter's last novel, ''City of Light'', was published in 1993.

Published Works Expand for more information

Titles At Your Library

The Beach Umbrella and Other Stories
ISBN: 0810150506

Triquarterly. 1996

Set mostly on Chicago's South Side, these eighteen stories describe ordinary people whose lives are transformed by small acts of chance or will. From depictions of the ordered urban enclaves of the black middle class to the dank and dirty tenements of the lonely city's poor, Colter's sharp, spare prose etches perceptive portraits of people who endure and overcome the most severe threats to their spirits.

The Rivers of Eros (Prairie State Books)
ISBN: 025206089X

University of Illinois Press. 1991

The Hippodrome
ISBN: 0810150360

Triquarterly. 1994

Set in a Chicago seething with physical and psychological violence, Cyrus Colter's The Hippodrome is an examination of power and exploitation and their entanglement with sexuality. Yeager has murdered his wife and her white lover. Fleeing the police, he is both offered refuge and held captive in the Hippodrome, a ghetto house where a troupe of blacks stage sexual theater for white audiences. Colter's subtle treatment of the subject matter, and his careful delineation of his character's motives, make The Hippodrome a classic of modern fiction.

Night Studies
ISBN: 0810150654

Triquarterly. 1997

Cyrus Colter's third and most ambitious novel follows the fortunes of John Calvin Knight--the fiery, driven leader of the Black Peoples Congress, a man whose life and career have developed as much in reaction to his father and the views of an earlier generation as to the awakening civil rights movements of his own era. But no matter how far John Calvin tries to separate himself from his father, it is his father's wisdom about family history--and the history of all African-Americans--that first inflames and ultimately engrosses the son, determining his life and its possible successes or failures.

A Chocolate Soldier
ISBN: 1874509441

Turnaround. 1999

Mesach, the narrator, looks back thirty-five years to when he was a young Black divinity student and explains how his friend became a murderer

City of Light
ISBN: 0810150808

Triquarterly. 1998

Paul Kessey, age twenty-nine, is caught between two worlds. Although his is a privileged world of successful blacks in Chicago, and he is a graduate of Princeton, handsome and well-connected, Kessey is uncertain how to identify himself in relation to the African diaspora, partly because of his light skin. Throughout a Paris sojourn, he is both attracted and repelled by different ideas, attitudes, and concepts regarding the place of blacks in a white society he goes back and forth among the persons and the ideas they represent, and thus among contradictory possibilities of life as a black man.

By intertwining in an intricate web racial, class, and political issues with the intense struggles of one man's heart, Colter presents a vivid portrait of the personal effects of prejudice and its hypocrisies. City of Light remains a daring push against the grain of American literary fashion.


  • Illinois Literary Heritage Award, Illinois Center for the Book, 1998
  • Doctor of Letters, University of Illinois Chicago
  • Name engraved on the frieze of the Illinois State Library alongside other great Illinois literary figures, 1990.
  • Chicago Literary Hall of Fame, 2011