Illinois State Library

Illinois Center for the Book

Individual Author Record

General Information

Name:  Willard Motley  

Pen Name: Bud Billikin

Genre: Fiction

Audience: Adult;

Born: July 14, 1909 in Chicago, Illinois

Died: March 4, 1965 in Mexico City, Mexico

-- Willard Motley on WorldCat --

Illinois Connection

Motley grew up in Chicago's Englewood neighborhood. After high school he left Chicago and returned in 1939.

Biographical and Professional Information

Willard Motley was an African-American writer. The Chicago Defender published some of Motley's fiction when he was only 13 years old, launching him on his career as a writer. He was soon writing a weekly column for young readers called "Bud Says" under the pseudonym "Bud Billikin". After graduating from high school Motley traveled to New York, California and the western states, earning a living through various menial jobs, as well as by writing for the radio and newspapers. Returning to Chicago in 1939.He became associated with Hull House, and helped found the ''Hull House Magazine'', in which some of his fiction appeared. In 1940 he wrote for the ''Works Progress Administration Federal Writers Project'' along with Richard Wright and Nelson Algren. His first novel, ''Knock on Any Door'' appeared to critical acclaim in 1947. His third novel, ''Let No Man Write My Epitaph'' picks up the story of ''Knock on Any Door''. Columbia Pictures made it into a movie in 1960. The bulk of Motley's archive is held in Rare Books and Special Collections at Northern Illinois University.

Published Works Expand for more information

Titles At Your Library

Knock On Any Door
ISBN: 0875805434

Northern Illinois University Press. 1989

Willard Motley's 1947 best seller shocked the nation with its harsh depiction of the dark underbelly of the American dream. Knock on Any Door dramatizes young immigrant Nick Romano's struggle to survive when his father's business folds, leaving his family with no choice but to move to a poor neighborhood across town. A series of petty crimes land the former Catholic altar boy in reform school, where forceful "rehabilitation" only creates a hardened and resistant spirit among the inmates. Once released, Nick returns to Chicago, where family conflicts and a brief, tragic marriage spiral him further downward, culminating in his arrest for the murder of a police officer. The whole city watches the thrilling legal battle unfold as Nick takes the stand to fight for his life.

Motley researched his novel on the streets of his native Chicago, talking to immigrants about their experiences and visiting juveniles in Illinois's youth detention centers. In Knock on Any Door, Motley creates a painfully vivid picture of poverty, the struggle for ethnic identity, and the flaws of the penal system in urban America.

Let No Man Write My Epitaph
ISBN: 9997411854

Random House Inc (T). 1958

This novel picks up where Willard Motley's acclaimed "Knock on Any Door" left off. A desperate story of survival, addiction and poverty, a former alter-boy attempts to break free of the debilitating circumstances that have dictated over his life. Ultimately, the protagonist and his mother succumb to drugs and the protagonist follows in his father's footsteps, which ceased at a penitentiary electric chair.


  • Chicago Literary Hall of Fame, 2014