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Parks, Gordon

(born Nov. 30, 1912, Fort Scott, Kan., U.S.) American author, photographer, and film director who documented black American life.

A high-school dropout, Parks worked odd jobs before becoming a photojournalist in the late 1930s. His first books were Flash Photography (1947) and Camera Portraits (1948). As a staff photographer for Life magazine (1948–72), he became known for his portrayals of ghetto life, black nationalists, and the Civil Rights Movement. A photo-essay about a child from a Brazilian slum was expanded into a television documentary (1962) and a book with poetry (1978), both titled Flavio. His first work of fiction was The Learning Tree (1963), a coming-of-age novel about a black adolescent in Kansas in the 1920s. In 1968 he produced, directed, and composed the musical score for the film adaptation of the book.

Parks was noted for his forthright autobiographies, A Choice of Weapons (1966), To Smile in Autumn (1979), and Voices in the Mirror (1990). He combined poetry and photography in A Poet and His Camera (1968), Whispers of Intimate Things (1971), In Love (1971), and Moments Without Proper Names (1975). He also wrote Born Black (1971), a collection of essays, the novel Shannon (1981), and Arias in Silence (1994) and directed several motion pictures, including Shaft (1971), Shaft's Big Score (1972), The Super Cops (1974), and Leadbelly (1976).

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