Anatole Broyard was born in New Orleans in 1920 to light-skinned Black parents, spent much of his childhood in a predominantly Black Brooklyn neighborhood and then crafted a carefully constructed image devoid of his ethnic heritage.
Broyard's light skin allowed him to join the segregated Army as a white man, where he led a battalion of Black soldiers. Upon his discharge from the military, he opened a bookstore in New York City's Greenwich Village, ensconced himself in the literary landscape and eventually became a copywriter at an advertising firm. Although he wrote a few short stories that were met with critical acclaim, Broyard initially struggled to complete a full-length work. The attention, however, helped him secure a job as a book reviewer with The New York Times in the early 1970s, a position he held for more than a decade.
During this time, he became one of the most influential literary critics in the U.S. And, despite rumors to the contrary, continued to live as a white man. Broyard's wife and children did not know he had been born Black, nor did his colleagues or friends.
Broyard, who died of prostate cancer in 1990, never revealed the reasons for his ruse. Likely, the limited opportunities for Blacks in the 1940s had something to do with his original decision. But many who knew him also believed Broyard wanted to live as a white man because he wanted to escape the expectations of race. He wanted to be known, not for being a "Black writer," but a writer, period. Even his memoir, "Kafka Was The Rage," did not reveal his race [source: Gates].
"One could concede that the passing of Anatole Broyard involved dishonesty; but is it so very clear that the dishonesty was mostly Broyard's?" wrote scholar Henry Louis Gates. "To pass is to sin against authenticity, and 'authenticity' is among the founding lies of the modern age."
In 2007, his daughter Bliss published a book about her father titled "One Drop: My Father's Hidden Life — A Story of Race and Family Secrets."