About the Author
At age 25, Beckham published his first novel, My Main Mother in 1969, a month after his first published article appeared in Esquire. Begun in his senior year at Brown University, the novel describing a young black man's search for identity received widespread critical acclaim. A year later he was back at Brown -- on the faculty this time, where he remained for 17 years teaching creative writing and black literature. After teaching two years at Hampton University, Beckham retired in 1987 to become a freelance writer and book publisher.
His second novel, Runner Mack was published in 1972, and was followed by Double Dunk, a novelized biography of Harlem basketball player, Earl Manigault. Beckham also wrote his only play while at Brown--Garvey Lives! produced in 1973 by George Bass, director of the Rites and Reasons theater group.
He began his portrait of the Chase Manhattan Bank in 1972 because he felt that he had a unique perspective on a landmark institution and the personalities that ran it. After college in 1966, he had accepted a scholarship to Columbia Law School in New York, but withdrew after two months. Looking for employment, he suddenly found himself on Wall Street, as a public relations writer for Chase Manhattan. There he established relationships with Chase's top executives, and he continued to stay in touch with them as he worked on the book. "The coincidences were uncanny," he recalls.
"My first real contact with David Rockefeller came after, seeing an advertisement about My Main Mother in the New York Times, he sent me a congratulatory note. He called me Chase's first bona fide novelist." Then Beckham's research pointed to the view that there may not have been a Chase if John D. Rockefeller, Jr. had not gone to Brown and met and married a senator's daughter. And as he was beginning his research, Bill Butcher, a Brown trustee and alumnus, was named president of the bank. "I asked for an interview, and suddenly one Friday around five p.m., Butcher was calling to ask if he could come by my home on Saturday to talk."
While he was working on the Chase book, an editor from New York called, asking Beckham if he would write the story of Harlem basketball star, Earl Manigault. Beckham interrupted his bank portrait to write the autobiography, choosing the second-person point of view, a stylistic challenge that is typical of his prose innovations. Then his editor left the publishing house, and Double Dunk was not released for another five years.
Raised in Atlantic City, NJ, Beckham, after nearly two decades of teaching at the collegiate level, has maintained his interest in working with young people. He published the first edition of the Black Student's Guide to Colleges in 1982 and has continued to update the work and give workshops at high schools and colleges. In 1985, sponsored by the Urban League, he spoke during a six-day stint to more than 2,000 Cleveland black high schoolers about the college selection process. In 1988, sponsored by the Xerox Corporation, Beckham offered a summer creative writing workshop for black high school students at Hampton. Now he's planning a national teleconference on college and career choices for African Americans in high school.
After finishing his insider's profile of the Chase Manhattan Bank, Beckham plans to return to the novel he began in 1983 with a National Endowment for the Arts creative writing fellowship: "It chronicles a black man's search for love in the 90s," he says.