One of a few works of satire written by African American women, Oreo is an uproariously funny novel about relations between African Americans and Jews. It is as fresh and outrageous today as when it was first published in 1974.
Born of a Jewish father and black mother, Oreo grows up in Philadelphia with her grandparents while her mother tours with a theatrical group. Soon after puberty Oreo heads for New York to search for her father, but in the big city she discovers that there are dozens of Sam Schwartzes. Oreo's mission turns into a wickedly humorous picaresque quest, reminiscent of the ancient Greek myth of Theseus. This is an ambitious and playful narrative that challenges not only the accepted notions of race, ethnicity, and identity, but also those of the novelistic form itself.
Fran Ross was an African American author best known for her novel Oreo.
Born on June 25, 1935, in Philadelphia, she was the eldest daughter of Gerald Ross, a store clerk, and Bernatta Bass Ross, a welder. Recognized for her scholastic, artistic and athletic talents, she earned a scholarship to Temple University after graduating from Overbrook High School at the age of 15.
Ross graduated from Temple University in 1956 with a B. S. degree in Communications, Journalism and Theatre. She worked for a short time at the Saturday Evening Post. Ross moved to New York in 1960, where she applied to work for McGraw-Hill and later Simon and Schuster as a proofreader, working on Ed Koch's first book, among others. Ross began her novel Oreo hoping for a career in writing, and it was published in 1974 at the height of the Black Power movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Ross wrote articles for magazines such as Essence, Titters and Playboy, and then got work on The Richard Pryor Show. She was unable to complete a second novel, due to difficulties supporting herself on this work. She worked in media and publishing until she died on September 17, 1985 in New York City.
Oreo was rediscovered and republished in 2000 by Northeastern University Press, with a new introduction by Harryette Mullen; Mat Johnson has hailed Ross's work as a masterpiece that was simply ahead of its time.