Obituary: Charles Frye

Charles A. Frye, philosopher, writer, teacher: born Washington DC 18 March 1946; twice married (three sons, one daughter); died New Orleans 8 October 1994.

CHARLES FRYE was a philosopher with a broad spread of knowledge and was almost unique in the world of black studies for bringing together in his research and writings the black experience in America by reference to its history, its relevance to present-day Africa, its arts and literature, and its mystical and religious traditions. Most writers on the subject concentrate on just one aspect of what has become an enormous field for investigation.

Frye was also a novelist and poet, married to another poet, Claudia Menza, his second wife. The couple did a reading tour last year, when Charles Frye was already weakened by treatment for cancer. The tour took them to the Cheltenham Literature Festival, to a black conference at Newcastle upon Tyne, and to Kingston University. Their double programme included extracts from his prose, both fiction and non-fiction, much of it concerning the ways in which blacks and whites perceive each other in the northern hemisphere.

He and his wife told anecdotes about their many experiences as a mixed-race couple in the United States, of often having to face hostility and prejudice.

Charles Frye's studies included African philosophy and the traditional folk wisdom revealed in the rich trove of aphorisms and proverbs which he collected and published. He also studied African magic and voodoo and the ways in which arcane rituals became entwined with Christianity. His many contributions to learned journals have been the basis of new directions in black studies. His most influential book is probably Towards a Philosophy of Black Studies, but From Egypt to Don Juan also attracted much attention.

Among his other writings are two novels, The Peter Pan Chronicles and A Good Knight's Leap.

Born to a strict Baptist family in Washington DC, Charles Frye respected the faith in which he grew up, although he was unable to practise or share it.

He taught at many universities, the last being Southern University, in New Orleans. A man of searching intelligence and easy conversational style, he loved jazz, parties and new horizons.