Gordon Parks was a multi-talented photographer, writer, film director, and more. Not only does Gordon Parks have a critical reputation as a photographer, he also directed the movie Shaft, wrote The Learning Tree, and co-founded the magazine Essence.
His first books were the instruction manuals Flash Photography (1947) and Camera Portraits (1948). His books also include five collections of his photos accompanied by verse, including Gordon Parks: A Poet and His Camera (1968) and Eyes with Winged Thoughts (2005). Born Black (1971) is a collection of his biographical essays, with photographs. One of his photo essays for Life led to his book Flavio (1978), about a poor, gravely ill Brazilian boy for whom he was instrumental in obtaining lifesaving medical treatment.
Parks wrote three novels: The Learning Tree (1963), a best-seller based on his childhood in Kansas, the historical novel Shannon (1981), about Irish immigrants in the early 1900s, and The Sun Stalker (1981), a fictionalization of the life of the British painter J. M. W. Turner. He published the memoirs A Choice of Weapons (1966), To Smile in Autumn (1979), Voices in the Mirror (1990), and A Hungry Heart (2005) and the quasi-memoir Half Past Autumn (1997), published in conjunction with a touring exhibition of his photos.
Parks became the first African-American to write, produce, and direct a feature film for a major Hollywood studio when he made the screen version of The Learning Tree (1969). In Hollywood he later directed the hit blaxploitation action-thriller Shaft (1971) and its sequel Shaft’s Big Score! (1972), the action-comedy The Super Cops (1974), and the film Leadbelly (1976), about the folk singer/guitarist Huddie Ledbetter. On TV he directed several hour-long documentaries, including The World of Piri Thomas (1968) and the Emmy Award-winning Diary of a Harlem Family (1968), as well as the made-for-TV movie Solomon Northrup’s Odyssey (1985), about a northern-born black man kidnapped into slavery in the 1840s. He himself was the subject of the TV documentary Half Past Autumn: The Life and Works of Gordon Parks (2000). In 1970 he helped to found the monthly magazine Essence.