Octavus Roy Cohen was born in Charleston, S.C. He studied engineering at Clemson Agricultural College (now Clemson University) and worked briefly for the Tennessee Coal, Iron & Railway Company in Birmingham, Ala. After deciding that engineering was not a suitable career for him, Cohen became a journalist, working for the Birmingham Ledger and newspapers in Charleston and in New Jersey. In 1912, he returned to Charleston and studied law in his father’s office. After passing the bar in 1913, Cohen practiced law for two years in Charleston. He began writing short stories, and, when his first one was published in 1915, he began writing full-time.
Cohen’s short stories were published in national magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post and Collier’s. He also wrote novels and several plays produced on Broadway. In 1935, Cohen moved to Los Angeles to write motion picture scripts. The same year, his radio drama The Townsend Murder Mystery was also published in novel form. From 1945 to 1946, Cohen wrote for the radio series Amos 'n' Andy. Several of his stories were adapted for television in the 1950s. Cohen died in Los Angeles of a stroke at the age of sixty-seven.
Octavus Roy Cohen’s fiction includes dialect stories and mysteries featuring colorful private detectives. He is probably best known for his Florian Slappey stories set in Birmingham and Harlem. The characters in these stories are caricatures of black Americans who speak an exaggerated black dialect.
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Photo courtesy of the Alabama Department of Archives and History.
Last updated on May 30, 2008.