Claude Brown was born and raised in Harlem, New York City. He fled Harlem for Greenwich Village at the age of seventeen, after spending numerous sentences in reform school. He moved on to Howard University to get his bachelor's degree and then to law school. In 1976, he published a book called The Children of Ham. Manchild in the Promised Land grew out of an article he wrote for Dissent magazine his freshman year of college. At the age of 64, he died in 2002.