Claude Brown was born in New York City and grew up in Harlem. At age seventeen, after serving several terms in reform school, he left Harlem for Greenwich Village. He went on to receive a bachelor's degree from Howard University and attended law school. He also wrote a book called The Children of Ham in 1976. Manchild in the Promised Land evolved from an article he published in Dissent magazine during his first year at college. He died in 2002 at the age of 64.