Born in rural Bolton, North Carolina, Brown attended North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University of Greensboro, North Carolina, where he earned his B.A. in English in 1966. He later attended Columbia University, and earned his M.A. degree from the University of Chicago in 1967. Brown while residing in Berkeley, California (to which he returned in the late 1980s and still lives and works), earned his Ph.D. in African American Studies, Folklore and Narrative in 1993.
- Columbia University English Dept., Professor John Angus Burrell Memorial Prize, 1966
- Before Columbus Foundation American Book Award for Days Without Weather, 1984
- Berlin Literary Fellowship, 1985; Besonders Wertvoll Film Preises, 1986
- UC Berkeley, Mentor Fellowship, 1992
<ref>tags exist, but no
<references/>tag was found