Quandra took up literature at an early age; in high school, she fell in love with the works of Gwendolyn Brooks and decided to be a poet. In the late 1940s, she and a group of biracial friends took a road trip to Mexico, a trip she later said was more dangerous than she had imagined at the time. era, crossing parts of the country where a black person seen in the company of whites could be arrested, or worse.
She attended Antioch College in Ohio, where she graduated in 1954 with a history degree. A year later, she began graduate studies in English at the University of Michigan, and in 1957, she moved to New York to work in publishing and teach literature at the New School.
She married John Stadler in 1963; they later divorced. She married William L. Smith in 1984. With her sister, she is survived by her daughter, Johanna Stadler, and her stepson, Sean Smith.
Professor Prettyman joined Barnard in 1970 after a friend arranged for him to meet with Barry Ulanov, the chairman of his English department. She was still writing her doctoral thesis at the time, but Professor Ulanov asked her if she could start teaching this fall, as a teacher. She never completed her doctorate.
Before and after joining Barnard Faculty, Professor Prettyman traveled widely, and frequently to Amsterdam and Paris, where she befriended James Baldwin.
She never gave up her childhood love for poetry, both reading and writing it, and has published several poems during her career. As her career grew, she took a particular interest in cookbooks written by black women – her kitchen shelves were stocked with them, Ms. Danticat recalls.
Professor Prettyman said many such volumes, although presented as cookbooks, were more like memoirs, providing a powerful glimpse into the lives of black families in the South.