Julian Hudson Mayfield, 56, a novelist, essayist, playwright, actor and the writer-in-residence at Howard University for the last six years, died of heart ailments Oct. 20 at the Washington Adventist Hospital.

Mr. Mayfield was the author of several novels about black American life, including "The Hit" (1957), "The Long Night" (1958) and "The Grand Parade" (1961). Other writings include essays in such books as "Black Literature in America" (1971), "The Black Aesthetic," (1971), "Dark Symphony," (1968) and "The American Negro and His Roots" (1960).

As an actor, he created the role of the son of Absalom Kumalo in the Maxwell Anderson-Kurt Weill musical "Lost In The Stars," which was produced on Broadway in 1950 by The Playwrights Company. The play was based on Alan Paton's novel "Cry, the Beloved Country" about apartheid in South Africa.

Mr. Mayfield also played Tank in the 1969 motion picture "Uptight," which he coauthored with director Jules Dassin and actress Ruby Dee.

From 1962 to 1966, he lived in Ghana, where he was a communications aide to former president Kwame Nkrumah. In the early 1970s, he lived in Guyana, where he was an adviser to the prime minister, Forbes Burnham.

Before going to Howard as writer-in-residence, Mr. Mayfield held several fellowships at Cornell and New York universities and lectured in West Germany under a Fulbright Fellowship. From 1975 to 1978, he was a visiting professor at the University of Maryland.

Born in Greer, S.C., Mr. Mayfield grew up in Washington and graduated from Dunbar High School. He attended Lincoln University and served in the Army immediately after World War II.

His marriage to Dr. Ana Livia Cordero ended in divorce.

Survivors include his wife, Joan Cambridge, of Washington and Guyana; two sons by his first marriage, Rafael and Emiliano, both of Puerto Rico, and his mother, Annie Mae Mayfield, and a sister, Dorothy Mayfield Barkley, both of Washington.