Even though he lived in the North, Taylors father never stopped loving the South and the family that remained behind in Mississippi, and throughout Taylors childhood, he regularly took his wife and children to visit them. It was during those visits to Mississippi that Taylor learned about family history and storytelling, both of which would, years later, become essential to her writing career.
The telling of family stories was a regular feature of Taylor family gatherings. Family storytellers told about the struggles relatives and friends faced in a racist culture, stories that revealed triumph, pride, and tragedy. The stories inspired Taylor, and she still has a vivid recollection of the storytelling sessions:
I remember my grandparents house, the house my great-grandfather had built at the turn of the century, and I remember the adults talking about the past. As they talked I began to visualize all the family who had once known the land, and I felt as if I knew them, too....
Many of the stories told were humorous, some were tragic, but all told of the dignity and survival of a people living in a society that allowed them few rights as citizens and treated them as inferiors. Much history was in those stories, and I never tired of hearing them. There were stories about slavery and the days following slavery. There were stories about family and friends. (Acceptance of the Boston Globe/Horn Book Award for The Friendship. The Horn Book Magazine, March 1989, 179-80)
From these stories, Taylor learned about her great-grandfather, the son of a white plantation owner in Alabama and a slave woman. In the late 1800s, this young man ran away from Alabama to buy land and settle in Mississippi; the land he purchased more than 100 years ago is still owned by the Taylor family.
In the 1950s, Taylor attended newly integrated schools in Toledo; she graduated from Scott High School in 1961 and from the University of Toledo in 1965. After graduation from college, she joined the Peace Corps and spent two years in Ethiopia. When she returned to the United States, she enrolled in the University of Colorado, eventually earning a masters degree. After she graduated from the University of Colorado, Taylor settled in Los Angeles to pursue her writing career.
Her first book, Song of the Trees, won the Council on Interracial Books for Children Award in 1974 and was published by Dial Books in 1975. Her second novel, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, won the 1977 Newbery Award from the American Library Association. The Land is the ninth book in her award-winning saga about the Logan family.
All of Mildred D. Taylors novels to date are based on stories from her own family, stories she learned at family gatherings throughout her life. In her Authors Note in The Land, she explains that her great-grandfather was the basis for the character Paul-Edward:
In writing The Land, I have followed closely the stories told by my father and others about my great-grandparents. From as far back as I can remember, I had heard stories about my great-grandfather, who bought the family land in Mississippi. Born the children of an African-Indian woman and a white plantation owner during slavery, my great-grandfather and his sister were brought up by both their parents. Their father had three sons by a white wife, and he acknowledged all of his children. He taught his children to read and write and he ordered his white sons to share their school learning with them. All the children sat at their fathers table for meals, and my great-grandfather often went with his father and his brothers on their trips around the community. (369)
Similarly, in her other novels, nearly all the events are based on stories Taylor has heard from her father and other family members; nearly all the characters are based on family members or acquaintances she has known or learned about. The Logan family saga, then, is essentially family history for Taylor. The saga begins with Paul-Edward Logan in The Land leaving his family in Georgia in the 1870s and eventually settling in Mississippi where he buys the land that will become the homestead for all the future Logans. The next part of the saga, The Well, is told by David Logan, one of Paul-Edwards sons. The third book of the saga, Mississippi Bridge, is the only book in the Logan stories not narrated by a member of the Logan family. A white boy, Jeremy Simms, reports a tragedy that he and the Logan children witness in 1931. The fourth book, Song of the Trees, is told from the point of view of a third-generation Logan, Cassie, who narrates the rest of the Logan stories: The Friendship; Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry; Let the Circle Be Unbroken; The Road to Memphis; and Logan.
The Logan stories closely follow the history of Taylors own family, from her great-grandfathers purchase of land in Mississippi in the 1880s to their move to Ohio in the 1940s. Her last novel planned for the saga, Logan, will take the Logan family from their home in Mississippi to their new home in Ohio. Taylor is currently working on this novel, the final episode in the Logan family saga.
(Article first posted December 2001)
Mildred DeLois Taylor (born September 13, 1943) is an African-American writer known for her works exploring the struggle faced by African-American families in the Deep South.
Taylor was born in Jackson, Mississippi, but lived there only a short amount of time, then moved to Toledo, Ohio, where she spent most of her childhood. She now lives in Colorado with her daughter. Taylor has expressed her views on the Great Depression as an economical crisis, as well as slavery.
Many of her works are based on stories of her family that she heard while growing up. She has stated that these anecdotes became very clear in her mind, and in fact, once she realized that adults talked about the past, "I began to visualize all the family who had once known the land, and I felt as if I knew them, too ..." Taylor has talked about how much history was in the stories; some stories took place during times of slavery and some post-slavery.
Taylor's most famous book is Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. In 1977, the book won the Newbery Medal. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry is the middle book, chronologically, in the Logans series that also includes titles such as The Land, Song of the Trees, Let the Circle Be Unbroken, and The Road to Memphis. Her collective contributions to children's literature resulted in her being awarded the inaugural NSK Neustadt Prize for Children's Literature in 2003.
- Song of the Trees, 1975
- Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, 1976
- Let the Circle Be Unbroken, 1981
- The Gold Cadillac, 1987
- The Friendship, 1987
- Mississippi Bridge, 1990
- The Road To Memphis, 1992
- The Well: David's Story, 1995
- The Land, 2001
Body of Work
Song of the Trees
- First prize (African-American category), Council on Interracial Books for Children, 1973
- Outstanding Book of the Year Citation, The New York Times, 1975
- Jane Addams Honors Citation, 1976
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry
Let the Circle Be Unbroken
- Outstanding Book of the Year Citation, The New York Times, 1981
- Jane Addams Honor Citation, 1982
- American Book Award nomination, 1982
- Coretta Scott King Award, 1982
The Gold Cadillac
The Road to Memphis
- Special Award, Children's Book Council, 1988
- Coretta Scott King Award, 1990
The Well: David's Story
- Jane Addams Book Award, Jane Addams Peace Council, 1996