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Biography of Ethiopia RPCV Mildred Taylor (1943-)
Biography of Ethiopia RPCV Mildred Taylor (1943-)
Biography of Mildred Taylor (1943-)
Mildred Taylor was born in Jackson, Mississippi, on September 13, 1943, to Wilbert Lee and Deletha Marie (Davis) Taylor. She would later say she "was born in a segregated city in a segregated state in a segregated America." The Taylors had lived in Missisissippi since the times of slavery. But, only three weeks after their daughter's birth, the Taylor family moved to Toledo, Ohio, where Mildred Taylor would remain until graduating from the University of Toledo in 1965.
Several incidents of racial violence had occurred in the Jackson area around the time of September 1943, and Taylor's father decided to seek a new life for his family in the North. He chose Toledo because a large network of friends and relatives already made their homes there. Still, the Taylor family took long car trips to the South throughout Mildred's childhood, and the environments experienced on these trips would provide the settings for her future novels.
The family traveled each summer to a pre-Civil Rights era South, where segregation remained a reality. But for Taylor, the South of racism and segregation was also a "South of family and community." The mule Jack and mare Lady, who appear in the book Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry were the real animals Taylor rode during her summers in the South.
The strength of family is an important theme in the Taylor's books, and stories about her family -- aunts, uncles, great-grandparents -- going back to the times of slavery filled Taylor's childhood, told by her father as they sat by the fire in their Ohio home and by family members in both Ohio and Mississippi. Taylor calls these stories "a different history from the one I learned in school" and credits her father's storytelling with her decision, by the time she entered high school, that she would become a writer.
Taylor's father attempted to instill in her and her sister Wilma an awareness of their past and future. When the family moved into a newly integrated Toledo neighborhood the year Taylor was ten, she became the only black child in her class and realized her actions would be judged as representative of her race. There, she was shocked by the "lackluster" histories of black Americans found in her history books. When she shared her own knowledge of black history with the class, however, the students and teacher thought she was making things up.
Because she was already living in the North, Taylor was not directly exposed to the Civil Rights Movement, which began when she was in high school. However, when a black student was chosen to be homecoming queen at Taylor's school during her freshman year, in 1957, many white students reacted with anger and even violence, reminding Taylor that racism was far from dead. When then-Senator John F. Kennedy visited Toledo, Taylor was elected by her classmates to report on the visit and found herself inspired by Kennedy's interest in the civil rights movement.
Taylor attended college at the University of Toledo. She spent much of her free time writing, a process she found difficult but which she was determined to do. She first patterned her writing after Charles Dickens and Jane Austen but found emulating such literary styles to be unnatural and to make her work "stiff and unconvincing." Taylor's first novel, written when she was nineteen, was titled Dark People, Dark World. Told in the first person, this story of a blind white man in Chicago's black ghetto was never published, though one publisher expressed interest in a shortened, edited version.
Inspired by Kennedy, Taylor applied for and was selected to join the Peace Corps and teach in Ethiopia. Her father was both proud of his daughter and like his wife, worried about her being so far away for so long. After graduating with a degree in education from the University of Toledo, Taylor accepted the Peace Corp job and taught English on a Navajo reservation in Arizona and history in Ethiopia. Her experiences in Africa inspired Taylor to reconsider the stories her father had told her about her own strong, proud black relatives.
Upon returning to the United States in 1967 after two years in the Peace Corps, Taylor worked as a Peace Corps recruiter from 1967-1968 and as a Peace Corps instructor in Maine during 1968. In the fall of 1968, Taylor matriculated at the University of Colorado's Graduate School of Journalism. There, during the era of Black Power, she joined the Black Student Alliance and was instrumental in the creation of a black studies program at the university. After receiving her masters degree, Taylor worked for the Black Education Program as a study skills director.
Through her involvement in the BSA, Taylor studied black culture, black history, and black politics, and was approached by Life magazine to write an article about the BSA. The magazine disagreed with Taylor's portrayal of the organization and never published the article. Disappointed, Taylor returned to Ethiopia and sought to rethink her goals in life.
Taylor moved to Los Angeles after returning to the United States and worked at a number of temporary jobs as she began to focus on her writing and even refused a job at CBS as she continued to write. In August 1972, she married Errol Zea-Daly. The two divorced in 1975 and have one daughter.
Taylor's first break came when she won a contest sponsored by the Council on Interracial Books for Children. Her winning book Song of the Trees (1975) was the revision of an old manuscipt, based upon a family story about trees cut down by money-hungry white men. Taylor had originally planned to tell the story from the point of view of the grandmother but instead found it to be more successful when told by eight-year-old Cassie Logan.
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry was Taylor's second book about the Logan family. Published in 1976, it won the Newbery Award, which awards excellence in books written for children. The book was dedicated to Taylor's father, of whom she spoke in her acceptance speech as her inspiration, and who was the basis for the characters of Stacey and David. A television miniseries adaptation of the book, starring Morgan Freeman, aired on ABC TV in 1978.
Another Logan family book, Let the Circle Be Unbroken (1981), continues the story of the Logans' and their community's struggle during the Great Depression, and in the fourth Logan family book, The Road to Memphis (1990), revisits Cassie as a high school senior attending school in Jackson, Mississippi, far from her family. Both books met with great critical acclaim. A related book, Mississippi Bridge (1990), is narrated not by Cassie but by Jeremy Simms, a character in Taylor's earlier books about the Logans. Taylor's last Logan book, The Well: David's Story (1995) depicts a ten-year-old David Logan -- Cassie's father -- during a summer in which there is a drought. It too received critical praise.
Two other books, The Friendship and The Gold Cadillac, both published in 1987 also address the theme of racism. The former depicts a friendship between a white man and black man in 1930s Mississippi that eventually turns to violence, and the latter is based upon the car trips Taylor took to the South with her family as a child.
Now living in Colorado, Taylor received the Jason Award for The Well: David's Story in 1997. She is also the recipient of the Newbery Award and a multiple recipient of the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, the Jane Addams Book Award, the Coretta Scott King Award, and the Christopher Award.
* About Mildred Taylor
* About Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry
* Character List
* Major Themes
* Short Summary
* Entire Summary and Analysis
* Summary and Analysis of Chapters 1-2
* Summary and Analysis of Chapters 3-4
* Summary and Analysis of Chapters 5-6
* Summary and Analysis of Chapters 7-8
* Summary and Analysis of Chapters 9-10
* Summary and Analysis of Chapters 11-12
* Message Board
* Author of ClassicNote and Sources
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