2021 Children's Literature Legacy Award Acceptance by Mildred D. Taylor

Thank you, American Library Association, for honoring my work with the Children’s Literature Legacy Award. This most prestigious award is bestowed as my career is ending. In 1975, the year my first book was published, my career was just beginning. I had been preparing for my writing career for many years before, however, actually from the time I was a child, always listening to my family’s stories about our heritage, about the lives of my family and the people of their community in rural Mississippi. I heard the stories in my Ohio home where I grew up and in Mississippi where I was born and where my father, mother, sister, and I returned each year. When the stories were told, they were told with such force, with such drama, as the storytellers acted out the characters in their stories in voice and movements, that they made all who listened a part of the stories, and all who listened were moved by them.

Stories like those told by my family were not then included in the schoolbooks I read as a child. What I learned in school was a lackluster history of Black people, a people who, ­according to the texts, were totally devoid of any heroic or pride-building qualities. It was a history of a people who were enslaved, a people who were docile and childlike, accepting their fate without once attempting to free themselves. The history I learned at home through the stories denied that falsehood, and I was enthralled by them.

From that beginning came the seeds for me to write the stories I had heard.

Throughout the years I was growing up, and later after my graduation from college and after I had lived in Africa, I attempted to write the stories, and I repeatedly submitted them to publishers, but they were always rejected. It was not until I submitted a manuscript that would become Song of the Trees to a contest sponsored by the Council on Interracial Books for Children that publishers took note of my work. The story was based on the cutting of trees on my family’s Mississippi land when my father was a boy. Previously I had written the story from a boy’s point of view and also from the boy’s grandmother’s point of view. ­Publishers rejected it. Then Cassie Logan emerged, a girl based on my aunt, my sister, and myself. Through Cassie, the Logan family came to life on the written page. For readers, the Logan family is fiction, but to me, they are real people, for each member of the Logan family I describe is drawn from a member of my family, and the land I describe was my family’s land.

         

After Song of the Trees came Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. The core story of my first novel is based on a story my father and uncle told me about a Black boy who became involved with two White boys and was almost lynched. In Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry I included the teachings of my own childhood, the values and principles by which I and so many other Black children were reared, for I wanted to show a different kind of Black world from the one then so often portrayed. I wanted to show a family united in love and self-respect; and parents, strong and sensitive, attempting to guide their children successfully, without harming their spirits, through the hazardous maze of living in a discriminatory society. I wanted to show Black people as heroic, heroes and heroines missing from the schoolbooks of my childhood. I continued this mission in all the Logan books that followed: Let the Circle Be Unbroken, The Gold Cadillac, The Friendship, Mississippi Bridge, The Road to Memphis, The Well, and The Land. Finally, almost twenty years after The Land, I finished the story I’d set out to tell.

In 1976, when Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry was published, I knew that I wanted to take the children in the book to adulthood, into the events of World War II, through the Great Migration, and into the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Also in 1976, when my father died, I knew the final scene of the final book and wrote a version of it then. All the Days Past, All the Days to Come is that final book. In this book I included people and events of my own generation, and once again, I followed much of my family’s history. It is a book I did not write for children or even young adults. As in the writing of all my books, I simply wrote the story; however, with all the primary characters in the book being adults and adult situations being portrayed, I consider All the Days Past, All the Days to Come a book for adult readers as well as for young adult readers.

All the Days Past, All the Days to Come is the most difficult book I have written, and one of four that is most special to me. The other three books I most prize are Song of the Trees, because it was my first book published; The Land, because it was based on my great-grandfather’s history, a history proudly told and re-told by his children and grandchildren; and, of course, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry.

My father, the greatest of the storytellers, inspired me to write Roll of ­Thunder, Hear My Cry, and a song that came to me during my most difficult days writing the book inspired the title. My father did not live to see the publication of Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, but his words, his stories, and the stories told by all my family live on through the books I have written. The Children’s Literature Legacy Award gives recognition to my body of work based on those stories. My recognition of my work is to my family and to the millions of African Americans whose stories are sown into the fabric of America. Without my father’s words, without my family’s stories, without their teachings, my books would not have been. I owe all to them.


Mildred D. Taylor is the winner of the 2021 Children’s Literature Legacy Award. Her acceptance speech was delivered at the virtual American Library Association Book Award Celebration, on June 27, 2021. From the July/August 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine: Special Issue: ALA Awards. For more speeches, profiles, and articles, click the tag ALA 2021.


Single copies of this special issue are available for $15.00 including postage and may be ordered from:

Kristy South
Administrative Coordinator, The Horn Book
Phone 888-282-5852 | Fax 614-733-7269
ksouth@juniorlibraryguild.com

Mildred D. Taylor

Mildred D. Taylor is the winner of the 2021 Children’s Literature Legacy Award and the 2020 CSK–Virginia Hamilton Award.

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.


RELATED 

Community matters. Stay up to date on breaking news, trends, reviews, and more.

Get access to reviews of books, ebooks, and more

ALREADY A SUBSCRIBER?

We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing

ALREADY A SUBSCRIBER?