Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry | Study Guide

Mildred D. Taylor

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Mildred D. Taylor | Biography


Family and Childhood

African American writer Mildred DeLois Taylor was born in Jackson, Mississippi, on September 13, 1943, to Wilbert Lee and Deletha Marie (Davis) Taylor. She had one sister, Wilma, who was three years older. The family moved to Toledo, Ohio, when Taylor was only a few months old. Her father moved the family from the segregated South to find a more promising future. At that time segregation was legal in the United States and strongly enforced in Southern states. Segregation meant access to public facilities and opportunities was severely restricted according to race. Segregation occurred in many aspects of daily life such as housing, education, and employment.

Wilbert Taylor didn't want the children to grow up in the same kind of society as he had. He also moved his family because he had been involved in an incident at work. A hot-tempered man, Wilbert had nearly punched a white man, which could have had deadly repercussions. Though he moved for personal reasons, Wilbert wasn't alone. His move was part of the Great Migration. This is the name given to the movement of roughly six million African Americans from the rural South to the North from about 1915 to 1970. They mostly settled in Northern urban areas where they could find work opportunities in factories, slaughterhouses, and other industries.

Toledo was integrated, but just barely. Taylor was one of just a few African American children in her school and in some classes was the only one. Though she grew up in Ohio, Taylor felt a strong connection to the South. Her family often visited their extended family in Mississippi, and her father told her many stories about the South. Some were stories from his own life, and some were stories he had heard. Taylor incorporated some of these stories into her writing. She did well in her English classes in high school, and her desire to be a writer emerged early. Her high school asked seniors to predict their futures, and Taylor foresaw herself becoming a journalist who would win the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Education and Early Adulthood.

Taylor attended the University of Toledo, where she majored in English and minored in history. She wrote her first (unpublished) novel, Dark People, Dark World, by age 19. She joined the Peace Corps and taught English on a Navajo reservation in Arizona. She then went to Ethiopia for two years to teach English and history. When she returned to the United States, she earned a master's in journalism at the University of Colorado. While there, she helped develop a Black Studies department.

In 1971 Taylor moved to Los Angeles with the goal of becoming a writer. She supported herself through writing-related work such as editing and proofreading. In 1972 she married Errol Zea-Daly. Their marriage only lasted three years but produced a daughter named Portia.

Success at Writing

The Council on Interracial Books for Children (CIBC) was founded in 1965 to promote books reflecting a multicultural society. In 1973 Taylor submitted her book Song of the Trees to a contest the CIBC sponsored and won first place in the African American division. Dial Books published the novel in 1975, and in 1976 The New York Times awarded it a citation for Outstanding Book of the Year. Taylor followed with Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, which was even more successful. It won the Newbery Medal, the most prestigious award for children's literature, in 1977.

Since then, Taylor has been extensively honored for both young adult/children's literature and African American literature. All her published work chronicles the experiences of the Logan family. Four books won Coretta Scott King Awards for African American fiction focusing on the experience of young people. In 1988 The Friendship (1987) won a Boston Globe-Horn Book Award. The Land (2001) won the L.A. Times Book Prize and the PEN Award for Children's Literature. In 2003 Taylor was the first writer chosen for the NSK Neustadt Prize for Children's Literature. This award is given for children's literature that contributes to the quality of children's lives.
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