Mildred Taylor

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Allow me to giggle like silly for a second.  It’s not everyday that you get to interview one of your childhood icons

Ahem. Okay, I’m better now.

I was about eight or nine when I was introduced to Cassie Logan and her family in Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. Which means I was among the first generation of young girls impacted by the moving story of strength brought to life by Mildred D. Taylor in 1976.

Since then, Taylor has written six more books in the Logan family series.  I don’t need statistics or research to tell me that makes those books among the longest running YA series on the market. A testament to Taylor’s vivid imagery and proof that trends be damned, a good story is a good story in any era.

Ms. Taylor, thank you taking time to share with us.

BBS: Did you ever think the Logan story would go on so long?

Mildred Taylor: Yes, I did. It has, however, taken me longer to tell the Logan story than I originally anticipated, and the work is still not finished.

There are still stories to tell. This is because I was blessed to come from a family of storytellers who told many stories about our family and neighbors. These stories of family history were handed down from generation to generation, and as a child I was inspired to pass these stories on. I was, however, a quiet child and knew that I could not carry on the great oral tradition of the storytellers who were dramatists as well as historians, but I believed I could write down the stories.

There were many stories I wanted to tell, and the Song of the Trees became the first book based on a story told by my family. The Logan family, of course, represents my own family and the children of Song of the Trees were based on my father and his brothers and sisters.

BBS: How did that single book evolve into a series? Was it something your publisher requested or were the various stories of this family’s trials and tribulations already lurking in your mind?

Mildred Taylor: By the time I wrote Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, I thought there would be three or four Logan books, for I wanted to tell the history of my father’s generation from the time my father was a boy in the 1930’s, through the days of World War II, to the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement. I planned for all these books to be novels. 

Two of these novels became Let The Circle Be Unbroken and The Road To Memphis.

There were several stories, however, that I could not fit in the novel category after Roll of Thunder and those books became The Friendship and Mississippi Bridge

The Gold Cadillac, although not officially labeled a Logan book, is based on my family after much of the family moved north, and is told from the point-of-view of my own generation.

In addition, I wanted to tell a story from my grandparents’ generation as children. That story became The Well.

Finally, I wanted to tell my great-grandparent’s story from slavery to the realization of a dream to own land.  That book became The Land.

BBS: While Roll of Thunder, The Road to Memphis and May the Circle be Unbroken are YA, some of the other Logan books are Middle Grade.  Why the sub-genre switch?

Mildred Taylor: I really don’t know how all of my books are listed as Young Adult or Middle Grade. Since I have never written for any age group, I simply write the stories, I have left categorizing the books to my publisher.

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BBS: In your Penguin profile you say about Roll of Thunder,  “I wanted to show a different kind of Black world from the one so often seen. I wanted to show a family united in love and self-respect, and parents, strong and sensitive.” 

In last week’s spotlight, Rita Williams Garcia, said something similiar. And I too, wrote my YA novels out of a desire to provide a portryal I didn’t see out there.

Why do you think, a full 32 years after your YA debut, are we still trying to fill “voids” in well-rounded portrayals of African Americans?

Mildred Taylor: I believe that is because just like our nation, the African-American family continues to evolve and that we as individuals are as diverse as our nation. There was a time when African-Americans were all “lumped together” as a group, and often stereotyped as a group. Today we are allowed to be as diverse as our nation, and writers must continue to address this diversity in order to portray “well-rounded” African-Americans.

BBS: What has been the best part about writing for children? 

Mildred Taylor: I do not write for any age group. I simply write down the stories. When I was writing my first novel, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, I thought the work should be an adult book because I believed it was on the same level of To Kill A Mockingbird.  I discussed that with my editors, but they felt the book would be lost in the adult market. Since the main characters were children, the book was published in the youth market.

That my books have been marketed to – and mostly accepted by – young adults and children has been a great blessing to me as a writer. I find that young people are very open to learning about the past and appreciating even when their parents and other adults sometimes do not, and in some cases, do not even want the history told.

I have received letters from young people saying that by reading books like mine, they now can understand why there was a Civil Rights Movement. They understand better now why there is a special day in celebration of that movement and Dr. Martin Luther King. That my stories have affected young people in such a way brings me great joy and satisfaction.

It is most rewarding.
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 BBS: You know, better than most, that writing for children is no easier than writing any other form of literature. So, what has been your least favorite thing about it? 

Mildred Taylor: In my writing, I have always attempted to tell the truth. Because the books are read by children and young adults, I sometimes have been asked to “water down” the telling of my stories, to whitewash history, in essence, to falsify history.

In order for certain reprint rights to be sold, I sometimes have been requested by those wanting to reprint my work to delete all objectionable language. My publishser and I have refused to do that. There have been calls to ban my books because of the words I  use and the incidents I portray.

When my books were first published in the 1970’s, people understood the reality of the words which were used and why they were used. They understood the honesty of the hisotry, which was still then in the making. They understood the necessity for the truth.

Recently, however, there has been a backlash of parents, minority parents included, and educators who do not want children to read books such as mine. Some of the people who voice these opinions do not like the “n” word being used, because they believe it brings too much pain to a child reading such a word.

But how can readers understand the true history of the past or the need for a civil rights movement unless they have begun to understand the pain of those who suffered through slavery, discrimination, and segregation? How can readers feel the pain if I pretty up the way things were?

What I least like to do is write down words that hurt. I cringe at the thought of any child being hurt by my words, but as much as it hurts me to write words of pain, I know that they must be written, for they are truthful words about the time I write.

They are painful to me to write and they are painful to those who read them, but they are needed for the full understanding of what life was like for African-Americans before the Civil Rights Movement.

I remember what it was like. I remember the pain of what life was like and I want others to recognize that pain in order for all generations to appreciate why there was a Civil Rights Movement and to appreciate the great freedom of rights and opportunities we enjoy today.

BBS: I know the The Brown Bookshelf is not alone in considering you a vanguard author. How do you feel about that title – being among the forefront of authors who broke the literary glass ceiling with your portrayals?

Mildred Taylor: Being considered a vanguard author is to me a great honor. My concern, however, is that some might consider what I have to say as outdated and no longer relevant to the mores and values of today’s society.

I have received a number of letters from students letting me know how they felt about my books as “required reading.” Although not all students have loved my books, there have been students who told me that they were “put off” by the labels applied to the books prior to reading them – that they were historical books about segregation, books about racial relations – but found upon reading them that the books were more than that. They were about family and loyalty and friendship and values they wished were more a part of their world today.

To me, that is so uplifting to find there are still those who read my books and not only feel a greater understanding about our past, but feel the relevancy of that past to apply to the great turmoil of today’s world.
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BBS: Is there an African-American YA or MG author, in particular, you see as carrying the torch, writing similiar to your own or breaking new innovative ground?

Mildred Taylor: I do not read books directed specifically for young adults or children, so I am not current concerning emerging writers in the field.

BBS: What can we look forward to from you?  Are there any more Logan-based books planned?

Mildred Taylor: I have always hoped to conclude the Logan saga with the Logan’s family move to the North and the emergence of the Civil Rights Movement.  With the passing of many members of my family from my father’s generation – the resources of many of my stories – as well as the passing of my own generation, I hope I can still do that.

I also would like to complete a novella based on my own youth.

One last book I would like to write is about life as it is today for an African-American who has supposedly “achieved” the American dream.

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46 Responses to Mildred Taylor

  1. Great interview! The first book I read that featured an African-American child as a main character was Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. Mildred’s work has influenced generations of writers and moved children around the world.

  2. cloudscome says:

    Wow this is great. I am so happy to read Ms. Taylor’s thoughts on the writing of her books and publishing in general. She is a master storyteller and every book of hers is a special one.

  3. Crystal Roget says:

    I second that, Kelly! This was truly an inspiring interview! Mildred Taylor really laid the foundation for all of us aspiring–as well as for many established–African-American children’s authors . . . we stand on her shoulders.

  4. justice hall says:

    i love her books. they just speak to me i knw i may be to young because i just turned 12 and everthing to be saying these things but they just touch my soul i can feel she have`s tranqulilty shes a wonderful woman

  5. Paula says:

    Hi Justice. You’re never too young to be touched by something. I’ve always felt the same way about Mildred Taylor and I was about your age when I first read her work.

  6. Anna Mcghee says:

    what was your last impact

  7. CapCity says:

    I am SOOOO excited to have found this interview! I LOVE Sistah Taylor! She & Ms. Bev Jenkins are my FAVORITE living authors! They both tell the tales of Black Luv that are often missing on our book shelves. Ms. Jenkins is like Mildred Taylor with a li’l extry spice! THANK U! THANK U! THANK U! for this interview. I have been wondering where Ms. Taylor’s been & how she’s been. I would LOVE to see that sistah in person! As the others commented – we do indeed owe a GREAT deal of thanx to Ms. Taylor for laying the foundation!

  8. SJF says:

    Thank you for this! I love her books. ROLL OF THUNDER, HEAR MY CRY is in my top five books, and it inspired me to be a writer. She is amazing.

  9. Daniela says:

    great and i can’t wait for the book logan to come out!!!!!!!

  10. Jeremaiya says:

    I would like to say, how proud i am to read this interview, i live in England and i have been so inspired by the logan family for many years. I can’t wait for the next book, it’s amazing how uplifting the stories are and most importantly how close black families were in those days regardless of the racial segregation they suffered. I wish that the family unity within the logan family can inspire the black families of today.

  11. Taylor says:

    i was required to read roll of thunder hear my cry for school and at first i was just reading the words but then i actually began to listen and fell in love with the book and i can’t wait for Ms. Taylor’s book Logan to come out. Her books are really inspiring and it feels like when you are reading the books that you’re with the logans and you can feel what they feel. I love Ms. Taylor’s books and and hope that Logan will be out soon

  12. Grace says:

    I first found out about Taylor’s book Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry in the 7th grade because we were required to read it, and I loved the book so much that started to read all of her other books. I love Mildred Taylor’s books. I must say im addicted. I constantly read Road To Memphis over and over again. I am impatiently waiting for her final novel Logan.

  13. Kelly McConnell says:

    I read the book Roll of Thunder Hear my Cry and loved it.

  14. shadow says:

    OMG!!!!!!!!! I LOVE ALL OF MILDRED TAYLOR’S BOOKS!!!!!
    THEY R0CK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  15. puppyys. says:

    When is logan coming out why hasnt it hit the shelfs?

  16. Renee Hall says:

    I remembering reading Ms. Taylor’s book as a young girl and being moved by her vivid potrayals of the Logan family. Her stories really spoke to me about the true spirit of my people and it motivated me to reach back into my family’s history and pull out stories to pass on to my children. I recently read “Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry”, to my children (ages 7-10) and it was a beautiful thing to watch them embrace the characters as the young Cassie struggled to understand the unjust world in which she found herself. I just want to say thank you, Ms. Mildred Taylor, for sharing these masterful stories and reminding us of our beautiful heritage.

  17. Amananyamka says:

    i cnt wait for logan im glad my aunt introduced me to her books i love them so much

  18. Amananyamka says:

    same thing im wonderin we logan hits da shelves

  19. preferably anonomous says:

    well this is the closest i have been so far to contacting mildrid taylor. i love your books and i want you to keep on writing. i also want to inform you that i am a student and that one of my teachers is commiting an estimated 80 counts of copyright infringement, making (rougly) 80 copies of your book, the Land, and throught my investigating not paying a cent. just wanted to let you know b/c an author like you shouldnt be ripped off of you well earned compensation. best of luck

  20. Shirlene Scott says:

    I have been waiting for logan to come out….

  21. Victoria McKenzie says:

    Ms. Taylor,
    Im not sure if you will ever read this but I have somethings I would like to say and thank you for. First I want to say thank you so much for taking the time to share all of the wonderful books you have written, and for your willingness to share these stories with the world. I have read almost all of your book and I have just fallen in love with them. I love the way you write. There are some times when you read a book and you dont feel like you really connect with the characters but with your books I feel like Im part of whats happening and that Im part of the Logan family and it takes a special person to have the heart and be able to write like that. I cant wait for you to bring out “Logan”. Thanks again for the blessings of your writting!
    – Victoria

  22. Garrett says:

    Really great information, I really enjoyed it!

  23. Sam says:

    I really enjoy Ms.Mildred Taylor’s books. I’m an 11 year old who was required to read “Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry” in class, and I’m glad I was in the advanced reading group with four other fifth graders. After, I started reading this book I jumped onto imcpl.org to reserve the other Logan Family Books. Right now I’m waiting on “Logan” and will be checking out “The Gold Cadillac.” I am thinking on buying all of Ms.Taylor’s books. I am white and think that people of color were treated badly during that time. I can’t wait until “Logan” comes out.

    Samantha

    P.S. Does anybody know where I can get Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry (movie)

  24. Nellie says:

    Mildred D Taylor is such a good writer. I wonder if she took a lot of time writing her books and what part of her life she put in it

  25. terilyn says:

    i llllllllllllooooooooooooooovvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvveeeeeeeeeeeeee u i have followed your work for years i feel so great that you understand how hard it is 2 b a black young women to do the unexepected thank i admire u n go on with your glamorous work

  26. Karen says:

    Any updates on Logan? I would love to see more books continuing through the 40s, 50s, and 60s.

  27. Denae Turner says:

    I am 13 yrs old and i have loved your books for a while now.But i am still wondering when Logan is coming to the shelves. Especially since my book report is due next month. I am trying to read it so I can pass it to my classmates to show how remarkable you ARE!! <3<3<3
    -DeNae Turner

  28. Jessica Woods says:

    Hello Ms. Taylor

    My name is Jessica and every since I was a little girl, I was in love with your books. They remind me of the love that my family shares and the bond that can never be broken between us. When reading your books I feel as if I have known these characters all my life. I admire your talent to write and how you were able to captivate the love and warmth that a black community shares, something that is not common today. I also marvel at the history that is told in all your books about the struggle of blacks, and despite their troubles they took comfort in God, in themselves, and still had good times.
    Even though I’m barely adult, I’ll cherish yours books and will read them to my little brother and sisters, neices and newphews, and my children and their children. I want them to know how life was back then.
    Ms. Taylor, I only have one question for you and I’m hoping that you will respond. I read that you were coming out with another book called Logan and if so when? Please write me back!Take care.

    Much love,
    Jessica

  29. Tessa says:

    I am soooo glad that i read this article!!! I am 11 years old and in grade 6, in our middle school all of the 6 graders have to do a project on a famous person. I was told to be Mildred D. Taylor. At first i did not want to be u but now im glad i am! Our project is due on November 23, 2010. I am so greatful to be able to dress up as u and tell ur life story to my class! i am just now staring to read all the Logan books. I hope someday to be an author just like U!!!

  30. I was introduced to Mildred Taylor’s books by my daughter when she was in grade 3 more than 10 years ago. She was very excited because she had an African Canadian teacher (the only one throughout elementary school) for the first time since kindergarten and he introduced the class to Mildred Taylor’s Song of the Trees.

    Since then I have read all Mildred Taylor’s books from Song of the Trees to The Land and look forward to reading any others that she writes. As an African woman who was born and grew up in a country where I was not a member of the minority I have learned much about the African American experience from Ms Taylor’s books. I have signed up to receive e-mail when her next book is published.

    I would like to get in contact with Ms Taylor hoping to do an interview for a radio program I host at CKLN 88.1 FM in Toronto, Canada.

    How do I get in touch with Ms Taylor?

  31. Jordyn Harcrow says:

    Hey Mildred Taylor!? What all Kind of books have you worte?, i no that youv’ wrote atleast six, right? and PLEASE, PLEASE, contact me back at jordynlharcrow@yahoo.com. Thanks,
    Jordyn Harcrow:)
    P.S.
    I love “Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry” :) ♥

  32. cody says:

    I first found out about Taylor’s book Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry in the 8th grade because we were required to read it, and I love the book so much a lot. I love Mildred Taylor’s book. I must say im addicted. I constantly read Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry over and over again. I am impatiently waiting for her final novel .

  33. Ash says:

    When I first read Roll Of Thunder Hear My Cry I fell in love with it, then I read Let The Circle Be Unbroken and loved it too. But could anybody tell me in what order all the books should be read in?? I’m really confused…..

  34. Pam Kimball says:

    How is Logan coming along? It’s 7 years past the anticipated date of release. Any idea when it will be done? We are anxiously awaiting its completion.

  35. lindsey says:

    what about roll of thunder hear my cry? and were these real stories or based off of them? or fictional stories? oh and by the way, i wrote a book but im trying to get it published, any tips?

  36. Wendy says:

    I have just finished reading the series, and I keep finding references to a book called Logan, which said it was scheduled for 2004,, but cannot find the book. Is it, or going to be, completed soon? I love the series and the Logan saga and want to continue reading more.

  37. Keyana Lewis says:

    When I was in Junior High we were required to read ‘Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry’. I am not going to lie, I didn’t want to read it. I had an old battered copy of that book, and didn’t even crack open the book. My teacher came to me and told me that if I didn’t read that book then he was going to hold me back until I read it. I am glad to say I read that book and finished it in the same day, ever since then I have been hooked on Mildred D. Taylor.

  38. Asia says:

    I had mildred taylor for blsck history mouth

  39. Mia Ayala says:

    Hello! My name is Mia Ayala. I am from the Philippines. Mildred Taylor’s “The Land” is the first of her books that I have ever read. I loved that book. I consider it a treasure. It made me feel how colored people felt about the kind of treatment they got from the whites before. This book really made me cry. I am looking forward to reading her other books.

  40. Brenda Wells says:

    When will the last book written by Mildred Taylor about the Logan family be available?

  41. Starr :D says:

    Wow. Mildred Taylor is such a great person and such a great writer! We’re reading Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry in language arts and I’m just shocked at such great writing! At first, when we were reading it in class I really didn’t pay attension, but once I finally got bored of ignoring and finally picked it up. Grabbed me by the first page and I was hooked. God bless you all! :)

  42. Chloe$tarr says:

    Mildred is such an amazing woman and she writes such amazing books, I have a project about her and I had my mom help me and SHE even wants to read the books now. Mildred’s powerful words can get into people’s head in many different ways. Even as a 13 year old girl it can still touch people’s hearts. What she went through and what her family has been through is both terrifying and amazing at the same time. How much she and her family have overcome really makes a difference in people’s lives once they read her great words written in her books. :)

  43. Nathan says:

    i love your books. they teach people how racism was back in the 1930’s. i found your books ‘Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry’ and ‘Let the Circle be Unbroken’ very inspirational and found it hard to put the book down. to be honest, the only reason i started reading it is because are teacher made us but every day we read it, the more and more i liked it. i havent read the third book but plan on very soon. thank you for being and inspiration to people around the world because you certainly have inspired me

  44. Teresa says:

    Mildred,
    I am 53 years old and work in the public school system in Central Florida. Someone left a copy of Roll of Thunder in our front office. I read the back cover and immediately knew I had to read it. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I’m looking forward to reading all the other books about the Logan family. What an awesome legacy you have.
    Teresa

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