Nominations are now open for the 2017 WNBA Award and so, in honor of the award and of Black History Month, we’re running a spotlight series on some of the groundbreaking women who impacted books and readership today, concluding with children’s book author Patricia McKissack.
Patricia McKissack was young when she realized she loved literature. She recognized a power of transportation in literature: she remembered the sensation of being swept away in the poetry her mother read to her as a child and so, when she was older and employed as a teacher, she tried to create that sensation for her students by bringing them an age-appropriate biography for Paul Laurence Dunbar, the poet who had so inspired her. Bu, as no such biography existed, she decided to write one herself rather than giving up on teaching her students. Ten years later, her book Paul Laurence Dunbar: A Poet to Remember was published.
The first book she published launched a prolific and impressive career: to date, she has written more than a hundred children’s stories. She has received the Virginia Hamilton Literary Award, the WNBA Award, and Coretta Scott King medals. Some of her books include The Dark Thirty: Southern Tales of the Supernatural, Mirandy and Brother Wind, and Christmas in the Big House, Christmas in the Quarters. Many of her books were written in coordination with her husband Frederick L. McKissack. Though her characters range, a number of her stories document slave narratives or are historical depictions of those involved with the abolition movement.
She grew up in Tennessee and Missouri, where she learned to love literature at home with her family and at the library. She aspired to write but first went to college and obtained her teaching license. Her marriage to Frederick was quickly succeeded by a series of children, which put her writing career on hold. She taught at middle school and then high school for several years before earning her Master’s degree in literature and becoming a children’s book editor. When she quit her work and began freelancing, her husband joined her. Together, they wrote and published books, holding out through the times of disappointment and making it to moments of triumph as they won awards and received critical acclaim. Frederick passed away in 2013.