(b. 1943), writer of children's fiction, hailed for her realistic portrayal of the African American experience.
Born in Jackson, Mississippi, at a time when African Americans were fighting overseas for liberties they did not possess at home, Mildred Delois Taylor and her family fled the South when she was scarcely three months old to prevent a violent confrontation between a white man and her father, Wilbert Lee Taylor.
The fleeing family settled in Toledo, Ohio, where Taylor grew up self-confident and loved in the large house her father purchased to shelter relatives and friends escaping the pre-civil rights South. In this house conversation was an art and storytelling a tradition. Taylor has stated that her father was the most influential person in her life. He was a master storyteller, keeping alive southern memories and traditions. Although Taylor visited the South many times with her parents, she never lived in her birthplace. She absorbed the rhythms and the nuances of African American southern speech and culture from her visits and her father's vivid rendering of the stories he told her.
An honor student, Taylor expressed an interest in writing during high school, becoming editor of the school newspaper. In 1960, she entered the University of Toledo and following her graduation, she joined the Peace Corps. After two years in Ethiopia, where she taught history and English, Taylor returned to the United States at the height of the Black Power movement of the late 1960s. She enrolled in a graduate program at the University of Colorado, where she earned an MA in journalism. Taylor, who had always been politically aware, became a student activist lobbying for the creation of a black studies program and helping to establish the Black Student Alliance.
Following her graduation from Colorado, Taylor worked as coordinator of the study skills center. The job was demanding and interfered with her growing urge to write. Taylor decided the time had come for her to inspire others as she had been by the stories of heroic men and women who overcame the obstacles of racial oppression. She resigned her position at the university and moved to Los Angeles, where she found a job that did not interfere with her writing.
Taylor completed her first work in 1973. Song of the Trees is a novella of scarcely fifty-two pages. She entered her manuscript in the Council on Interracial Books for Children competition, winning first place in the African American category. Song of the Trees, published in 1975, is dedicated “To the Family, who fought and survived,” and introduces the Logans, consisting of several generations of grandparents and wise ones “who bridged the generations between slavery and freedom.” Taylor patterns the story on her own family history, setting a tone that rings clearly throughout her works, one of pride and pride and perserverance.
Song of the Trees was hailed by critics for its simplicity, its finely rendered characters, and its poetry. Taylor's second novel continues the story of the Logans. Her second book, now considered a children's classic, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (1976), was praised for its honest portrayal of racial prejudice and in 1977 won the Newbery Medal. She was the second African American to receive the medal. Taylor continued her chronicle of the Logans with Let the Circle Be Unbroken (1981), which won the Coretta Scott King Award in 1982 and was nominated for an American Book Award. The fourth book in the series, The Friendship, also won the Coretta Scott King Award, in 1984. Taylor's works compare favorably to such classics as Huckleberry Finn and Little House on the Prairie.