In her writing for both children and adults, the novelist Connie Porter shows southern blacks who, transplanted to the North, attempt to preserve their traditions and maintain their self-respect even though they must deal with prejudice and poverty. Porter was the second youngest of eight children in a working-class African American family. The Porters lived in a company town outside of Buffalo, New York, near the steel mill where Porter’s father was employed. As a child, Porter saw how hard her father worked for his meager wages, always in fear of losing his job or of being disabled or killed. Like the heroic Samuel Taylor of All-Bright Court, Porter’s father decided to make sure that his children were educated, so that they could escape from such an existence. It was largely due to his influence that Connie and most of her siblings were able to go to college.
Porter’s childhood was by no means unhappy. As she later pointed out, children then did not have to worry about drugs and violence. Moreover, she had a strong, stable family structure. Among her siblings there was much to observe about human relationships, as there was in the multicultural community in which they grew up, which included Arabs, Italians, and Poles, as well as other African Americans.
From the time she was a child Porter liked to read. When she was young she was especially fond of stories about other girls, such as those written by Lois Lenski and Beverly Cleary, but she searched in vain for books by and about African Americans, such as those she would later write for the American Girls series. Porter did not discover black literature until, as a teenager, she began to read works by Nella Larsen and Richard Wright. Later she became interested in African American women writers, including Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Gloria Naylor, and Terry McMillan.
After graduating from high school, Porter went to the State University of New York at Albany, after which she earned an M.F.A. at Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge. During her final year there, Porter wrote a short story to fulfill a course assignment. Set in her hometown, the story described the exploitation of the steel mill workers and introduced Samuel Taylor and his bright young son Mikey. She later expanded this story...
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