Mildred D. Taylor

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(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Mildred D(elois) Taylor

Black American writer for young adults.

Taylor's Song of the Trees and its sequel Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry are felt to depict the oppression that has been a part of the black tradition with power and dignity. Taylor credits much of the inspiration for both books to stories told to her by her father about their ancestors and their struggles to establish themselves as landowners after the abolition of slavery. Taylor noticed the difference between this oral history and the history she was taught in school; while her father's stories emphasized the fact that her ancestors retained their pride despite their defeats and sorrows, she discovered that history books portrayed black Americans as weak and vulnerable. Taylor wrote her books to refute this image by telling the truth about her people, thus passing on the spiritual legacy of her ancestors.

Set in Mississippi during the 1930s, both of Taylor's works concern the Logan family; these books stress the family's independence and strength as they fight to maintain their land in the face of violence and the hatred of their white neighbors. These titles, part of a proposed four-volume series, drew an almost unanimously positive response. Critics have praised her ability to present emotional issues in an unsentimental, controlled style without losing the impact of her story. She has also been praised for the poetic quality of her prose, for her characterizations, and for the fact that her books are not social or political tracts disguised as fiction. Taylor's works have also been favorably compared to Alex Haley's saga, Roots. They appeal to a wide range of young adults, which suggests Taylor's successful interpretation of the universality of the black experience. Song of the Trees received an award from the Council on Interracial Books for Children and was named Outstanding Book of the Year by The New York Times in 1973. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry won the 1977 Newbery Medal. (See also Something About the Author, Vol. 15.)