Author Patricia McKissack Dies at Age 72
Author Patricia McKissack, who produced children's books about black history with her husband, passed away on April 7th at the age of 72. According to her son, Fredrick L. McKissack Jr., the cause was cardiorespiratory arrest.
Patricia McKissack was an American children's writer. She was the author of three Dear America books: A Picture of Freedom: The Diary of Clotee, a Slave Girl, Color Me Dark: The Diary of Nellie Lee Love, The Great Migration North, and Look to the Hills: The Diary of Lozette Moreau, a French Slave Girl. She has also written a novel for The Royal Diaries series: Nzingha: Warrior Queen of Matamba. Patricia lived in St. Louis. Her husband, Fredrick McKissack, with whom she co-won the Regina Medal in 1998, died in April 2013 at the age of 73; before marrying her and joining her in writing full-time, he had an accomplished career as a U.S. Marine, a civil engineer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and had owned a contracting business in the St. Louis area.
Patricia McKissack was also a board member of the National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance, a national not-for-profit that actively advocates for literacy, literature, and libraries.
She was known also as L'Ann Carwell, Pat McKissack and Patricia C. McKissack.
Patricia L'Ann Carwell was born to civil servant parents Robert and Erma Carwell on August 9, 1944, in Smyrna, Tennessee. She was inspired to be a writer by her mother who always read her poetry and also by her grandparents who told her many stories. Her father's stories usually included the names of her and siblings Nolan and Sarah. The characters in these stories were always smart and brave, characteristics present in Patricia's later works. Patricia and her siblings grew up in the south and they all remember the poetry her mother told by Paul Laurence Dunbar.
When writing Goin' Someplace Special (2000), Patricia remembered her favorite place to go as a child, which was the Nashville Public Library, where she always felt welcome and where she learned her love for reading. Many of the childhood stories she heard from her mother and grandparents later became stories she wrote as an author of books for children and young adults.
While attending Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial State University now known as the Tennessee State University, Patricia met up with a childhood friend, Fredrick McKissack, who would later become her husband. She graduated with an English degree in 1964 while Fredrick obtained a civil engineering degree. They were married on December 12, 1965 and started their family right away. After traveling to Missouri, Patricia attended Webster University and graduated with a M.A. in child education. She then became a junior high-school English teacher but in 1971 realized that she wanted to be an author.
Fredrick and Patricia's first book together was published in 1984, a biography of Paul Lawrence Dunbar entitled Paul Lawrence Dunbar: A Poet to Remember, which is her mother's favorite poet. Patricia then went on to write many more biographies. In 1975, Patricia McKissack began her professional writing career. She wrote mostly non-fiction and focused on issues such as racism and African American history. She spent considerable time writing 20 non-fiction books before she wrote her first picture book. Flossie & the Fox was sent to Ann Schwartz, who was an editor at Dial Press. Schwartz threw the manuscript aside, saying it was too long. Patricia did not want to shorten her manuscript at all but finally shortened it to six pages, when it was finally accepted. (It was published in 1986.)
The Dark-Thirty: Southern Tales of the Supernatural (1992) is McKissack's work most widely held in WorldCat participating libraries. It is a book she wrote from childhood memories, describing the 30 minutes before dark on a summer night. That was the time Patricia and many other authors spent on their porches telling and writing stories. These stories were all fiction but some were spun from pieces of her reality. Patricia also uses family, friends and places of her memory in writing her stories.
In 1980, she became a full-time author. Her family was moved to St. Louis, where she started a writing service. Her late husband, Fredrick McKissack also then became interested in writing and researching for non-fiction books. One of their goals as a couple was to introduce children to African-American history and the historical figures that went along with it. Fredrick was the researcher of the pair, while Patricia mostly wrote up the research. They worked together to make manuscripts that suited them both, and together they aimed to make history come alive in their stories for children. She and Fredrick believed strongly in the contributions of African Americans, and it showed in many of their stories they created together.
Until his death, Patricia and Fredrick were partners in All-Writing Services in St. Louis. They shared an office that includes a library and two offices, one for each of them. They would go to work daily and stay until all of their tasks were completed for that day. They had worked collaboratively on many works, but one of the most famous was A Long Hard Journey: The Story of Pullman Porter, which won the Coretta Scott King Award in 1990. They also were the authors of Sojourner Truth: Ain't I a Woman, which also won the Coretta Scott King Award in 1993. Patricia is also a recipient of the third annual (2001) Virginia Hamilton Literary Award, a Newbery Honor Book citation (Newbery Medal runner-up), the National Council of Teachers of English's Orbis Pictus Award, and the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award and a NAACP Image Award. After Fredrick's death the McKissack's jointly received the Coretta Scott King - Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement.
Their two sons, twins Robert Lewis and John Patrick, are now grown, and were the inspiration for her book Who Is Who? (1983). The oldest of the children, Fredrick McKissack, Jr., is also a writer and a journalist who collaborated with his mother to create the award-winning book for older readers, Black Diamond: The Story of the Negro Baseball Leagues (1994). For many years the McKissacks lived in a renovated inner-city home. They eventually moved to their home in Chesterfield, Missouri, and enjoyed visits from their grandson. They also enjoyed growing roses and gardening.
Patricia and her husband Fredrick worked and published over 100 books together, 20 years in the making. At the time of his death, they were working together on at least one work, which she has stated she will complete on her own. Fredrick had said that they worked very well together, and that their partnership was as strong as ever. He had said that they even "sigh at the same time". Patricia McKissack still longs to teach through her books and states, "she is not a black writer but rather a writer who happens to be black-I write for children of all races." She died on April 7, 2017 at the age of 72.