Joyce Carol Thomas was one of nine children born into a cotton-picking family in rural Oklahoma. She died last month on the 16th in Berkeley, California.
Ms. Thomas started out writing poetry and plays and then moved on to young adult fiction. Her first young adult novel, Marked by Fire, was published in 1982 and won the National Book Award in 1983.
She said in one interview, “I know of black boys and girls who squirm uncomfortably in their desks at the two-dimensional, unrelenting portrayal of young people as either victims of slavery or perennial do-rag wearers hanging out on a stoop next to a garbage can. There are black American stories somewhere between slavery and ghetto that also deserve telling.” Her work explored issues of identity and the experience of black lives in rural areas.
In addition to the National Book Award, she won the American Book Award, the New York Times Outstanding Book of the Year Award, Outstanding Woman of the 20th Century Award, three Coretta Scott King Honor Awards, the Center for Poets and Writers’ Poet Laureate Award, Kirkus Reviews Editors’ Choice, the American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults, Book of the Month Club Selection, and others. She received her undergraduate degree from San Jose State and a master’s from Stanford University and taught at several colleges.
Because I am dark, the moon and stars shine brighter.”
Her poetry collections included The Blacker the Berry and Brown Honey in Broom Wheat Tea, which both received the Coretta Scott King Book Award.
When the berries in the jar
Are biscuit ready
I fix a cup of tea
Then spoon out biscuit jelly
For biscuit brown me
Joyce Carol Thomas
With the holiday’s coming sooner than we’d like to think: her books make great gifts for children and youth. Her board books are charming.
Photograph, courtesy of Ms. Thomas’ Amazon page.