Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry Author/Context
Mildred D. Taylor was born on September 13, 1943 in Jackson, Mississippi. Her father, Wilbert Taylor, had grown up in the South, and though he loved the land and his neighbors, he was angry about the way black people like himself were treated by white people in the South. Soon after Mildred's birth, he got into a fight at work over a racial incident and decided to move his family north to Toledo. Still, the family returned to the South often, so Mildred was able to compare the two areas for much of her young life.
Mildred and her older sister Wilma loved their first house in Toledo, even though they were poor, because there was always family around. Much like Cassie Logan, Mildred valued the comfort and security of having a large family that was very close. Her aunts and uncles often felt like extra fathers and mothers. Even in the South, she felt supported by the community, though the fear of white cruelty loomed over her. Though it was less pronounced, she was not free of this fear in Toledo. As a young girl she attended a newly segregated school there and even through college, she was one of very few black women in her classes. Always interested in the fight against racism and injustice around the world, Taylor worked with the Peace Corps for several years, spending some time in Ethiopia.
Though Taylor has been writing since she was a young girl, she did not realize that she wanted to be a writer until 1973, when she entered a contest for minority writers. Her manuscript, a children's story called Song of the Trees, won the award and was published by Dial. Since then, all of her books have been published by that company, and all have been children's books. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, her first major publication, won the Newbery Award in 1976. It was published just a few months after her father died. Though she was saddened that he could not share in her triumph, he had been with her through every step of the writing process. The idea for the book first came about when Mildred wrote a short song with the title words in it. The song concerned perseverance in the face of racism. She immediately told her father that she would write a book using the poem as inspiration, and that the book would be a great success.
Taylor has often said that her writing is mainly inspired by her father. A wonderful storyteller, he could manipulate the emotions of his listener masterfully, whether he was telling a sad story or a happy one. He also provided her with a keen sense of justice and decency. Like David Logan, her father meant what he said and did. He talked to her honestly about racism and about morality. This perhaps is why she has been able to write so many of her books with the same even-handed directness. Much of Taylor can be seen in the character of young Cassie Logan, and other parallels are revealed in what she writes in the dedication of Thunder, "To the memory of my beloved father, who lived many adventures of the boy Stacey, and was in essence the man David."
Taylor continued the saga of the Logans with Let the Circle be Unbroken. This book takes place one year after Thunder, continuing some of the same story lines but mostly branching out to new ones. The Road To Memphis concerns a seventeen-year-old Cassie, and The Well: David's Story takes the reader back in time, relating the adventures of the young brothers David and Hammer. Taylor has written several short stories as well. Like her novels, they have earned the admiration of critics from around the world, who find in her simply written works complex lessons about justice and injustice, cruelty and compassion.
Crowe, Chris. Presenting Mildred D. Taylor. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1999.
Kutenplon, Deborah and Allen Olmstead. Young Adult Fiction by African American Writers, 1968- 1993. New York: Garland Publishing, 1996.
Taylor, Mildred D. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. New York: Puffin Books, 1976.