In Memory: Joyce Carol Thomas

Joyce Carol Thomas

Joyce Carol Thomas was an internationally known African American author. While I did not have the pleasure of ever meeting her, I did know her work. Thankfully for those of us now remembering or realizing Ms. Thomas, her work is available in bookstores and libraries for us to read.

The NewYork Times reported that Ms. Thomas passed away in California on 13 August. It was her first young adult novel, Marked by Fire, that brought her fame. The book won the National Book Award in 1983 and eventually had 2 sequels.

“In 1998, Ms. Thomas told The African American Review that much of her work was dedicated to showing young readers a version of black life that they had seldom seen in books.”

Her children’s books included the following.

The Blacker the Berry (poetry collection)
Brown Honey in Broomwheat Tea (poetry collection)
Bright Shadow
Water GirlLinda Brown, You Are Not Alone (editor; contributor)
Gingerbread Days
I have heard of a land
The gospel Cinderella
A Gathering of flowers : stories about being young in America
Hush songs : African American lullabies
The bowlegged rooster and other tales that signify
In the land of milk and honey

The Washington Post writes of her rural upbringing. “Ms. Thomas grew up working in the Oklahoma cotton fields, and as a child was burned on her leg and bore the scar for the rest of her life, her sister said. Abyssinia [main character in Marked by Fire] shares a similar background.” She took these elements of her life into her stories, finding beauty and purpose in the ordinary.

“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-ragwearers hanging out on a stoop next to a garbage can,” she told the African American Review in 1998. “There are black American stories somewhere between slavery and ghetto that also deserve telling.” source

Ms Thomas taught for more than two decades at the University of California Santa Cruz, University of Tennessee and at Purdue University. She is survived by children and grandchildren. And, her books.

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