Patricia and Fredrick McKissack are a writing duo that got their start when they decided they wanted to do something about the lack of children's stories about African Americans. In this exclusive interview with Reading Rockets, Patricia and Fredrick McKissack talk about finding inspiration for their writing, their favorite books, their commitment to writing African American stories, and the power of reading to children.
In 2014, the McKissacks received Coretta Scott King's Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement from the American Library Association, for making a significant and lasting literary contribution with their books for children and young adults.
Wife-and-husband writing team Patricia and Fredrick McKissack began collaborating in the early 1980s. Now, over 100 books and 20 years later, the McKissacks' partnership is as strong as ever. Most of the books they write together are biographies and nonfiction books about the history of African Americans.
Patricia McKissack still considers herself the teacher she was once, and notes, "When you have African American children in your classroom, it is so good for them to see themselves. If you see yourself in a book, you'll be more likely to pick it up. And if you pick it up, you'll read it. And if you read, you'll read more. And if you read more, you read better. And, of course, that all leads to success."
A meeting of minds
Patricia McKissack was born in 1944, in Smyrna, Tennessee. After moving around a bit, when she was 12 she and her family finally settled in Nashville. It was there that Patricia first met the then 17-year-old Fredrick. The two friends both attended Tennessee State University, but it wasn't until after graduating in 1964 that they became more than friends. Fredrick proposed on their second date, and they were married four months later.
Patricia was a teacher and editor of children's books. Meanwhile, Fredrick pursued a career in civil engineering. One day in the early 1980s, however, this all changed when Fredrick turned to Patricia and asked, "If you could do anything you want to do in this whole wide world for the rest of your life, what would you do?" Patricia responded, "Write books." Fredrick said he'd like to join her. So the two of them, with the help of their three young sons, set out to make that dream come true.
Their first book, Abram, Abram, Where Are We Going?, was published in 1984, and this husband-and-wife team haven't looked back since. What began as a six-month lark has resulted in over 100 books, including the Coretta Scott King Award winners A Long Hard Journey: The Story of the Pullman Porter (1990) and Sojourner Truth: Ain't I a Woman? (1993).
Fredrick and Patricia are currently living in St. Louis, Missouri. When not writing books or running their business, they enjoy spending time in their garden.