Patricia and Frederick McKissack
To me, reading is like breathing; both are essential to life.”—Patricia C. McKissack
Word From Patricia McKissack:
Long before I became a writer, I was a listener and an observer. My relatives, who were dynamic and skilled storytellers, helped develop my listening and observation skills before I could read or write.
On hot summer evenings our family would sit on the porch and listen to my grandmother tell a hair-raising ghost story, or my mother would recite Dunbar poems or Bible stories. Sometimes we’d get a real treat when my grandfather would dramatize an episode from his childhood, told in the rich and colorful dialect of the Deep South. I can still hear him beginning a yarn, saying: “It was back in nineteen and twenty-seven. I disremember the exact day, but it was long ’bout July, ’cause the skeeters was bitin’ whole chunks outta my arms. .. .”
As a youngster I had no idea that my heritage would one day be the springboard for my writing career.
Somewhere around age seven I discovered reading. And so began my lifelong love affair with the printed word. To me, reading is like breathing; both are essential to life.
I grew up, went off to school, majored in English literature, acquired a teaching certificate, and married right after graduation. (They said the marriage wouldn’t last six months. . . .) I knew then I wanted to be a writer. But the children came—one, and two and three together. Not much time for writing.
The library was my lifesaver. Besides being free, air-conditioned, and quiet, it was a wonderful place to learn my trade. There I learned to identify the complex reading/interest levels in children’s literature from beginning reader through young adult books. My reading included publishers’ catalogs, writers’ magazines, and book reviews. And whenever time and money would permit, I’d attend a seminar or workshop, often taking all three children with me. That’s where I heard about keeping a journal and the benefits of belonging to a literary organization. My parenting period turned out to be a very productive time for the kids and me. I didn’t publish anything, but my spirits were high and my determination steadfast. And the boys turned out to be excellent readers and writers.
My sons grew out of diapers and into size eight shoes; I grew out of size eight jeans and into size twelve business suits. Then, after nine years of teaching junior high and senior high English and after earning a master’s degree in children’s literature, I changed careers and became a children’s book editor. Six years later I became a freelance writer. A year later my husband Fred joined me, and we’ve been writing together since then. On days when I get a rejection slip—oh yes, I still get them—I close up shop and work with my flowers or go antique shopping. Then it’s back to more writing and “yesterday” deadlines.
I enjoy teaching other people to write too. What better way to combine all my training as teacher and writer? For the past ten years I’ve been teaching a course in writing for children at the University of Missouri at St. Louis. One of the greatest joys is seeing a student’s face when he or she tells me, “I’ve just sold a story!” It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s great! I’m reminded of the day my editor, Anne Schwartz, told me Flossie and the Fox was going to be published. I squealed for joy! When Mirandy and Brother Wind was accepted, Anne knew to hold the telephone away from her ear. The delight of selling a book has never diminished—and I hope it never does. I write because there’s a clear need for books written about the minority experience in America—fiction and nonfiction. I also write for the love of it! --from Randomhouse
Award-winning author Patricia McKissack wishes she could have talked to her hero, Frederick Douglass, about his rise from slavery, his daring escape, and freedom—at last!
Patricia C. and Fredrick L. McKissack have written over one hundred books about the African-American experience. They have won countless awards and received much critical acclaim, all the while bringing enjoyment and information to young readers.
Fred worked first as a civil engineer for the city of St. Louis and the U.S. Army, and later owned his own general contracting company in St. Louis. Now he devotes his time to the family business, All-Writing Services.
And just how does the collaboration process work? “There is no magic formula,” Fred says. “Pat and I talk all the time.” “After talking through a project,” Pat continues, “We outline it. Then Fred does most of the digging and the research, and I write it up on the computer and run off a hard copy. Fred fact-checks and refines it, and then gives it back to me to make his changes and any more of my own.” “Then we run off another hard copy and keep doing that until it satisfies us both,” Fred adds.
"One of the reasons we write for children is to introduce them to African and African-American history and historical figures and to get them to internalize the information not just academically, but also emotionally. We want them to feel the tremendous amount of hurt and sadness that racism and discrimination cause all people, regardless of race," Fred explains
Fred and Pat McKissack live in Chesterfield, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis. When they aren't traveling for research, they travel for fun.
Some books by The McKissacks