Eleanora E.Tate, author of eleven contemporary fiction, biographies, and historical fiction, brings an authentic “neighborhoods and communities” perspective to her middle grade novels.
Briefly describe the impact racism had on you as a young person.
It’s not "had" — it’s HAS. Racism is not dead at all. I still confront it more often than I care to. The most glaring problem is that whites — especially young whites — have no idea when they’re being racist. They’re just sure that they’re NOT. I deeply appreciate the whites who do recognize when their prejudices lead them to commit acts of racism. The definition of racism is having the power to enforce one’s prejudices that ultimately are negative to the person or population against which the attitude is directed. Thus, the people who are so strongly against the Coretta Scott King award, not recognizing how negative the decades of discrimination against African American writers who vie for the Newbury award have been entrenched, are showing their racism. This includes those Negroes who think they’re being balanced by falling into the same crowd. The need for control — overtly or subtly — is the motivation for this belief.
Has your personal experience of racism impacted your professional work as a writer?
Well, my books speak for the truth that I’ve brought up against racism. The Secret of Gumbo Grove, set in the 1980s, reveals how a town’s history should include every population and not just one. Thank You, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.!, set in the 1980s, reveals how racist attitudes found in school textbooks, books in general, and some teachers’ good intentions can harm African American children. In turn, this negative attitude can cause children to hate themselves because they are not part of the "dominant" population.
In what way can literature be used to combat the effects of racism and promote tolerance?
It’s more than tolerance. Tolerance means "putting up with." Let us be real. Do you merely want to be "tolerated?" How about accepted? or "respected"?
Eleanor’s newest book Celeste’s Harlem Renaissance, set in both Raleigh, NC and Harlem, NY in 1921, is the 2007 NC Book Award (AAUW) winner in Juvenile Literature, and a 2008 “IRA Teachers’ Choice Award” winner. To Be Free, The Secret of Gumbo Grove, Thank You, Dr, Martin Luther King, Jr.! and A Blessing in Disguise are also set in the Carolinas. She’s also the author of The Minstrel’s Melody, an American Girl History Mystery, Front Porch Stories at the One Room School, and the popular non-fiction titles African American Musicians and Retold African Myths. Her book Just an Overnight Guest was the basis of a children’s film of the same name and shown on PBS and Nickleodeon.