march 13, 2003

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African American Author Selected as First Laureate of NSK Neustadt Prize for Children's Literature

Mildred D. Taylor, one of the foremost writers for young people in the United States for nearly three decades, has been named laureate of the inaugural $25,000 NSK Neustadt Prize for Children's Literature, awarded by the University of Oklahoma and its international quarterly, World Literature Today.

The NSK Prize was established by Nancy Barcelo, Susan Neustadt Schwartz and Kathy Neustadt Hankin to encourage the improvement of writing for children by honoring an accomplished contemporary writer of children's literature every other year. The three sisters are members of a pioneer Oklahoma family whose support of the university spans more than a half-century.

The jury made special mention of Taylor's Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (1976), her first full-length novel and the second in a series of nine books based on stories from her own family. In 1977, it was recognized with the Newbery Medal from the American Library Association, the most prestigious honor in American children's literature, and the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award and was a nominee for the National Book Award. Her first effort, the novelette Song of the Trees (1975), won the first Council on Interracial Books for Children Award and was named a New York Times Outstanding Book of the Year and a Children's Book Showcase book.

The great-granddaughter of the son of a white plantation owner and a slave, Taylor was born in Mississippi but spent her childhood in Toledo, Ohio, returning to the South each year with her family. She attended Toledo's newly integrated public schools in the 1950s and graduated from the University of Toledo in 1965, after which she joined the Peace Corps and spent two years in Ethiopia. When she returned to the United States, she enrolled in the University of Colorado, where she earned a master's degree.

Dianne Johnson, professor of English at the University of South Carolina and the NSK Neustadt juror who nominated Taylor, wrote that Taylor's stories have never left her mind in the quarter century since she was introduced to her work.

"I suspect that they don't leave the minds of most readers, regardless of their backgrounds," Johnson wrote. "The almost visceral intellectual and emotional responses the books evoke are strong. And the stories they tell are important for students of American and of world history. They are modern classics. Mildred D. Taylor's books will remain significant because they are well written, accessible to many audiences, informative, moving - simply, exceptional literature."

"As the first recipient of this landmark prize, Mildred D. Taylor will help remind the world of the importance - in fact, the urgency - of high quality children's and young adult literature," said World Literature Today executive director Robert Con Davis-Undiano. "She is a superb and deeply moving writer, and her selection as the first NSK laureate will set a very high standard for the many NSK awards that will follow."

Taylor will receive the award during official ceremonies at OU in October.

Story Contact: OU Public Affairs