Friday, May 25, 2007

Happy Birthday, Joyce Carol Thomas

Today is poet, Joyce Carol Thomas’s birthday, so I offer this tribute to her from my upcoming book, Poetry People; A Practical Guide to Children’s Poets. This is an excerpt from the entry on her and her poetry.

Joyce Thomas was born on May 25, 1938, in Ponca City, Oklahoma. She attended San Francisco City College and the University of San Francisco, but received her bachelor’s degree from San Jose State College in California. She also earned a master’s degree from Stanford University. She has worked as a telephone operator, a teacher of French and Spanish, a reading program director, and as a professor of English. Thomas has won numerous awards including Best Book and Notable citations from the American Library Association, National Council of Teachers of English and the National Council for the Social Studies; as well as the National Book Award for Children’s Fiction, the Coretta Scott King Award, and the Oklahoma Sequoyan Young Adult Book Award.

Joyce Thomas’ free verse poems in Brown Honey in Broomwheat Tea (HarperTrophy, 1996) and the companion volume Gingerbread Days (HarperTrophy, 1997) share glimpses of family love while celebrating the beauty and heritage of all African Americans. Share the thoughtful poem, “Becoming the Tea” (from Brown Honey in Broomwheat Tea) and brew a cup of tea (preferably from tea leaves) to bring the poem to life. Bring gingerbread to accompany the January poem from Gingerbread Days, a collection of a dozen poems loosely linked to the months of the year. Pair this with Lilian Moore’s poetry collection based on the calendar year, Mural On Second Avenue and Other City Poems (Candlewick, 2004) or Eloise Greenfield’s Night on Neighborhood Street (Dial, 1991), a glimpse of life in an urban community, or Nikki Grimes’ Hopscotch Love: A Family Treasury of Love Poems (Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, 1999), a heartwarming collage of family moments.

In the poems in Crowning Glory (HarperCollins, 2002), Thomas honors the African American traditions of braids, cornrows, dreadlocks, ribbons, and scarves in adorning the head and hair. She particularly pays tribute to women, much like Nikki Giovanni’s poem, “Mattie Lou at Twelve” (Spin a Soft Black Song, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1987) or Jacqueline Woodson’s picture book Show Way (Putnam, 2005). Follow up with Kathryn Lasky’s picture book biography, Vision of Beauty: The Story of Sarah Breedlove Walker illustrated by Nneka Bennett (Candlewick, 2003), the founder of the Madame C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company of hair care products for Black women and the richest African American woman of her times.

Thomas narrows her focus to mothers and daughters, with her poetry book, A Mother's Heart, A Daughter's Love: Poems for Us to Share (HarperCollins, 2001), full of poems designed to be read alone, together in a duet, or as a call and response. Connect these poems with Janet Wong’s collection, The Rainbow Hand: Poems About Mothers and Children (Simon & Schuster, 2000) or Pat Mora’s anthology, Love to Mama: A Celebration of Mothers (Lee and Low, 2001). Children can choose their favorite poems and tape themselves reading them to share as a special “Mother’s Day” or birthday poem tribute.

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Anonymous said...

Hi Sylvia,

I enjoy your blog, and I'm tapping you for a meme. You can see the details at Wordy Girls:

Joyce Carol Thomas is a wonderful poet and a simply lovely person as well. Happy birthday to her!

Laura Salas

Beth E. said...

Dr. V - The couple who own the wonderful independent bookstore in Ponca City - Brace Books & More - are longtime family friends! When I sent them your post, they wrote back that Joyce Carol Thomas had been in their store several times to sign her books, but not in recent years. They said that poetry has always come first for her, and that her novel Marked By Fire had a "wonderfully magic feel to it." They highlight most everything she writes because books set in Ponca aren't exactly commonplace - and all her YA novels take place in the town. Their store is such a treasure - with an enormous YA section. When we were there in January, I had to drag Jeff out of there by force.