Award-winning author Fredrick L. McKissack, who with his wife and partner Patricia created more than 100 books profiling African-American heroes and illuminating aspects of the African-American experience, died of heart failure on Sunday, April 28. He was 73.
McKissack was born and grew up in Nashville, Tenn., where he earned a B.S. from Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial State University (now Tennessee State University) in 1964, following military service with the U.S. Marine Corps from 1957-1960.
He embarked on a career as a civil engineer for several years and eventually settled in St. Louis, Mo., with Patricia (his childhood sweetheart), where he owned his own contracting company. Their family grew to include three sons. In the 1980s, McKissack began collaborating with Patricia, a writer and teacher, and they formed their company All-Writing Services. As a writing team they adopted a strong focus on African-American themes for young readers, largely inspired by a shortage of such books in the marketplace. Their early 1990s biography series, Great African Americans (Enslow), included volumes on Frederick Douglass, Marian Anderson, Paul Robeson, and many others.
FREDRICK L. MCKISSACK died April 28, at the age of 73. Many of us know his writings with his wife, Patricia.
Fred and Patricia also wrote poetry together including “Share the Adventure” which they did for The Children’s Book Council as the National Children’s Book Week Poem, l993.
I was honored to reprint the work in my collection WONDERFUL WORDS (Simon & Schuster) as well as knowing Fred and Patricia for many years sharing the same agency.
from “Share the Adventure: “WHAM! The book slams shut…”
Fredrick McKissack was such a generous and caring spirit. His research was impeccable and in his partnership with Patricia, he made a great contribution to children’s literature and African American history. RIP.
Very sad news…
Below is an excerpt from an interview with the McKissacks:
No shortage of ideas
Patricia: We get our ideas for our books from many different places — from childhood experiences…when our children were growing up, we have incidents that happened that have given us ideas for books like Messy Bessie. We have the idea that comes out of history — our own lived history plus the history of the past.
So we get them from just comments sometimes, just overhear a comment and say, “Oh, wow! That sounds like a good book.” You know, tell the truth no matter how much it hurts other people and out of that came the honest to goodness truth, so books come from all kinds of places.
Frederick: I guess we have said over and over that ideas are two different natures. One is the instant idea that just seems to come to you and it really doesn’t take any time whatsoever. And the other type of idea is one that you work on and work on and work on.
Patricia: We’ve even named them — the Athenian idea that kind of pops right into your head like the birth of Athena, and the mustard seed idea that kind of grows slowly over time and over a period. So, out of our ideas has even come stories.
Patricia and Fredrick McKissack are the authors of numerous award-winning books, including REBELS AGAINST SLAVERY: AMERICAN SLAVE REVOLTS and BLACK HANDS, WHITE SAILS: THE STORY OF AFRICAN AMERICAN WHALERS, both Coretta Scott King Honor Books, and SOJOURNER TRUTH: AIN’T I A WOMAN? a Coretta Scott King Honor Book and winner of the Boston Globe/Horn Book Award. Patricia and Fredrick McKissack lived in St. Louis, Missouri.