Due, Tananarive 1966-

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Due, Tananarive 1966-

PERSONAL:

Name is pronounced "tah-nah-nah-reeve doo"; born January 5, 1966, in Tallahassee, FL; daughter of John Dorsey (an attorney) and Patricia (a civil-rights activist) Due; married Steven Barnes (a science fiction novelist and screenwriter); children: Lauren Nicole Barnes (stepdaughter), Jason. Education: Northwestern University, B.S., 1987; University of Leeds, M.A., 1988. Religion: African Methodist Episcopal. Hobbies and other interests: Playing piano and keyboard, roller blading.

ADDRESSES:

Home—Southern CA. Agent—John Hawkins & Associates, 71 W. 23rd St., Ste. 1600, New York, NY 10010. E-mail—[email protected]; [email protected]

CAREER:

Journalist and novelist. Former columnist for Miami Herald; former intern at New York Times and Wall Street Journal. Has performed with Rock Bottom Remainders (rock band that includes authors Stephen King, Dave Barry, and Amy Tan) as keyboardist/vocalist/dancer.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Finalist, Bram Stoker Award for Outstanding Achievement in a First Novel, Horror Writers Association, 1995, for The Between; Publishers Weekly Best Book citation, 1997, for My Soul to Keep, and 2001, for The Living Blood; National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Image Award nomination for The Black Rose and King of Clubs of Greater Miami President's Award, 1998; American Book Award, 2002, for The Living Blood; New Voice in Literature Award, New York University's Institute of African-American Affairs and African Studies Program and the Organization of Women Writers of Africa, 2004.

WRITINGS:

NOVELS

The Between, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1995.

My Soul to Keep, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1997.

The Living Blood, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 2001.

The Good House, Atria (New York, NY), 2003.

Joplin's Ghost, Atria Books (New York, NY), 2005.

(With Blair Underwood and Steven Barnes) Casanegra: A Tennyson Hardwick Story, Atria Books (New York, NY), 2007.

OTHER

The Black Rose: The Magnificent Story of Madam C.J. Walker, America's First Black Female Millionaire (biographical novel), Ballantine (New York, NY), 2000.

(With mother, Patricia Stephens Due) Freedom in the Family: A Mother-Daughter Memoir of the Fight for Civil Rights, One World (New York, NY), 2003.

Contributor to Naked Came the Manatee, Putnam (New York, NY), a comic thriller written by thirteen southern writers, each contributing a chapter.

ADAPTATIONS:

Film rights to My Soul to Keep were obtained by Fox Searchlight.

SIDELIGHTS:

Journalist and novelist Tananarive Due set her sights on a writing career at an early age. As a sixth grader watching the landmark television miniseries Roots, Due—the daughter of an attorney and a civil-rights activist—traced her own family's history, calling her work My Own Roots. As a young woman, Due attended a summer program for young writers at Northwestern University and won numerous awards for both writing and oratory. After earning her bachelor's degree in journalism, she completed a Rotary Foundation scholarship in Leeds, England. There she completed her master's degree, concentrating her studies on Nigerian literature. Due began her professional career at the Miami Herald as a columnist; at the same time she began sending her short stories to publishers, although none responded in the affirmative.

An interview with Anne Rice, author of such gothics as The Vampire Lestat, inspired Due to try her hand at horror. She drafted her first novel, The Between, in her spare time before and after work. This time Due caught the attention of a publisher, and The Between was released in 1995. That novel and subsequent work helped set the author apart in the genre of mystery/horror: her books feature African-American characters.

The Between is "a skillful blend of horror and the supernatural," according to a reviewer for Publishers Weekly. The story centers on a forty-year-old social worker in Miami's inner city who is plagued by nightmares that seem to indicate either his insanity or his status as a person "in between" life and death. As a child, Hilton James barely escaped death by drowning in the same accident that killed his grandmother; now, as the husband of the only African-American woman judge in Miami, he seems to be receiving messages through his subconscious that indicate his survival all those years ago was a mistake that must be rectified. Due's portrait of Hilton's crumbling personality is "sympathetic and credible," according to a Publishers Weekly critic, who nevertheless felt that the rest of the cast fails to achieve the same verisimilitude. M.J. Simmons, who reviewed The Between for Library Journal, noted that, rather than a tale of supernatural horror, Due's first novel is "a chilling and sympathetic portrait of a man whose madness needs explanation in the psychic realm." Although Simmons found Due's ending a disappointment, Lillian Lewis, who reviewed the book for Booklist, praised the book's "intriguing and suspenseful plot," concluding that "Due may very well develop a loyal following with her first novel."

Due followed The Between with My Soul to Keep, another tale of supernatural horror in which reporter Jessica discovers that her otherwise-perfect husband David is actually a five-hundred-year-old member of an Ethiopian band of immortals willing to kill to keep its members' existence a secret. David reveals his secret to Jessica, endangering himself and the family he has come to love when the brotherhood sends another member of the band to make sure their secret does not get out. Booklist critic Lewis found Due's second novel "more compelling than her first" and compared My Soul to Keep with Octavia Butler's Kindred for its grounding in "African and African American heritage and culture." Critics lauded Due's realistic details and strong sense of family life, which provide a convincing foundation for a somewhat melodramatic plot. My Soul to Keep is "a novel populated with vivid, emotional characters that is also a chilling journey to another world," concluded a reviewer for Publishers Weekly.

Returning to gothic fiction, in 2001 Due published The Living Blood, a sequel to My Soul to Keep. The story rejoins Jessica and David, as Jessica joins her husband among the immortals after a ceremonial infusion of magical blood. Now a part of the ancient Life Brothers society, Jessica finds herself alone and pregnant after David, accused of murder, disappears. She raises her daughter, Fana, to age two and discovers the child possesses the Life Brothers' psychic powers. She embarks on a desperate mission to find David in Africa. Larger in scope than My Soul to Keep, The Living Blood drew mixed reaction from some reviewers. Patricia Altner commented in Library Journal that the sequel suffers from a "poorly executed" plot and "flaccid" writing. On the other hand, Booklist reviewer Lewis welcomed the novel, saying that even newcomers to the Jessica-and-David saga will likely enjoy the story. While noting that the author "does not fully develop the fascinating theological implications of her story," Black Issues Book Review contributor Paulette Richards still praised The Living Blood as "an engrossing, well-paced narrative." The book won an American Book Award in 2002.

Also in the supernatural vein is Due's 2003 novel The Good House. Divorcee Angela Toussaint moves with her teenaged son Corey to Washington, where the family has a summer home built in 1907 and once occupied by Angela's Creole "mambo" grandmother Marie, a suspected witch. When an ancient evil is brought back to life, voodoo, family ties, murder, and suicide all figure in a story in which "Due keeps richly packed and layered description alive with suspense," maintained a Kirkus Reviews contributor, concluding that in The Good House Due "weaves a stronger net than ever." Praising the novel's "themes of family ties, racial identity and moral responsibility," a Publishers Weekly reviewer noted that Due traverses the intricate plot deftly, "interjecting powerfully orchestrated moments of supernatural horror that sustain the tale's momentum." Although of the opinion that the novel would have been better served by a stronger ending, Jennifer Baker praised The Good House in Library Journal as "a cleverly plotted tale of possession and magic gone awry."

By the late 1990s Due had gained enough of a reputation as a novelist and journalist for the estate of the late author Alex Haley to assign her the project of finishing a biographical novel begun by Haley and based on the life of pioneering African-American executive Madam C.J. Walker. In the early twentieth century Walker—born Sarah Breedlove and the daughter of former slaves—rose from laundress to millionaire on the strength of her business savvy and her line of hair-care products. At the time of his death in 1992, Haley left behind an outline for the Walker novel, along with reams of archival clippings, letters, and photographs.

The resulting book, 2000's The Black Rose: The Magnificent Story of Madam C.J. Walker, America's First Black Female Millionaire, traces Walker from childhood to her death at age fifty-two. Combining fiction and fact, The Black Rose uses Walker's point of view to explore the challenges of life in the segregated South of the early twentieth century. Recognizing a need for beauty products aimed at underserved black women, Walker not only created her own products but recruited as many as 20,000 women to sell them door to door—"empowering them, in many cases, to transform themselves from cooks or maids to entrepreneurs," according to Valerie Boyd in an Atlanta Journal-Constitution piece. Boyd labeled Due's account "compelling," adding: "with the patience of a born storyteller, [the author] slowly allows Walker's stirring story to unfold." The reviewer also cited Due for presenting a well-rounded, flaws-and-all picture of her subject.

In 2003 Due wrote Freedom in the Family: A Mother-Daughter Memoir of the Fight for Civil Rights. Written with her mother, Patricia Stephens Due, the volume relates a personal history of the struggle for equality, from the lunchcounter sit-ins of the 1950s to a racially motivated police raid on the Due family's Miami home decades later. The book, noted a Publishers Weekly contributor, is "cathartic in its recounting of past obstacles, and optimistic of its hopes for the future."

Talking to Publishers Weekly contributor Stefan Dziemianowicz about her supernatural novels, Due remarked that she "really never set out to write a trilogy or create a franchise." But she didn't rule out the idea of a third book in the gothic series about Jessica and David, saying that with the completion Freedom in the Family, "it may be time to revisit the immortals."

Due once told CA: "I've wanted to write since I was four years old, when I wrote a picture book called ‘Baby Bobby.’ It seems to me that I came into this world wanting to tell stories and write. Hopefully, I have absorbed some of the lessons of the great writers I have read over the years—Toni Morrison, Stephen King, Jane Austen, Octavia E. Butler, Franz Kafka, Gloria Naylor, Richard Wright—although my own voice is unique. I'm happiest when I can write a story the way I did when I was a kid: finding the place the story naturally begins and having great fun in the telling. I have found myself preoccupied with issues of illness, death and loss, and writing helps me work through my own fears.

"What continues to surprise me is that writing doesn't get easier—in fact, if anything, sometimes I think it gets more difficult with each book. My standards are continually changing and growing, and I'm always trying to stretch myself. My Soul to Keep has been a reader favorite, but my new favorite novel is The Good House because I was challenging myself. I am also very grateful I was able to coauthor Freedom in the Family with my mother. A project like that is priceless to a family."

In Joplin's Ghost, Due returns to fiction, in the story of a young rhythm-and-blues singer who comes under the sway of the ghost of the famed ragtime pianist and composer Scott Joplin. The singer, Phoenix Smalls, visits Joplin's home, now a historical site in St. Louis, and when she leaves, the ghost of Joplin literally accompanies her, soon forcing her to choose between a current lover and Joplin, who wants her all for himself. Reviewing the title in Black Issues Book Review, Denise Simon noted that "Due has a gift for creating memorable characters and part of her storytelling success stems from her willingness to do things a little differently." Simon, however, also felt that this novel "lacks the emotional appeal of some of [Due's] earlier works." No such reservations were offered by an Ebony critic, who found Joplin's Ghost a "spellbinding tale." Similar praise came from a Publishers Weekly reviewer who felt that this "contemplative supernatural novel" was "rich [in] material to stir up readers' empathy for the relationship between the ghost and his chosen channel." And writing for the Mostly Fiction Web site, Mary Whipple concluded, "This exciting, sure-to-be-popular novel finely captures the status of black music at two different periods."

Due teamed up with her husband, science fiction writer Steven Barnes, and the actor Blair Underwood for the 2007 Casanegra: A Tennyson Hardwick Story, "the first in a series of urban mysteries laced with hardcore action (read: sex)," according to Entertainment Weekly reviewer Adrienne Day. Tennyson Hardwick is a failed actor, former gigolo, and hopeful detective who becomes enmeshed in a web of intrigue involving rappers and rather sinister music executives. When a former client of his, a music superstar, is found dead the day after their last meeting, Hardwick becomes a prime suspect in her brutal death and must then try to clear his name. Day praised the "taut" pace and the "snappy" dialogue in this mystery. A Publishers Weekly contributor also commended this team effort, terming it "a seamlessly entertaining novel." The same reviewer concluded, "Hardwick has not only a great backstory but a very promising future."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

Contemporary Black Biography, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2001.

PERIODICALS

African American Review, winter, 2004, "My Characters Are Teaching Me to Be Strong: An Interview with Tananarive Due."

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, July 16, 2000, Valerie Boyd, "Black Female Entrepreneur Finally Gets Her Due," p. L8.

Black Issues Book Review, July, 2000, Natasha Tarpley, review of The Black Rose: The Magnificent Story of Madam C.J. Walker, America's First Black Female Millionaire, p. 19; May, 2001, Paulette Richards, review of The Living Blood, p. 18; January 1, 2004, "Blair Underwood Goes for the Greenlight: A Six-year Journey to Develop and Star in a Film Based on Tananarive Due's My Soul to Keep Catches Fire in a Partnership with an Enthusiastic Studio. Here's the Story So Far in Bringing One Popular Black Novel to the Screen," p. 25; January 1, 2006, Denise Simon, review of Joplin's Ghost, p. 58.

Booklist, May 15, 1995, Lillian Lewis, review of The Between, p. 1631; July 19, 1997, Lillian Lewis, review of My Soul to Keep; April 15, 2000, Brad Hooper, review of The Black Rose, p. 1500; April 1, 2001, Lillian Lewis, review of The Living Blood, p. 1447.

Ebony, July, 2000, review of The Black Rose, p. 14; June, 2001, review of The Living Blood, p. 23; January, 2006, review of Joplin's Ghost, p. 31.

Entertainment Weekly, June 22, 2007, Adrienne Day, review of Casanegra: A Tennyson Hardwick Story, p. 75.

Houston Chronicle, May 27, 2001, Mark Johnson, review of The Living Blood, p. 21.

Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 1997, review of My Soul to Keep, p. 738; November 1, 2002, review of Freedom in the Family: A Mother-Daughter Memoir of the Fight for Civil Rights, p. 1585; August 15, 2003, review of The Good House, p. 1033.

Library Journal, June 1, 1995, M.J. Simmons, review of The Between, p. 158; February 15, 2001, Patricia Altner, review of The Living Blood, p. 200; November 1, 2002, Ann Burns, review of Freedom in the Family, p. 115; August, 2003, Jennifer Baker, review of The Good House, p. 129.

Publishers Weekly, April 24, 1995, review of The Between, p. 60; June 2, 1997, review of My Soul to Keep, p. 55; November 8, 1999, John Baker, "First Black Millionaire," p. 14; March 15, 2000, review of The Black Rose, p. 87; March 19, 2001, Stefan Dziemianowicz, "PW Talks to Tananarive Due" and review of The Living Blood, p. 81; December 23, 2002, review of Freedom in the Family, p. 56; July 14, 2003, review of The Good House, p. 61; July 25, 2005, review of Joplin's Ghost, p. 44; May 14, 2007, review of Casanegra, p. 34.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 16, 2000, Naima Wartts, "Novel Tells Fact-Based Story of First Black Female Millionaire," p. F10.

School Library Journal, December, 2000, review of The Black Rose, p. 168.

Science Fiction Chronicle, August, 2001, review of The Living Blood, p. 34.

Washington Post Book World, February 4, 2001, review of The Black Rose, p. 10; May 6, 2001, review of The Living Blood, p. 8.

ONLINE

Mostly Fiction,http://www.mostlyfiction.com/ (October 30, 2005), Mary Whipple, review of Joplin's Ghost.

Tananarive Due Home Page,http://www.tananarivedue.com (January 27, 2008).