Johnson, Dedra 1967-
Johnson, Dedra 1967-
Born 1967. Education: University of Florida—Gainesville, M.F.A.; also holds degrees from Northwestern University and the University of Southern Mississippi.
Home—New Orleans, LA.
Writer, creative writing teacher; Dillard University, New Orleans, LA, professor.
Sandrine's Letter to Tomorrow, Ig Pub. (Brooklyn, NY), 2007.
Contributor of short fiction to journals, including Product and Bridge; also maintains a blog.
Born in 1967, writer and educator Dedra Johnson was raised in New Orleans, Louisiana. She left home when it came time for college, earning degrees from Northwestern University and the University of Southern Mississippi, as well as a master of fine arts degree from the University of Florida at Gainesville. While at the University of Florida, she was named a finalist for the prestigious Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Award for College Writers. Ultimately, Johnson returned home to New Orleans, where she works as a writer and teaches creative writing at Dillard University, including classes in fiction, playwriting, and screenwriting. She has contributed short fiction to Product and Bridge and is the author of a novel, Sandrine's Letter to Tomorrow, which was a finalist for the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Award in 2006.
Sandrine's Letter to Tomorrow takes place in New Orleans during the 1970s. The African American heroine, Sandrine Miller, is eight years old and lives with her mother, Shirleen. Shirleen resents her daughter, partly because her birth made Shirleen a teenage mother, and partly because the girl's fair complexion would allow her to pass for white if she were to choose to do so. As a result of her harsh feelings, Shirleen uses Sandrine as free labor around the house, making her scrub and clean until everything shines, and even forcing her to wash items that are not dirty. Once she finishes their own home, Sandrine must also clean for her maternal grandmother. While these women keep a close eye on the girl's behavior and her attentiveness to her chores, they pay far less heed to how she is growing up and her safety and development.
The highlight of Sandrine's life is the summer, which she spends each year with her father with frequent visits to her paternal grandmother, Mamalita. But this particular summer is different. When her father finally comes to pick her up, Sandrine learns there is a new woman in his life—Philipa. Philipa has her own daughter, Yolanda, two years younger than Sandrine, and resents Sandrine's intrusion into their lives. Sandrine also finds herself stuck in her father's house, with no visits to her grandmother. When she learns of Mamalita's death, it is as if there are no places left where she can escape. However, Sandrine is a bookish child and loves the world of stories, so novels become her sole outlet. Her love of reading leads to an interest in writing as well, though this outlet takes the form of letter writing. Ultimately, it is a letter of hope in which she asserts her worth in the face of her mother's constant belittling that keeps Sandrine going when she is sexually molested. With no adult figures willing to see her distress or whom she feels she can trust to help her, Sandrine is forced to suffer through her mother blaming her for the incident. Eventually her father comes to rescue her, taking her to live with him on a permanent basis, away from her mother's neglect and abusive treatment, but Sandrine has already been forced to struggle through the worst of her experiences on her own. The emotional book deals with issues of discrimination of all types.
Johnson's debut met with mostly praise from reviewers, including frequent comparisons to writers Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly declared that "Sandrine, with her fierce pride, is an instantly likable underdog." Ravi Howard, reviewing for the Press-Register Online Web site, found the focus of the narrative to be "the story of a young girl crafting her independence," concluding that "Sandrine draws upon lessons learned from the kindnesses and cruelties she has encountered in her young life. In a powerful debut effort, Johnson shows us how these acts affect the lives of children."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, October 15, 2007, Hazel Rochman, review of Sandrine's Letter to Tomorrow, p. 33.
Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 2007, review of Sandrine's Letter to Tomorrow.
Publishers Weekly, September 24, 2007, review of Sandrine's Letter to Tomorrow, p. 45; October 1, 2007, "PW Talks with Dedra Johnson: The Big Uneasy," p. 36.
Carp(e) Libris Reviews,http://carpelibrisreviews.com/ (April 21, 2008), review of Sandrine's Letter to Tomorrow.
Curled Up with a Good Book,http://www.curledup.com/ (July 14, 2008), Joan Burke Stanford, review of Sandrine's Letter to Tomorrow.
Ig Publisher Web site,http://www.igpub.com/ (July 14, 2008), author profile.
Press-Register Online (Mobile, AL), http://www.al.com/ (March 2, 2008), Ravi Howard, "A Child at the Crossroads: Innocence, Awareness Intertwine in Dedra Johnson Debut."
Red Room,http://www.redroom.com/ (July 14, 2008), author profile.
Times-Picayune Online,http://www.nola.com/ (November 4, 2007), Susan Larson, "Only a Day Away."