Strickland, Michael R. 1965-

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STRICKLAND, Michael R. 1965-

PERSONAL: Born June 8, 1965, in Newark, NJ; son of Maurice R. (an attorney) and Dorothy S. (a professor) Strickland. Education: Cornell University, B.A. (communications), 1987; Seton Hall University, M.A. (corporate and public communications), 1993; New York University, Ph.D. candidate (English education). Politics: Democrat. Religion: Unitarian (and Catholic). Hobbies and other interests: Exercise, sports, nutrition, spirituality, reading, family (being an uncle, or "uncling").

ADDRESSES: Home—510 East 17th St., Idaho Falls, ID 83404. E-mail—[email protected].

CAREER: Teacher, poet, anthologist, consultant, and lecturer. Kean College of New Jersey, Union, admissions representative and instructor, 1987-88; Glassboro State College (now Rowan University), Glassboro, NJ, instructor in composition, 1988-89; Worall Publications, Orange, NJ, and Catholic Advocate, reporter, 1989-90; New Jersey Star Ledger, reporter, 1990; Life-Quest (health company), Bucks County, PA, staff writer, 1991-92; Jersey City State College (now New Jersey City University), Jersey City, NJ, instructor in English, 1992-96, assistant professor, 1997-2001; Aquinas Academy, Livingston, NJ, computer instructor, 2001-02; School District 91, Idaho Falls, ID, and School District 93, Bonneville, ID, substitute teacher, 2002—; Utah State University, Logan, adjunct professor, 2003; Eastern Idaho Technical College, Idaho Falls, instructor in English, 2003—. Strickland Group L.L.C., partner, 1992—; Literacy Place (reading program), poetry consultant, 1994-96; Boyds Mills Press, manuscript internal reviewer, 1995—. Maurice R. Robinson Fund, trustee, 1994-2001; Thomas J. Griffin Bridges Program, trustee, 1995—. Gives author readings, lectures, and conference presentations.

MEMBER: International Reading Association, New Jersey Reading Association, New York State Reading Association, National Council of Teachers of English.

AWARDS, HONORS: Robeson fellow, Institute for Arts and Humanities Education, 1993-94; teaching/research fellow, Washington State University College of Education, 1997; named Role Model of the Year, School District 22, Brooklyn, NY, 1999.


(Editor) Poems That Sing to You, illustrated by Alan Leiner, Boyds Mills Press (Honesdale, PA), 1993.

(Editor, with mother, Dorothy S. Strickland) Families: Poems Celebrating the African-American Experience, illustrated by John Ward, Boyds Mills Press (Honesdale, PA), 1994.

African-American Poets, Enslow Publishers (Springfield, NJ), 1996.

(Editor) My Own Song: And Other Poems to Groove To, illustrated by Eric Sabee, Boyds Mills Press (Honesdale, PA), 1997.

Haircuts at Sleepy Sam's, illustrated by Keaf Holliday, Boyds Mill Press (Honesdale, PA), 1998.

(Editor, with Shari Dorantes Hatch) African-American Writers: A Dictionary, ABC-Clio (Santa Barbara, CA), 2000.

A-to-Z of African-American History, Random House (New York, NY), 2001.

Black Snake and the Eggs: A Tale Told in Liberia, Wright Group/McGraw Hill (New York, NY), 2001.

(With Lisa Bahlinger) The Club, Perfection Learning (Logan, IA), 2001.

(With Lisa Bahlinger) Shell's Gold, Perfection Learning (Logan, IA), 2002.

WORK IN PROGRESS: A book for teachers about using poetry across the curriculum to teach math, social studies, fine arts, language arts, and science.

SIDELIGHTS: Michael R. Strickland's work celebrates African-American culture and history and the universal power of poetry—sometimes simultaneously. Employing a wide range of formats, from anthologies to reference books and fiction, Strickland has explored how poetry, storytelling, and song helped shape the African-American experience. He has also contributed several reference books on African-American history and history-makers, as well as fiction for young children and teenagers.

Strickland began writing at an early age, and his years growing up amidst a close-knit family in a small New Jersey community provided inspiration for his work. "I have always been a writer," he once told CA. "In the 1970s as a student at St. Venantius School in Orange, New Jersey, I would voluntarily write stories that included fellow students. I'd perform these pieces before the class."

The third son of an attorney and an educator, Strickland recalls memories of his boyhood—attending school, playing with his brothers, and visiting with his grandparents—in writings such as Haircuts at Sleepy Sam's, his first picture book. Set in a neighborhood barber shop, Haircuts at Sleepy Sam's tells the story of three brothers sent to get haircuts on a Saturday morning. The story expresses the closeness between the three brothers and recalls similar experiences Strickland and his brothers shared.

"On Saturday mornings, we would barrel down the stairs and my mother would have an envelope ready for Mark, my oldest brother, to give to the barber," wrote Strickland on his Web site. "It would have a note for Ted, after whom the barber shop on Central Avenue (in Orange, NJ) was named. … We would walk through Orange Park to get to the shop, encountering various people on the way. … There are so few books that appeal directly to African-American boys that I wanted to help fill that gap. At the same time, I believe that the barber shop as a cultural experience is a theme that will speak to all children."

Strickland's earliest published works celebrate the rhythms and power of poetry, as well as the African-American experience. In 1993 he edited his first book, a critically acclaimed anthology of fifty-five poems about music, titled Poems That Sing to You. In 1994 he followed with another anthology that combined his love of poetry with his love of family. Families: Poems Celebrating the African-American Experience was a collection selected by Strickland and his mother, noted educator Dorothy S. Strickland. My Own Song: And Other Poems to Groove To is the sequel to Poems That Sing to You. In this second anthology of poems about music, Strickland includes six of his own poems and ten poems by other authors. Commenting on Poems That Sing to You and My Own Song, Diane G. Person stated in Continuum Encyclopedia of Children's Literature, "Both anthologies span a broad geographic vista and time span, and are intended to be enjoyed as musical performances. They emphasize the beat, rhythm, and music that is inherent in poetry and recognized as universal in all cultures."

African-American Poets, Strickland's tribute to ten leading African-American poets, was a starting point for work in a format new to the author: reference books for children. In 2000 Strickland, working with fellow writer Shari Dorantes Hatch, published a second reference book on African Americans. African-American Writers: A Dictionary provides biographies of more than 530 black writers, ranging from well-known writers such as Toni Morrison and Ralph Ellison to lesser-known publishers, editors, and writers of rap songs, commercials, screenplays, and novels. The authors "are to be commended; no other single work seeks to include all past and present African-American writers of significance in such an affordable format," wrote reviewer Leah J. Sparks in Library Journal. According to Booklist critic Mary Ellen Quinn, prior to the publication of African-American Writers, individuals seeing information about black authors often had to consult several sources, some readily available and some obscure, making for challenging research. However, Quinn continued, "this very complete and readable dictionary helps meet that challenge."

Strickland, who names authors such as Shel Silverstein, Langston Hughes, Walter Dean Myers, Nikki Giovanni, Eloise Greenfield, M. Jerry Weiss, and Dorothy S. Strickland as his primary writing influences, has also contributed to the children's fiction genre. In addition to Haircuts at Sleepy Sam's, Strickland also wrote the 2001 storybook Black Snake and the Egg: A Tale Told in Liberia and two novels for high-school students, The Club and Shell's Gold, both written with Lisa Bahlinger.

While Strickland has written reference books and fiction since publishing his early poetry anthologies, verse continues to be a strong focus for him, both in his teaching and writing. A frequent performer of poetry for students, Strickland wrote on his Web site, "I marvel at how children's eyes light up while I'm performing a poem. I watch them bob and sway to the rhythm of the words. Their incessant questions make me realize that I've helped to motivate them to become readers and writers themselves."

Strickland told CA: "As a poet/anthologist, I … did a series of workshops with the second graders of Manhasset, NY. As I left the home of a family who hosted me for two nights, I thanked the mother for her hospitality. She replied, 'Just think about how many people you touched.' On my second visit to the schools, I had received hugs from students, and most waved and shouted 'hello' when they saw me in the hallways. Another parent from the school community association's enrichment committee said she heard her son raving about the black poet who came to class that day. To share in such feelings of caring and community is why I write and anthologize for children and teachers.

"As an African-American male, I also enjoy being a positive role model for all races. I'm highly motivated to give urban and other groups of children the benefit of seeing that a young, black writer can succeed in a multicultural society."



Continuum Encyclopedia of Children's Literature, edited by Bernice E. Cullinan and Diane G. Person, Continuum (New York, NY), 2001.

Murphy, Barbara Thrash, Black Authors and Illustrators of Books for Children and Young Adults, third edition, Garland Publishing (New York, NY), 1999.


Booklist, February 15, 1997, Hazel Rochman, review of African-American Poets, p. 1016; October 15, 1997, Helen Rosenberg, review of My Own Song: And Other Poems to Groove To, p. 394; October 15, 1998, Hazel Rochman, review of Haircuts at Sleepy Sam's, p. 429; October 1, 2000, Mary Ellen Quinn, review of African-American Writers: A Dictionary, p. 370; February 15, 2001, Nora Harris, review of African-American Writers, p. 1170.

Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 1996, review of African-American Poets, p. 1676; September 15, 1997, review of My Own Song, p. 1463.

Library Journal, December, 2000, Leah J. Sparks, review of African-American Writers, p. 72.

Publishers Weekly, October 5, 1998, review of Haircuts at Sleepy Sam's, p. 89.

School Library Journal, January, 1997, Melissa Hudak, review of African-American Poets, p. 136; December, 1997, Kathleen Whalin, review of My Own Song, p. 148; November, 1998, Shawn Brommer, review of Haircuts at Sleepy Sam's, p. 98.


Michael R. Strickland Home Page, (August 4, 2003).*