Tarpley, Natasha A(nastasia) 1971-
TARPLEY, Natasha A(nastasia) 1971-
PERSONAL: Born January 6, 1971, in Chicago, IL; daughter of Herman, Jr. (a police officer) and Marlene L. (a writer, teacher, and administrator) Tarpley. Education: Attended Howard University, 1991-1992, and Georgetown University, 1993-94; Harvard University, A.B. (with honors), 1993; Northwestern University, J.D., 1998.
ADDRESSES: Home—Chicago, IL. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Lee & Low Books, 95 Madison Ave., Suite 606, New York, NY 10016.
CAREER: American Visions, Washington, DC, editorial assistant, 1992; Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, indexer for Black Periodical Literature Project, 1992-1993; Writers and Readers Publishing Inc., New York, NY, editorial intern, 1993; writer, 1993—.
AWARDS, HONORS: Larry Neal Award for Poetry, Washington (DC) Commission for the Arts, 1992, 1994; Award for Poetry, Howard University, 1992; Joan Gray Untermeyer Award for Poetry, Radcliffe College, 1993; National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship for Poetry, 1994-1995; Massachusetts Cultural Council Fellowship for Poetry, 1994-1995.
(Editor) Testimony: Young African Americans on Self-Discovery and Black Identity, Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 1995.
I Love My Hair!, illustrated by E. B. Lewis, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1997.
Girl in the Mirror: Three Generations of Black Women in Motion (memoir), Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 1998.
Bippity Bop Barbershop, illustrated by E. B. Lewis, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 2002.
Joe-Joe's First Flight, illustrated by E. B. Lewis, Knopf (New York, NY), 2003.
Destiny's Gift, illustrated by Adjoa J. Burrowes, Lee & Low Books (New York, NY), 2004.
Contributor to anthologies, including City River of Voices, edited by Denise Bergman, West End Press (Minneapolis, MN), 1992; Fast Talk, Full Volume, edited by Alan Spears, Gut Punch Press (Washington, DC), 1993; and In Search of Color Everywhere, edited by E. Ethelbert Miller, Stewart, Tabori, & Chang (New York, NY), 1994. Contributor of articles, reviews, and poems to periodicals, including Essence, Radcliffe Quarterly, Callaloo, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and African American Review. Poetry editor, Diaspora, 1990.
SIDELIGHTS: Author and editor Natasha A. Tarpley's works address topics important to African Americans and issues that affect every child, no matter his or her race. From the simple pains and pleasures of hair styling to larger issues of searching for history and identity, Tarpley examines the rituals and customs that delineate rites of passage and comforting customs in African-American communities.
In I Love My Hair!, young Keyana tearfully endures the daily ritual of having her hair combed by her mother. Each evening, mother and daughter work on Keyana's hair together, easing out the tangles that occasionally cause the combing to hurt. The relationship between the two deepens and strengthens as her mother explains that she is lucky to have a beautiful head of hair and describes the many ways Keyana's hair can be worn. Whether worn in tight cornrows, ponytails, or afros, Keyana's hair is part of her identity and helps define her as an individual and as an African American. Despite the problems with the combing, and the occasional teasing about her hairstyles from her classmates, Keyana learns to appreciate and value her hair and what it says about her. Judith Constantinides, writing in School Library Journal, called I Love My Hair! "a very special book about self-acceptance." The author "has a way of turning descriptions" of the difficulties with Keyana's hair "into triumphs" of the girl's personality and determination, wrote Janice M. Del Negro in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books. Henrietta M. Smith, reviewing I Love My Hair! in Booklist, called it "a story about pride and self esteem," while a Publishers Weekly reviewer characterized the book as a "gracefully told story" that contains a "reassuring message for all children about the importance of appreciating what they look like as part of who they are."
Tarpley again addresses the theme of hair rituals, identity, parental relationships, and self-acceptance, this time from a young African-American boy's point of view, in Bippity Bop Barbershop. One Saturday morning, Miles and his father go to the barber shop for Miles's first haircut. The young man is nervous and apprehensive, wondering if the hair clippers will hurt or whether the barber might accidentally snip off his ear. He does not even know what kind of haircut to ask for. Miles is welcomed into the "male sanctuary" of the barber shop, wrote Carolyn Phelan in Booklist, at first greeted as "Little Man" but later, after finding the courage to face the clippers, declared "one of the big boys, now." To his relief, the clippers do not hurt, and when the experience overwhelms him, his father is there to lovingly reassure him. In the end, Miles chooses a hair style just like his father's. The rite of passage is completed, and Miles and his father are brought even closer together at the end of this seemingly trivial but contextually important life step. "Tarpley is very sharp in catching the moods and rituals of the barbershop," observed a Kirkus Reviews critic. The author's work "is true to both Miles's emotional point of view and to the social significance of the barbershop," Del Negro remarked in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books. Del Negro went on to claim that Tarpley illustrates the camaraderie between the men in the barber shop "as affectionately as the relationship between Miles and his father." Bippity Bop Barbershop is "a child-centered story, well-paced and beautifully illustrated," Phelan concluded.
Joe-Joe, the child protagonist in Tarpley's Joe-Joe's First Flight, shares his father's aspirations to fly. But in the 1922 town of Blind Eye, African-American airport workers have been told that they will be allowed to fly "in due time," which Joe-Joe's father realizes will never come. This creates such a sense of oppression that the moon cannot bear to show its face, remaining hidden behind clouds. When Joe-Joe accompanies his father to the airport one evening, he falls asleep inside the cockpit of one of the planes. Joe-Joe dreams of flying a plane to the moon and rescuing it from where it lies hidden by the clouds, bringing it home to cheers and celebrations. A Publishers Weekly reviewer observed that the story "never quite takes off," because the author includes "too much historical and metaphorical freight," and does not clearly delineate "the real world in which the protagonist lives and the protagonist's dream." However, Gillian Engberg, writing in Booklist, remarked that the author's "warm, colloquial words," in combination with the illustrator's artwork, "capture the joy and sense of empowerment in the boy's fantasy" as well as the close relationship between Joe-Joe and his father. Joe-Joe's First Flight "is a celebration of the human spirit and the courage and determination of a people to soar," wrote Marianne Saccardi in School Library Journal.
Turning her hand to other genres for older readers, Girl in the Mirror: Three Generations of Black Women in Motion is Tarpley's "lyrical and strongly imaginative memoir" of her own early life and the lives of her mother Marlene and grandmother Anna, wrote a reviewer in Publishers Weekly. "Natasha Tarpley is a fine writer whose rich, beautiful language promises to pull her readers out of their own experiences and into the shoes of the women she describes," wrote Meri Nana-Ama Danquah in Washington Post Book World. She tells the story of her Grandmother's devoted marriage to Jack, and the deep loneliness she experiences when he leaves their native Alabama to prepare a better life for himself and for her in Chicago. Tarpley assumes her mother Marlene's voice to relate her childhood, marriage to an alcoholic, and Anna's death. Tarpley then tells her own story of girlhood, searches for identity and grounding in Africa, and her close relationship with her mother and grandmother. A Kirkus Reviews critic called Girl in the Mirror "a graceful and personal telling of a young women's search for connections."
In an interview on the Sistah Circle Book Club Web site, Tarpley discussed her intentions for her books. "I would like for my books to be a kind of welcoming force," she remarked, "one that helps to usher kids into this world and to feel at home, so that they will want to continue to read and explore the vast terrain of books and imagination." Although she wants to stress the value of African-American life and the benefits of celebrating African-American experiences, she does not want to do so in a way that is "heavy handed or didactic. I just want to spark creativity and curiosity, and encourage kids to simply enjoy being a kid."
Tarpley's own evolution as a writer began early in her childhood, she related in the Sistah Circle Book Club interview. "I think I started writing because I was such a bookworm as a kid," she said. "I loved to read, and writing seemed like a natural extension of that. As soon as I opened a book, ideas would start bounding around, like firecrackers being set off in my brain. I felt compelled to write them down." In the world of her imagination, she said, she could be anyone or anything she pleased. "Writing made me feel powerful," she remarked.
She encourages hopeful writers to persevere and keep writing and submitting their stories, even if they are rejected by publishers. "You've got to do the work and then release it into the world," she said in theSistah Circle Book Club interview. "You've got to believe in yourself and trust that thing in you that makes you want to write—even if it makes you stick out from everybody else."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Tarpley, Natasha A., Bippity Bop Barbershop, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 2002.
Tarpley, Natasha A., Joe-Joe's First Flight, Knopf (New York, NY), 2003.
Booklist, December 15, 1994, Lillian Lewis, review of Testimony: Young African Americans on Self-Discovery and Black Identity, p. 59; February 15, 1998, Hazel Rochman, review of I Love My Hair!,
p. 1021; June 1, 1998, Lillian Lewis, review of Girl in the Mirror: Three Generations of Black Women in Motion, p. 1709; February 15, 2001, Henrietta M. Smith, review of I Love My Hair!, p. 1161; January 1, 2003, review of Bippity Bop Barbershop, p. 799; June 1, 2003, Gillian Engberg, review of Joe-Joe's First Flight, p. 1788.
Book Report, May-June, 1995, review of Testimony, p. 59.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, April, 1998, Janice M. Del Negro, review of I Love My Hair!, p. 298; March, 2002, Janice M. Del Negro, review of Bippity Bop Barbershop, pp. 259-260.
Emerge, July-August, 1998, review of Girl in the Mirror, pp. 73-74.
Kirkus Reviews, November 1, 1994, review of Testimony, p. 1468; May 1, 1998, review of Girl in the Mirror, p. 644; December 1, 2002, review of Bippity Bop Barbershop, p. 1690; June 1, 2003, review of Joe-Joe's First Flight, p. 811.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, June 19, 1995, review of Testimony, p. 6.
Ms., July-August, 1998, review of Girl in the Mirror, p. 92.
Publishers Weekly, November 28, 1994, review of Testimony, p. 57; December 1, 1997, review of I Love My Hair!, p. 52; May 11, 1998, review of Girl in the Mirror, p. 59; June 2, 2003, review of Joe-Joe's First Flight, p. 51.
School Library Journal, February, 1997, Judith Constantinides, review of I Love My Hair!, pp. 91-92; February, 2002, Mary Ann Carcich, review of Bippity Bop Barbershop, p. 114; July, 2003, Marianne Saccardi, review of Joe-Joe's First Flight, p. 108.
Washington Post, March 24, 1995, Marcia Davis, "Collected and Connected: Young African American Finds Solace from Solitude," profile of Natasha Tarpley, p. C1.
Washington Post Book World, August 30, 1998, Meri Nana-Ama Danquah, review of Girl in the Mirror, p. 7.
Sistah Circle Book Club Web site,http://www.thesistahcircle.com/ (September, 2003), interview with Natasha A. Tarpley.*