Tate, Eleanora E. (Eleanora Elaine Tate)

views updated

Tate, Eleanora E. (Eleanora Elaine Tate)


Born in Canton, MO; daughter of Clifford and Lillie Tate; raised by grandmother, Mrs. Corinne Johnson; married Zack E. Hamlett III (a photographer), August 19, 1972; children: Gretchen R. Education: Drake University, B.S. (journalism), 1973.


Home—Knightdale, NC. E-mail—[email protected].


Iowa Bystander, West Des Moines, news editor, 1966-68; Des Moines Register and Des Moines Tribune, Des Moines, IA, staff writer, 1968-76; Jackson Sun, Jackson, TN, staff writer, 1976-77; Kreative Koncepts, Inc., Myrtle Beach, SC, writer and researcher, 1979-81; Positive Images, Inc., Myrtle Beach, president and co-owner with husband, Zack E. Hamlett III, 1983-93; full-time writer, 1993—. Writer-in-residence, Elgin, SC, Chester, SC, and the Amana colonies, Middle, IA, all 1986; instructor at Institute of Children's Literature, W. Redding, CT, beginning 2006; North Carolina Central University, Durham, adjunct instructor, beginning 2007; Hamline University, St. Paul, MN, associate professor in M.A. low-residency program, 2009—. Contributor to black history and culture workshops; seminar leader for creative-writing retreats; participant in poetry readings. Member of South Carolina Arts Commission Arts in Basic Curriculum steering committee, 1988-90; presenter at conferences; guest speaker.


Authors Guild, Authors League of America, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, National Association of Black Storytellers, Inc. (member of board, 1988-92, president, 1991-92), South Carolina Academy of Authors, South Carolina Arts Commission Artists in Education, North Carolina Writers Network (member of board, 1996-97), Horry County Cultural Arts Council (member of board, beginning 1987, vice president of board, 1988-90, president of board of directors, 1990-92), Wake County (NC) Reading Council of International Reading Association.


Finalist, Third World Writing Contest, Council for Interracial Books for Children, 1973; Unity Award for educational reporting, Lincoln University, 1974; Community Lifestyles award, Tennessee Press Association, 1977; Bread Loaf Writers Conference fellowship, 1981; Parents' Choice Award, Parents' Choice Foundation, 1987, and California Young Reader Medal Award nomination, 1991, both for The Secret of Gumbo Grove; Presidential Award, National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women's Clubs, Georgetown chapter, 1988; Grand Strand Press Association Award for Social Responsibilities and Minority Affairs Second Place, 1988; Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies designation, National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS)/Children's Book Council (CBC), and Children's Book of the Year selection, Child Study Children's Book Committee, both 1990, both for Thank You, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.!; resolution in recognition of literary and community efforts in South Carolina, South Carolina State House of Representatives and Senate, June 9, 1990; Grace Brooks Memorial Humanitarian Award, South Carolina Action Council for Cross-Cultural Health and Human Services, 1991; Pick of the Lists designation, American Booksellers Association (ABA), 1992, for Front Porch Stories at the One-room School, and 1996, for A Blessing in Disguise; Zora Neale Hurston Award (with John Hope Franklin), National Association of Black Storytellers, 1999; Dr. Annette Lewis Phinazee Award, North Carolina Central University, 2000; Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies designation, 2001, for The Minstrel's Melody; named Honorary Citizen of Chattanooga, TN, 2004; Iowa Author Award, Des Moines Library Foundation, 2004; American Association of University Women North Carolina Book Award for Juvenile Literature, 2007, and International Reading Association Teachers' Choice Award, 2008, both for Celeste's Harlem Renaissance.



Just an Overnight Guest, Dial (New York, NY), 1980, reprinted, Just Us Books (East Orange, NJ), 1997.

The Secret of Gumbo Grove, Franklin Watts (New York, NY), 1987.

Thank You, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.!, Franklin Watts (New York, NY), 1990.

Front Porch Stories at the One-room School, illustrated by Eric Velasquez, Bantam/Skylark (New York, NY), 1992.

Retold African Myths, Perfection Learning (Logan, IA), 1992.

A Blessing in Disguise, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1995.

Don't Split the Pole: Tales of Down-home Folk Wisdom, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1997.

African American Musicians (nonfiction), Wiley (New York, NY), 2000.

The Minstrel's Melody, Pleasant Company Publications (Middleton, WI), 2001.

To Be Free (nonfiction), Steck-Vaughn, 2003.

Celeste's Harlem Renaissance, Little, Brown (New York, NY), 2007.


(Editor, with husband, Zack E. Hamlett III; and contributor) Eclipsed (poetry), privately printed, 1975.

(Editor and contributor) Wanjiru: A Collection of Blackwomanworth, privately printed, 1976.

Contributor to books, including Rosa Guy, editor, Children of Longing, Bantam (New York, NY), 1970; Impossible?, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1972; Communications (juvenile), Heath, 1973; Off-beat (juvenile), Macmillan (New York, NY), 1974; Sprays of Rubies (anthology of poetic prose), Ragnarok, 1975;Valhalla Four, Ragnarok, 1977; Talk That Talk: An Anthology of African-American Storytelling, Linda Goss and Marian Barnes, editors, Simon & Schuster, 1989; Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson, compilers, In Praise of Our Fathers and Our Mothers: A Black Family Treasury by Outstanding Authors and Artists, Just Us Books, 1997; Winning Authors Share Real-Life Experiences through Fiction, Jerry M. and Helen S. Weis, editors, Forge, 2000; Black Stars of the Harlem Renaissance, Jim Haskins, editor, Wiley, 2002; Big City Cool: Short Stories about Urban Youth, Persea Books, 2002; Black Stars of the Civil Rights Movement, Jim Haskins, editor, Wiley, 2003; and Sayin' Something, Stories from the National Association of Black Storytellers, Morris Publishing, 2006. Contributor of stories, poems, and essays to periodicals, including African American Review, American Girl, Baltimore Afro-American, Book Links, Charleston Chronicle, Des Moines Register Picture Magazine, Dream/Girl, Goldfinch, Journal of Black Poetry, Journal of African American Children's Literature, Obsidian III, Myrtle Beach Journal, New Advocate Journal, Newsday, Storyworks, and Washington Post.


Just an Overnight Guest was adapted in 1983 as a television film directed by Gina Blumenfeld, Nickelodeon/PBS. The Secret of Gumbo Grove and Thank You, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.! were adapted as audiobooks, Recorded Books, 1997 and 1998 respectively. The Secret of Gumbo Grove was adapted as a play published in Scholastic Action magazine, 1993.


In novels that include Thank You, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.!, A Blessing in Disguise, and Celeste's Harlem Renaissance, Eleanora E. Tate combines warm family relationships—especially between fathers and daughters—with important social themes. Over the course of her career, Tate has been consistently praised for addressing complex issues such as racial understanding and appreciation, cultural and racial identity in history, neglect and abuse, individual and group pride, and family ties. "I have gotten a thrill out of writing about children," Tate once commented. "Part of it … stems from my belief that I had a very happy childhood, with a certain richness to it that I want today's children to share."

Tate was born in 1948 in Canton, a small town in northeastern Missouri. Legal segregation was still enforced during her early childhood, and she attended first grade in 1954 at the town's one-room grade school for African Americans. The following year her class was integrated into Canton's white school system. Tate's first middle-grade novel, Just an Overnight Guest, and its sequel both take place in Nutbrush, Missouri, a small town modeled on her childhood experiences of Canton.

In Just an Overnight Guest, nine-year-old Margie Carson becomes angry when her mother invites Ethel Hardisen, a disruptive four-year-old who has been abused and neglected, to stay with the family for a night. Ethel's visit is mysteriously extended, despite her bad behavior, and Margie begins to see the young visitor as competition for her parents' affection. With the help of her loving father, Margie eventually overcomes her anger and resentment, and learns to accept the now permanent guest whom she discovers is her irresponsible Uncle Jake's daughter. In an appraisal of Just an Overnight Guest, New York Times Book Review contributor Merri Rosenberg concluded that "Tate does a fine job presenting the emotional complexities of Margie's initiation into adult life's moral ambiguities," while Horn Book critic Celia Morris praised the author for capturing "the nuances of small-town life, the warmth of a Black family struggling with a problem, and the volatile emotions of a young child."

Tate returns readers to Nutbrush in Front Porch Stories at the One-room School, a sequel to Just an Overnight Guest that is based on her own childhood memories and family stories. Front Porch Stories at the One-room School finds Margie and Ethel three years older. During this particular summer, they are sitting around on a hot summer night, bored. Then Margie's dad takes the girls for a walk to the one-room school that once served as the grade school for the town's African American children. In a way that brings to life the strong, loving bond between father and daughter, the man tells several stories about his childhood that entertain the girls and also teach them something important about their ethnic heritage. A Publishers Weekly reviewer praised the book's "evocative language."

Set in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, The Secret of Gumbo Grove introduces an eleven-year-old girl named Raisin Stackhouse. A history buff, Raisin decides to explore the history of her own town, but inspires a less-than-enthusiastic response when she reveals old prejudices. Voice of Youth Advocates contributor Linda Classen praised The Secret of Gumbo Grove for illustrating "life in a black community before blacks had rights," a time "which … not many young people today can comprehend." In the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, Betsy Hearne wrote that the book "will be satisfying for young readers, who can enjoy this as a leisurely, expansive reading experience."

Also set in Gumbo Grove, Thank You, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.! is narrated by fourth-grader Mary Elouise Avery. Mary Elouise yearns to be in the school play about presidents with a conceited, blond-haired classmate whom she idolizes. Instead, she is selected as narrator for the new black history skit, even though she is ashamed of being black and hates being reminded of slavery and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Through the visits of two storytellers and the efforts of her wise grandmother, Mary Elouise comes to appreciate her heritage. In the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, Zena Sutherland praised Tate for not falling prey to racial stereotyping. "One of the strong points of her story," Sutherland stated, "is that there is bias in both races, just as there is understanding in both." In Booklist Denise Wilms echoed Sutherland's sentiments, writing that "Tate tackles a sensitive issue, taking pains to keep characters multi-dimensional and human."

A Blessing in Disguise, Tate's third "Gumbo Grove" novel, weaves issues of drugs and crime in a small community into a story centered on the relationship between a girl and her not-so-wise-and-stable father. In this story, twelve-year-old Zambia Brown lives with her poor aunt and uncle in the small coastal town of Deacons Neck, South Carolina. Zambia's real father, called Snake, is the shady, drug-dealing owner of a nightclub in Gumbo Grove. Zambia longs to be part of her father's seemingly glamorous life, and she is excited when Snake opens a second nightclub on her block in Deacons Neck. After her uncle joins with others in the community in an effort to close the club, a rift forms in his relationship with Zambia. The relationship is healed only when the girl gains firsthand experience with the consequences of her father's activities. A Blessing in Disguise "deals realistically with a small community's battle against drugs and crime and a girl's development of a healthy attitude toward her irresponsible father," maintained Voice of Youth Advocates contributor Becky Kornman. Writing in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, Roger Sutton noted that Tate's story "is saved from preachiness by Zambia's impulsive, colloquial narration and her true-to-twelve fascination with the night life and its supposed glamour."

Tate's contribution to Pleasant Company's popular "American Girl History Mysteries" series, The Min-strel's Melody, takes readers back to turn-of-the-twentieth-century Missouri. Twelve-year-old Orphelia loves to play the piano and sing, but her mother does not encourage her to develop her musical talent. In an effort to follows her dream, Orphelia leaves her rural home in Calico Creek, running away and joining an all-black traveling minstrel show on its way to the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair. In addition to gaining in maturity and confidence, Orphelia uncovers a piece of tragic family history that is grounded in the racism of the precivil rights era. In Booklist Denise Wilms described The Minstrel's Melody as "an enjoyable story" that "effectively portrays … the trials of a musically gifted child." Tate captures the "strong sense of community" existing in both Orphelia's small rural hometown and the traveling troupe of minstrels, School Library Journal contributor Robin L. Gibson observed, adding that "historical elements, such as the use of blackface in theater, are woven almost seamlessly into the narrative."

Tate takes another look back into the past in Celeste's Harlem Renaissance. The book opens in 1921, as thirteen-year-old Celeste Lassiter Massey confronts a large change. Living in Raleigh, North Carolina, with her widowed father and his sister, Celeste is sent north to New York City to live with Aunt Valentina in Harlem after her father is diagnosed with tuberculosis. Valentina has always aspired to a career on Broadway, but when Celeste arrives she is disappointed to find that her aunt has been working at manual labor to make ends meet. Ultimately, she learns to appreciate Valentina's willingness to pursue her dreams, and she also is encouraged to develop her musical talents by her exposure to the creative energy of the Harlem Renaissance. Discussing the character of Celeste, a Publishers Weekly contributor explained that Tate creates "a fully realized heroine, whose world expands profoundly as she's exposed to both the cultural pinnacles and racial prejudices of her era." In Booklist Gillian Engberg described Celeste's Harlem Renaissance as "a moving portrait of growing up black and female in 1920s America," while in School Library Journal Joyce Adams Burner wrote that the author "deftly handles the complexities" of interfamilial relationships and "draws her characters with charming humor and multidimensional candor." The heroine's "wide-eyed observations" in Celeste's Harlem Renaissance "pull readers into the thrills and fears of her rapidly expanding world," concluded Horn Book contributor Claire E. Gross.

In addition to her middle-grade novels, Tate has also written poetry, short stories and essays for children. She collects seven entertaining stories in Don't Split the Pole: Tales of Down-home Folk Wisdom, each inspired by such well-known sayings as "you can't teach an old dog new tricks." Reviewing the collection for Booklist, Susan Dove Lempke praised Tate's "light, funny" folk-inspired stories, which feature "lively and realistic" characters. Noting the "memorable characters" that come to life in the collection, a Publishers Weekly critic wrote that "adult rules and regulations are turned on their heads" in Tate's stories, which "leap off the page and lodge straight in the funny bone."

In another collection, African American Musicians, Tate spans two centuries as she introduces the men and women whose creative talents contributed to the rich tapestry of American music. From Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield and Scott Joplin to Duke Ellington, Aretha Franklin, and Queen Latifah, African American Musicians will "inspire further study on individual musicians," according to School Library Journal reviewer Janet Woodward.

Explaining the inspirations behind her career writing for children, Tate once commented: "I would like to add my voice in print, as well as my emotions, to the thought that children's childhoods can be happy if they can learn that they can do anything they set their minds to, if they try." Tate has also inspired others in her family to focus their creative talents in the arena of children's books; her nephew, artist Don Tate, has contributed many illustrations to books for young readers.



Children's Literature Review, Volume 37, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1996, pp. 186-193.

Twentieth-Century Young Adult Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1994, pp. 634-635.


Booklist, November 1, 1980, review of Just an Overnight Guest, p. 408; May 15, 1987, review of The Secret of Gumbo Grove, pp. 1450-1451; April 15, 1990, Denise Wilms, review of Thank You, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.!, p. 1636; August, 1992, Deborah Abbott, review of Front Porch Stories at the One-room School, p. 2014; November 1, 1997, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Don't Split the Pole: Tales of Down-home Folk Wisdom, p. 474; April 1, 2001, Denise Wilms, review of The Minstrel's Melody, p. 1488; February 1, 2007, Gillian Engberg, review of Celeste's Harlem Renaissance, p. 58.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, October, 1980, review of Just an Overnight Guest, p. 42; June, 1987, Betsy Hearne, review of The Secret of Gumbo Grove, p. 199; June, 1990, Zena Sutherland, review of Thank You, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.!, p. 254; February, 1995, Roger Sutton, review of A Blessing in Disguise, p. 216.

Horn Book, December, 1980, Celia Morris, review of Just an Overnight Guest, pp. 643-644; May-June, 2007, Claire E. Gross, review of Celeste's Harlem Renaissance, p. 291.

Kirkus Reviews, February 15, 1981, review of Just an Overnight Guest, p. 215; March 1, 1987, review of The Secret of Gumbo Grove, p. 380; February 1, 1990, review of Thank You, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.!, p. 186; July 15, 1992, review of Front Porch Stories at the One-room School, p. 926; February 15, 1995, review of A Blessing in Disguise, p. 233; March 15, 2007, review of Celeste's Harlem Renaissance.

New York Times Book Review, February 8, 1981, Merri Rosenberg, review of Just an Overnight Guest, p. 20.

Publishers Weekly, August 10, 1992, review of Front Porch Stories at the One-room School, p. 71; December 5, 1994, review of A Blessing in Disguise, p. 77; June 3, 1996, review of A Blessing in Disguise, p. 85; October 6, 1997, review of Don't Split the Pole, p. 84; May 7, 2007, review of Celeste's Harlem Renaissance, p. 60.

School Library Journal, October, 1980, review of Just an Overnight Guest, p. 42; March, 1990, review of Thank You, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.!, pp. 220-221; March, 1992, review of Front Porch Stories at the One-room School, pp. 163-167; February, 1995, Carol Jones Collins, review of A Blessing in Disguise, p. 115; July, 2000, Janet Woodward, review of African American Musicians, p. 123; August, 2001, Robin L. Gibson, review of The Minstrel's Melody, p. 189; May, 2007, Joyce Adams Burner, review of Celeste's Harlem Renaissance, p. 144.

Voice of Youth Advocates, August-September, 1987, Linda Classen, review of The Secret of Gumbo Grove, p. 123; April, 1995, Becky Kornman, review of A Blessing in Disguise, p. 2.


Eleanora E. Tate Home Page,http://www.eleanoraetate.com (June 4, 2008).

African American Literature Book Club Web site,http://aalbc.com/ (June 4, 2008), "Eleanora E. Tate."