Taylor, Debbie A. 1955-

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Taylor, Debbie A. 1955-


Born September 9, 1955, in Columbus, OH; married Charles L. Taylor III (an academic), July 25, 1992; children: Erika Lynne, Elaina Patrice. Ethnicity: "African American/Native American." Education: Ohio Dominican College, A.A.; Case Western Reserve, B.A., 1986; Cleveland State University, M.A., 1992. Religion: African Methodist Episcopal. Hobbies and other interests: Reading, visiting botanical gardens, museums, zoos, and aquariums.


Home—Ann Arbor, MI. Agent—Erin Murphy, Erin Murphy Literary Agency, Inc., 2700 Woodlands Village, Flagstaff, AZ 86001. E-mail—[email protected]


Writer and administrator. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, career planning and placement counselor, 1992-97, graduate experience project, 1997-2000, graduate recruiter, 2000-01, Women in Engineering director, 2002—.


Family Book Club (board member, 2001—), Society of Children's Writers and Illustrators.


Book of outstanding merit, Bank Street College of Education, 2005, and notable book citation, International Reading Association, 2005, both for Sweet Music in Harlem; SWIMPY Dream Grant Award, Case Western Reserve University, 2007-08.


Sweet Music in Harlem, illustrated by Frank Morrison, Lee & Low Books (New York, NY), 2004.

Contributor of children's stories to periodicals, including Spider, Pockets, Whiskey Island, and New Moon.


Debbie A. Taylor told CA: "My motivations for writing include the desire to tell a good story and to share the joys of family and community and certainly my desire for self-expression. Most importantly I write to encourage, inform, inspire, and challenge young people.

"My mother influenced my writing in a practical way. She taught me to read at an early age. Reading exposed me to new ideas, other countries, various characters, and provided wonderful opportunities to expand my knowledge. The only drawback of reading early was that I was not allowed to attend kindergarten. The school wasn't quite sure what to do with me, so I began in the first grade. Several great elementary school teachers and writing teachers in college encouraged me: Sister Maryanna Childs at Ohio Dominican, Janice Lull and Louis Giannetti at Case Western Reserve University, and some fine faculty members at Cleveland State. My favorite authors include Ezra Jack Keats, John Keats, Mark Twain, Joan Blos, and Theodore Geisel.

"Certainly popular culture influences the content and style of my writing. I am an avid film fan. I am also influenced by storytellers who use film. I like to analyze the structure of a movie, discuss characters and ways the director or screenwriter might improve the film. I listen to many types of music. Lately, I listen to jazz. I am very fond of musicals, including West Side Story and Calamity Jane.

"Poetry greatly influences my style as well. I work hard to find just the right word in a sentence. I pay careful attention to the sound of each word, rhythm of each line, and so on.

"Ideas for stories come from everywhere. I can overhear a conversation or see the name of a flower and the idea for a story will come. My stories often spring from specific memories of my childhood. As a youngster, I loved to catch butterflies, so I wrote a story about a girl who catches butterflies in a field. In the story, she is stung by a swarm of wasps. That part was easy to write since I remember exactly how I felt when I was stung by dozens of wasps.

"Sometimes a photograph or illustration prompts a story. Sweet Music in Harlem was inspired by a photograph on a shirt. My husband, a jazz fan, owns a tee shirt with a photograph by Art Kane. In the photograph, dozens of famous musicians pose on the steps in front of a brownstone. The great Count Basie is even sitting on the curb. The crowd looks like happy relatives at a family reunion. While my husband could name them and rattle off the instruments they played and the titles of their best work, he had no idea who the children in the picture might be. I wondered what they thought of having some of the greatest musicians in the world posing for a picture on their street. I jotted down jazz story in my writing journal. Months later, as I traveled, I found the right idea for the story's plot.

"At times I simply set out to write a story about a particular topic and then I sit down with paper and an ink pen and start writing. Often it takes weeks or months for the real story to take shape. Generally, I scribble down the story in one sitting that might last for hours. Then I set it aside for days or weeks. I go back to shape the story and focus on structure first. Then I return multiple times to revise specific sections. When I am satisfied, I create a dummy book from folded construction paper and paste the text onto the pages. I read the story aloud over and over again. Later, I solicit feedback by sharing it with other writers and young readers. Fortunately my family members also provide very good, objective criticism during the final stages of my writing.

"I choose to write about characters, situations, or settings I find compelling. Recently, historical fiction has captivated me, so writing about characters during slavery, the 1930s and 1940s, and the Civil Rights Movement is keeping me engaged. I am also interested in researching the lives of jazz pioneers including Clora Bryant, Rosalind Cron, and Mary Lou Williams, as well as the civil engineer Marian Sarah Parker and botanists Elzada Clover and Lois Jotter.

"It is my hope that my writing will educate, inspire, and comfort readers. In January, 2008, the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra performed ‘Sweet Music in Harlem,’ a piece developed by world-renowned composer Andrew Kirshner. His composition exposed a new audience to jazz and to the famous photograph that inspired the book. Andrew's musical interpretation has allowed the book a new level of engagement and response."



Black Issues Book Review, September 1, 2004, Vance Garcia, review of Sweet Music in Harlem, p. 59.

Booklist, May 1, 2004, Terry Glover, review of Sweet Music in Harlem, p. 1564.

Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 2004, review of Sweet Music in Harlem, p. 402.

Publishers Weekly, May 24, 2004, review of Sweet Music in Harlem, p. 61.

School Library Journal, July, 2004, Jane Marino, review of Sweet Music in Harlem, p. 89.


Sweet Music in Harlem Web site,http://www.sweetmusicinharlem.com/ (February 16, 2008), author profile and interview.

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