Due, Tananarive 1966–
Tananarive Due 1966–
Tananarive Due was a highly-regarded young novelist whose works include the suspense thrillers The Between, My Soul to Keep, and The Living Blood. She was also the author of a historical novel, The Black Rose, based on the life of millionaire businesswoman Madame C. J. Walker. The Indianapolis Recorder called Due “part of a generation of writers taking African-American fiction into new, unusual directions. Her novels, My Soul to Keep and The Between, are journeys into supernatural suspense—bringing a unique African-American flavor and sensibility to tales that keep readers awake at night.” Janell Walden Agyeman, a literary agent, told Black Issues Book Review that Due is “head and shoulders above many others her age, in terms of her integrity and confidence as a writer.” Agyeman continued, “I see her, with each new book, dealing with a more complex palate and tackling ideas that are rich and complex. She can capture dialogue, humor, and pathos with the best of them.”
Due was born at the Florida A&M University Hospital, in Tallahassee, Florida, in 1966. Her parents, John Dorsey Due, Jr., and Patricia Stephens Due, had attended Florida A&M. Due’s mother was a notable figure in local integration efforts and, as a Florida A&M student in the late 1950s, spent several weeks in jail after a sit-in at a Tallahassee Woolworth’s lunch counter.
When Due was a small child her family, which included two younger sisters, Johnita and Lydia, moved to the Miami area. Due’s father worked as an attorney involved in housing and welfare issues and later served as head of Dade County’s Office of Black Affairs. Her mother, who had degrees in sociology and education, continued to be active in civil rights and local community matters. The Dues passed down their activism and energy to their children. “As we were growing, we always had a sense that you’re supposed to be doing something … [my parents] always gave back to the Black community and encouraged us to do the same,” Due told Alison Hibbert of the Miami Times.
From an early age Due knew she wanted to be a writer. After watching the mini-series Roots as a sixth grader she wrote her own family’s history, My Own Roots, based on information provided by her grandmother. As a teenager, Due wrote fiction, attended a summer program for young writers at Northwestern University
At a Glance…
Born Tananarive Due in 1966, in Tallahassee, FL; daughter of John Dorsey Due, Jr. (an attorney) and Patricia Stephens Due (a civil rights and community activist);married Steven Barnes, 1998. Education: B.S. in journalism, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL; M.A. in English literature, University of Leeds, Leeds, England.
Career: Journalist and novelist. Author of the novels The Between, 1995; My Soul to Keep, 1997; The Black Rose, 2000; The Living Blood, 2001; contributor to Naked Came the Manatee, 1997. Columnist and feature writer for the Miami Herald, c. 1988-98.
Awards: Afro-American Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics (ACT-SO), gold, silver, and bronze medals, for essay and play writing, and oratory, c. 1982-83; Horror Writers Association Bram Stoker Award for Outstanding Achievement in a First Novel, finalist, for The Between, 1995; NAACP King of Clubs of Greater Miami President’s Award, 1998.
Addresses: Home —Longview, WA. Office —Pocket Books, a division of Simon and Schuster, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.
in suburban Chicago, and won numerous awards for writing and oratory at the NAACP Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological, and Scientific Olympics (ACT-SO). Because of her happy past association with ACT-SO, Due readily accepted an offer to be an ACT-SO judge in 1998. “I have so many memories of coming to the ACT-SO competitions and feeling like I was being reunited with family, not because I knew other kids, but because people who are dreamers as young people tend to be solitary. You’re so solitary in your dreams, you’re the only one on your block who’s practicing your instrument, you’re the only one who’s writing stories, you’re the only one who’s as dedicated to the sciences. ACT-SO was an opportunity to come together and feel like I was being reunited to a bunch of people who were as driven as I was to chase our dreams,” Due told Betsy Peoples of Emerge.
After graduating from Dade County’s Southridge High School, Due attended Northwestern University from which she received a bachelor’s degree in journalism. She then moved on to the University of Leeds in England where, as a Rotary Foundation Scholar, she completed a master’s degree in English, focusing on Nigerian literature. Returning to Miami, Due got a job with the Miami Herald as a features writer and advice columnist. Despite a fast-track career in journalism, being a successful fiction writer remained her primary goal. Due sent out two short stories for publication but found no takers for her work. “No one likes rejection but, as long as I got rejection slips, I knew I had to keep going. I had my mind set on being a serious writer,” Due explained to Hibbert.
In the early 1990s, Due was assigned by the Miami Herald to interview novelist Anne Rice. In preparation for the interview, Due read Rice’s novel Tale of the Body Thief and found in the book the inspiration for a novel of her own, which would eventually be titled The Between. Due wrote The Between in the early mornings before setting off for work at the Herald, and in the evenings after getting home. “I wrote it very quickly. The novel had taken hold of me; that’s what every writer hopes for,” Due told Hibbert.
Published in 1995, The Between tells the story of Hilton James, an educated, middle class African-American social worker in Miami who suffers from vivid and bizarre nightmares that indicate his having been saved from drowning as a child was a mistake that needs to be corrected. Due based the characters of Hilton James and his wife, a Dade County court judge, on her parents. “I wanted to write about what I knew. Hilton and his wife are like my parents: active, serious, and committed,” Due told Hibbert. Publisher’s Weekly praised The Between as a “skillful blend of horror and the supernatural [that] poses questions about life and identity.”
Due continued in the supernatural vein with her second novel 1997’s My Soul to Keep which explores what happens when a reporter discovers her seemingly perfect husband is a five-hundred year old member of a secret band of Ethiopian immortals. Vanessa V. Friedman of Entertainment Weekly called My Soul to Keep “an entertaining story that uses the supernatural to get at everyday issues of responsibility, faith, and—most relevantly—overcoming disease.”
Due was drawn to write about the supernatural because such material was relatively new ground for an African-American novelist. “With these books I was trying to find my voice as a writer, and as a Black writer. By looking at the world through a supernatural prism I can step back from my own real-life fears of loss and death, and make them feel a little bit safer when I write stories with characters who are facing things that I’ll never have to face,” Due explained to Stefan Dziemianowicz of Publisher’s Weekly.
After publication of her second novel, Due decided to leave her job at the Miami Herald in order to devote herself to fiction writing. Initially, she found going without a regular salary unsettling. “Cutting the cord completely was terrifying. You sort of have to have faith that your checks will come in sometime, but you never know,” Due told Connie Lauerman of the Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service.
It was Due’s experience as a journalist writing on deadlines, as well as her record as a novelist, that encouraged executors of Alex Haley’s estate to select her to take over work on a historical novel about Madame C.J. Walker, a Black woman who rose from laundress to millionaire chief of a hair care products company. At the time of his death in 1992, Haley left behind an outline for the Walker novel and a dozen boxes filled with notes, interview transcripts, newspaper clippings, letters, photographs, and other records. Due assumed responsibility for the project only eight months before the completed novel was supposed to be submitted to the publisher. She told Richard Prince of NABJ Journal that she “used Haley’s notes only as a guide, because I knew I could not write someone else’s vision of a novel—I had to write my own vision of the story.” Due found coping with the vast amount of research material one of the most challenging aspects of the project. “I can’t tell you how many times I had to stop working to dig through boxes,” Due told Bernard McGhee of the Seattle Times.
Due, whose paternal grandmother was a graduate of the Madame C.J. Walker School of Beauty Culture in Indianapolis, found her admiration for Walker grew as she learned more about her. “I’d always heard she was the first self-made Black female millionaire, but I knew nothing about her struggle—the fact that she had been born to sharecroppers who were former slaves… Madame C.J. Walker was able to visualize a future for herself and set out on a path that very few American women of any color had undertaken at that time. I have tremendous respect for what she did,” Due told the Indianapolis Recorder.
Titled The Black Rose, the Madame C. J. Walker novel was published in 2000. Paul Coleman, an attorney for Haley’s estate, told McGhee that “We think… she did a remarkable job.” Natasha Tarpley wrote in Black Issues Book Review that “with an abundance of detail, Due reconstructs a rich and palpable historical world” in The Black Rose. Mondella S. Jones in Mosaic called The Black Rose “a wonderful story of one of the most compelling women of our time,” and added that Due “has succeeded in staying faithful to the spirit of Madame C.J. Walker and to the research and writing of Alex Haley.
In 2001 Due returned to a supernatural theme with The Living Blood, a sequel to My Soul to Keep. The wide-ranging plot involves a Miami murder investigation, a clinic in Botswana that dispenses a mysterious cure-all serum, a pharmaceutical company that seeks to get control of the serum, and an American doctor in search of help for his dying son. Due had not planned to write a follow-up to the earlier novel but, as she explained to Dziemianowicz, “I saw an opportunity to do something on a more epic scale.” Paulette Richards of Black Issues Book Review called The Living Blood a “thrilling tale offering] a profound commentary on the abuses of the pharmaceutical industry.” Richards added that Due “skillfully weaves her four main story threads into an engrossing, well-paced narrative.”
Due bristled at the idea that her supernatural thrillers make her primarily a writer of genre fiction aimed at the bestseller list and not a serious “literary” novelist. “What is commercial writing and what is literary? Beloved is commercial—look at how many copies it sold! It’s a somewhat arbitrary distinction that I hope passes. The fewer barriers, the better for us,” Due told Maitefa Angaza of Black Issues Book Review.
In 1999 Due established a $10,000 scholarship at Florida A&M University in honor of her parents, John and Patricia Due. In order to fund the scholarship Due used an advance she had received for contributing a chapter to Naked Came the Manatee, a satirical mystery put together by several Florida writers. “Everything that was important to my mother happened here in Tallahassee, so it has left an imprint on my life… I wanted my parents’ name to live on, and then somehow, to help kids go to school who would not otherwise be able to afford it,” Due explained to the Tennessee Tribune.
Black Issues Book Review, February 28, 2000, p. 45, August 31, 2000, p. 19; May 2001, p. 18.
Emerge, October 31, 1998, p. 54.
Entertainment Weekly, August 1, 1997, p. 69.
Indianapolis Recorder, August 4, 2000, p. C1.
Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, June 28, 2000.
Miami Times, May 18, 1995, p. 18; April 30 1998, p. 10.
Mosaic, June 30, 2000, p. 38.
NABJ Journal, July 31, 2000, p. 26.
Publisher’s Weekly, April 24, 1995, p. 60; March 19, 2001, p. 81.
Seattle Times, September 24, 2000, p. B1.
Tennessee Tribune, November 10, 1999, p. 4.
"Due, Tananarive 1966–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 19, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/due-tananarive-1966
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