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Remembering the life and writing of famed St. Louis children’s author Patricia McKissack

Some of the popular titles of prolific children's book author and St. Louisan Patricia McKissack, who died last week at the age of 72.
Some of the popular titles of prolific children's book author and St. Louisan Patricia McKissack, who died last week at the age of 72.

On April 7, the world lost Patricia McKissack, a famed children’s book author who made her home in St. Louis. She died of a heart attack at age 72.

With books like “Mirandy and Brother Wind,” “Flossie & The Fox,” “A Song for Harlem,” and more than 100 other titles, McKissack wrote positive stories about the lives and histories of African-American children, something that was hard to find when she started writing in the 1970s.

Her work was prolific and her influence on children’s literature was international. On Friday’s St. Louis on the Air, listeners called in with memories of McKissack, as well as her writing partner and husband, Fredrick McKissack, who died in 2013, and the impact they had not only on the world of  children’s literature but on St. Louis as a whole.

Joining host Don Marsh in studio for the conversation was St. Louis County Librarian Jennifer Ilardi, who in addition to sharing McKissack’s work with children at the library today, grew up with McKissack’s work herself. When asked the impact on her life, she responded:

“I am a librarian: I tell stories and I love going into schools and telling stories and being able to share words with students,” Ilardi said. “If it wasn’t for her books or finding books like hers it wouldn’t have been the same. I grew up in a small town, I’m biracial and finding other books that represented my father’s side of the family was tricky. Books are windows, mirrors, and doors. We need to be able to see ourselves in books and to see others and their lifestyles in books and to find opportunities to explore something new in books. I don’t know what would have happened if I didn’t have access to these type of books and her books when I was a child.”

Listen to the full discussion of McKissack’s life and work here and, below, find memories from listeners who called in to the program:

Donna: “Every time a new book of hers would come out, it would be richer and the language was always very beautiful. She was a really lovely lady, a wonderful lady. A great deal has been lost with her death.”

Arlene: “Her writing was her way of teaching.”

Phyllis: “What a gentleman he was. What a lovely lady she was. I’m sad. I hope someone will pick up the spirit that had them do all that work.”

Roberta: “She handled celebrity with remarkable grace. She made everyone feel as if she were their best friend. She had the ability to listen. She wanted to hear. She wanted to respond.”

Patty: “She was just a generous, gentle soul. When she won the Virginia Hamilton Lifetime Achievement Award, she said: ‘What me?’ and we all said ‘Yeah, you!’ because she earned things, but she never assumed them. She never claimed them as a right. She was extremely generous with her time with new authors. She was just a wonderful person.”

Fred McKissack Jr., Patricia’s son, also called the program to share that his whole family appreciates the support from the people of St. Louis after his mother's death. He also said that his mom and dad loved St. Louis and all the people they interacted with here.

A funeral for Patricia McKissack will be held Wednesday, April 19, at Kirkwood United Methodist Church, 201 West Adams Ave. There will be a visitation at the church from 10:30 a.m. until noon and funeral service will follow.

On Thursday, April 20, the St. Louis County Library will host a reading of McKissack’s books, on at the Jamestown Bluffs Branch, 4153 N. Highway 67. The event starts at 6:30 p.m. More information can be found here.

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region. 

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Kelly Moffitt joined St. Louis Public Radio in 2015 as an online producer for St. Louis Public Radio's talk shows St. Louis on the Air.

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