Joyce Carol Thomas, a staple in the world of children’s literature, died Aug. 13 in Stanford, Calif., at the age of 79. She reportedly died from hepatitis C, which she contracted during a blood transfusion.

Article16 Joy Carol Thomas

Author Joyce Carol Thomas

Born to a family of nine children, Joyce was born in Ponca City, Okla. Her family later re-located to California where she learned Spanish from the local Mexican immigrant workers.

She earned her bachelor’s degree in Spanish from San Jose State University and later a master’s degree at Stanford University. She went on to hold a variety of teaching positions from the late ‘60s to the ‘90s, as well as organizing writing seminars, workshops, and lectures abroad in countries like Nigeria, Haiti, Australia and Ecuador.

Her most praised work is her debut prize winning novel, “Marked by Fire.” The young adult novel tells the story of a young girl, Abyssinia Jackson, whose Oklahoma home is wrecked by a tornado and who is then subsequently assaulted by a neighbor. The novel discusses the issues surrounding young Black girls and how the community comes together to support them in the face of adversity. The novel went on to win the National Book Award in children’s fiction and the American Book Award and was turned into a musical called “Abyssinia.”

Thomas also published a collection of poems for children titled, “The Blacker the Berry” and picture books “Brown Honey in Broomwheat Tea” and “I Have Heard of a Land,” all of which earned her the Coretta Scott King Honor. She is also recognized for children’s stories “The Gospel Cinderella” and “Crowning Glory.”  She wrote over 35 books in her lifetime.
Asked by the National Book Foundation to describe the book that changed her life she said, “The King James Version of The Bible, with all its beautiful violence and terrible compassions, was the earliest and most rewarding book that I have encountered. Born into a fundamentalist family, I early imbibed the powerful narratives of Genesis, the moving lyrics of the Psalms and awful mysteries of Revelations as regularly as I nursed Mother’s milk. My writing – all genres – reflects the contradictions, sonorities, complexities of that wonderful and fantastic early source book. When I write, I subconsciously reach for those deepened levels of meaning and that same mesmerizing high quality of expression.”