Award-winning author Fredrick L. McKissack, who with his wife and partner Patricia created more than 100 books profiling African-American heroes and illuminating aspects of the African-American experience, died of heart failure on Sunday, April 28. He was 73.
McKissack was born and grew up in Nashville, Tenn., where he earned a B.S. from Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial State University (now Tennessee State University) in 1964, following military service with the U.S. Marine Corps from 1957-1960.
He embarked on a career as a civil engineer for several years and eventually settled in St. Louis, Mo., with Patricia (his childhood sweetheart), where he owned his own contracting company. Their family grew to include three sons. In the 1980s, McKissack began collaborating with Patricia, a writer and teacher, and they formed their company All-Writing Services. As a writing team they adopted a strong focus on African-American themes for young readers, largely inspired by a shortage of such books in the marketplace. Their early 1990s biography series, Great African Americans (Enslow), included volumes on Frederick Douglass, Marian Anderson, Paul Robeson, and many others.
Fredrick and Patricia’s works received numerous accolades over the years. In 1990 A Long Hard Journey: The Story of the Pullman Porter (Walker) won the Coretta Scott King Author Award and they received the same prize in 1995 for Christmas in the Big House, Christmas in the Quarters (Scholastic). That same year their history volume Black Diamond: Story of the Negro Baseball League (Scholastic) took home a Coretta Scott King Author Honor. The McKissacks also earned the same prize in 1993 for their biography Sojourner Truth: Ain’t I a Woman?, in 1997 for Rebels Against Slavery: American Slave Revolts, in 2000 for Black Hands, White Sails: The Story of African-American Whalers, and in 2004 for Days of Jubilee: The End of Slavery in the United States (all Scholastic).
Donations in memory of McKissack can be made to the National Kidney Foundation and/or the United Negro College Fund.