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Muriel Miller Branch (1943-) Biography - Personal, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Work in Progress, Sidelights

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Born 1943, in Montclair, NJ; Ethnicity: "African American." Education: Virginia State University, B.S., 1964, M.Ed., 1978; additional studies at Appalachian State University, Virginia Commonwealth University, James Madison University, and University of Virginia. Religion: Baptist.

Career

Richmond Public Schools, Richmond, VA, library media specialist, 1967-98; writer, 1998—. Maggie L. Walker Historical Foundation, secretary, vice president, and president; Virginia Breast Cancer Foundation, member.

Member

National Storytelling Network, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Virginia Historical Society, Pi Lambda Theta.

Muriel Miller Branch

Honors Awards

Rudolph and Esther Bonsal Award for teaching excellence, Greater Richmond Community Foundation, 1991; named Virginia hero, Virginia Heroes Inc., 1996; Children's Book of the Year citation, Bank Street Child Study Children's Book Committee, 1996, for The Water Brought Us: The Story of the Gullah-speaking People; named cable educator of the year, 1997; Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and Public Policy fellowship, 1998-99; Joan G. Sugarman Children's Book Award, 2000-01.

Writings

(With Dorothy Marie Rice) Miss Maggie: The Story of Maggie Lena Walker, Marlborough House, 1984, revised as Pennies to Dollars: The Story of Maggie Lena Walker, Linnet Books (North Haven, CT), 1997.

(Compiler with Earlene G. Evans) Hidden Skeletons and Other Funny Stories, illustrated by Dennis R. Winston, Brunswick (Laurenceville, VA), 1995.

(With Earlene G. Evans) A Step Beyond: Multimedia Activities for Learning American History, Neal-Schuman (New York, NY), 1995.

The Water Brought Us: The Story of the Gullah-speaking People, photographs by Gabriel Kuperminc, Cobblehill (New York, NY), 1995.

Juneteenth: Freedom Day, Cobblehill (New York, NY), 1997.

(With Mary E. Lyons) Dear Ellen Bee: A Scrapbook Novel of Two Union Spies, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2000.

(With Earlene G. Evans) Three-D Displays for Libraries, Schools, and Media Centers, McFarland and Co. (Jefferson, NC), 2000.

Fine Arts and Crafts, Twenty-first Century Books (Brookfield, CT), 2001.

Contributor of articles to professional journals.

Work in Progress

Tin Tubs and Tinsel.

Sidelights

While working as a school librarian for over three decades, Muriel Miller Branch developed the storytelling skills that, as she once noted, "evolved naturally from being the daughter of a country preacher." Branch also developed into a historian, "thanks to the oral histories passed on to me with such flourish by my elders; and a writer due to a strange dream about Maggie Walker that motivated me to write about the African-American woman who was the first woman to become president and founder of a bank in America." This "strange dream" inspired Branch's first book, the biography Miss Maggie: The Story of Maggie Lena Walker, which Branch and coauthor Dorothy Marie Rice later expanded as Pennies to Dollars: The Story of Maggie Lena Walker.

Letters, newspaper clippings, and other memorabilia tell the story of Ellen Bee, the joint code name of two spies—Miss Bet, a wealthy white woman, and Liza, a freed slave—who supplied critical information to Union generals in Richmond, Virginia. (Cover photo by Marc Tauss.)

It also inspired Branch's second career as a published author. As she herself once explained, "Since 1980 my goal has been to tell the neglected or overlooked stories about people and events in African-American and women's history and culture."

The daughter of a former slave, Maggie Lena Walker founded a small bank that also provided insurance and loans to the African Americans of her hometown of Richmond, Virginia. This "penny savings bank," which has remained in operation as the oldest black-owned bank in the United States, gave many African-American families much-needed help when slaves were emancipated following the U.S. Civil War. Noting that Branch and Rice's biography is so full of praise that Walker "appears to be without fault," Booklist contributor Carolyn Phelan nonetheless praised Pennies to Dollars for the biography's ability to present to young readers "an important period in African American history."

Reviewing Branch's Juneteenth: Freedom Day, which describes the June day in 1887—over two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation—when Texas slaves gained news of their freedom, Stephanie Zvirin maintained in Booklist that the author's "enthusiasm" for black history and tradition "is hard to ignore." In Horn Book Betty Carter dubbed Juneteenth a "lively history," and recommended the work for its portrait of the African-American "community's annual reunion and renewal" during a holiday that is celebrated in a variety of ways throughout the country.

Retiring from her career as a librarian in 1998 allowed Branch to pursue her writing with more dedication, and also to expand from nonfiction into fiction. She credits her 1999 collaboration with Mary E. Lyons for this new direction in her writing. Lyons and Branch met while both women were on a fellowship at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville. Their common interests inspired them to work together on the 2000 book Dear Ellen Bee: A Scrapbook Novel of Two Union Spies. "It was in those hills that I was bitten with the fictionwriting bug," Branch noted of the experience, "and the bug is still biting—hard!"

Biographical and Critical Sources

PERIODICALS

Booklist, September 15, 1995, review of The Water Brought Us: The Story of the Gullah-speaking People, p. 149; November 1, 1997, Carolyn Phelan, review of Pennies to Dollars, p. 463; February 15, 1998, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Juneteenth: Freedom Day, p. 1001; March 15, 2001, Roger Leslie, review of Three-D Display for Libraries, Schools, and Media Centers, p. 1406.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, November, 1995, Roger Sutton, review of The Water Brought Us, p. 85.

Companion, May, 1996, p. 36.

Horn Book, July-August, 1998, Betty Carter, review of Juneteenth, p. 506.

Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 1995, review of The Water Brought Us, p. 1107.

School Library Journal, October, 1995, Kay McPherson, review of The Water Brought Us, p. 143; October, 1997, Carol Jones, review of Pennies to Dollars, p. 143; October, 1998, Sharon R. Pearce, review of Juneteenth, p. 151; March, 2001, Lynda Ritterman, review of Three-D Displays for Libraries, Schools, and Media Centers, p. 289; November, 2001, Kathryn Kosiorek, review of Fine Arts and Crafts, p. 172.

Voice of Youth Advocates, February, 1996, p. 405.*

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