Ruth C. White (1942–) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Sidelights
(Ruth White Miller)
Born 1942, in Whitewood, VA; divorced; Education: Montreat-Anderson College, A.A., 1962; Pfeiffer College, A.B., 1966; Queens College (Charlotte, NC), library media specialist certification, 1976. Politics: "Independent." Hobbies and other interests: Yoga, exercising, walking with her golden retriever.
Agent—c/o Author Mail, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 19 Union Square W., New York, NY 10001.
Mt. Pleasant Middle School, Mt. Pleasant, NC, English teacher, 1966–76; Boys Town, Pineville, NC, house mother, 1976–77; Harleyville-Ridgeville High School, Dorchester, SC, librarian, 1977–81; Dougherty Junior High School, Albany, GA, librarian, 1981–85; Association for Research and Enlightenment Foundation, Virginia Beach, VA, librarian, 1986–97.
Best Children's Book by a North Carolinian designation, North Carolina chapter of the American Association of University Women, 1977, and Georgia Children's Book Award nomination, both for The City Rose; Newbery Honor Book designation, 1997, for Belle Prater's Boy; Notable Book designation, American Library Association (ALA), for Sweet Creek Holler; ALA Best Book for Young Adults designation, New York Public Library 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing selection, both for Weeping Willow; ALA Best Book for Young Adults, 2000, for Memories of Summer.
(Under name Ruth White Miller) The City Rose, McGraw (New York, NY), 1977.
Sweet Creek Holler, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1988.
Weeping Willow, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1992.
Belle Prater's Boy, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1996.
Memories of Summer, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2000.
Tadpole, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2003.
Buttermilk Hill, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2004.
The Search for Belle Prater, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2005.
Contributor to Venture Inward.
White's works have been translated into German, Dutch, Chinese, Indonesian, French, Polish, Africaans, and Japanese.
Many of White's books have been adapted as audiobooks.
Ruth C. White is the author of several award-winning novels for middle-grade and young-adult readers, and her works include Sweet Creek Holler, Weeping Willow, Belle Prater's Boy and its sequel, The Search for Belle Prater, and Tadpole. Prater's stories are set in the South, in particular in the coal-mining region of western Virginia where the author grew up. Commentators have praised White for her characterizations, depiction of locale, and sensitive treatment of such difficult experiences as the death of a parent, divorce, abandonment, and rape. In 1997 White's much-acclaimed novel Belle Prater's Boy was named a Newbery Honor Book.
In her works, White focuses primarily on teenage girls, and the action in many of her novels takes place in the 1950s, when she herself was a girl. "I work with and write for adolescent girls because that was the time in my life when I was most confused and unhappy," she once explained. "I can relate to these girls now because I remember the pain of trying to grow up, trying to find my identity, and trying to be an individual in a conformist's world. Adolescents today have basically the same problems, only more of them. It is a very hard time in which to grow up."
Growing up in a poor western Virginian family during the 1950s provided White with both incentive and fodder for her later writing career. "Born in the poverty-stricken coal mining region of Virginia, I was the fourth daughter of a coal miner who died when I was six," she once told SATA. Although her family had no television, it was probably for the best: they read aloud and performed music together. In this setting, White developed her imagination and "managed to get the most out of the public school system and go on to a better life," building a career as a school teacher and librarian, and also gaining respect as a writer.
Although White published her first novel, The City Rose, in 1977, it was over a decade before her second book appeared. In Sweet Creek Holler six-year-old Ginny and older sister June must deal with the rumors that swirl around them when they move to a new town. The girls are actually the object of these rumors because their father was shot to death, leaving them and their beautiful mother to fend for themselves. During the six years they live in the small mining town of Sweet Creek Holler, the sisters witness the tragic effect gossip can have on sensitive souls. Voice of Youth Advocates Joanne Johnson praised White's "carefully drawn characters" and "well-thought out and presented" relationship between Ginny and a young friend. In Horn Book, critic Nancy Vasilakis judged the novel to be "stronger in its delineation of character and in its evocation of time and place than in its narrative development," yet she praised White's obvious "affection for the indigent folk of its Appalachian locale."
In Weeping Willow, set in 1956, White tells the story of fourteen-year-old Tiny, who is the eldest child in her family. As she grows into adulthood, Tiny must deal with her stepfather's unwanted sexual advances, as well as the typical challenges of high-school life. Writing in Voice of Youth Advocates, Myrna Feldman praised the novel's characters, setting, and details, deeming Weeping Willow an "exceptionally fine book" that is "honestly written and difficult to put down." "While the sweep of the novel is admirable," New York Times Book Review critic Linda Lee commented, the critic took issue with White's novel's message: that "incest is a bad thing, but it can be lived with." While praising the story's detailed setting and "strong" voice, Alice Casey Smith contended in a School Library Journal review that Weeping Willow "has too, too many threads that don't weave together." Betsy Hearne viewed the novel more favorably, however, writing in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books that White's second novel contains "vividly rendered" characters and a "plot fol-lowing variably but believably from their [the characters'] patterns of action."
In Belle Prater's Boy, which takes place in the fall of 1953, White explores the nature of friendship, loss, and love. Despite its title, the novel revolves around twelve-year-old Gypsy, who is known in Coal Station, Virginia, for her beautiful long hair and for having a father who died tragically seven years earlier. When her cousin Woodrow Prater moves in next door following the mysterious disappearance of his mother, Belle, he and Gypsy develop a close friendship that, according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer, allows both of them to "face tragedy and transcend it—and the ability to pass along that gift to the reader."
Reviewers praised Belle Prater's Boy highly. Writing in Kliatt, Jana Whitesel deemed White's novel a "rare" book that "transcends age with its timeless story." In the New York Times Book Review, Meg Wolitzer declared that "it takes a writer of real lyricism and energy to tell a good young-adult story, and Ruth White is one." Several critics cited the author for her well-drawn characterizations and vivid depiction of locale, Wolitzer remarking: "The author's vivid and accurate eye has helped her fashion an ideal backdrop for the story and its element of suspense." "White's characters are strong … and her storytelling is rich in detail and emotion," asserted Maeve Visser Knoth in a Horn Book review, while Booklist reviewer Stephanie Zvirin praised the book's "humor and insight," "solid picture of small-town life," "unpretentious, moving story," and "strongly depicted characters." Belle Prater's Boy "balances disturbing emotional issues with the writer's light touch," summed up a critic in Voice of Youth Advocates.
The curiosity of many readers was sparked by the central mystery of Belle Prater's Boy: namely, what happened to Woodrow's Prater's mom? White serves up an answer in The Search for Belle Prater, which was published over nine years after the first book. In what a Kirkus Reviews contributor praised as an "elegantly conceived sequel" containing "tiny glints of magic," thirteen-year-old Gypsy narrates the adventures of the two seventh graders who, joined by friend Cassie Daul-borne, who claims to have second sight, as well as by a teen runaway named Joseph, attempt to track down Woodrow's missing mother. After receiving a mysterious phone call on the exact hour of his birth, Woodrow decides that his mother wishes to reestablish contact. Traveling to West Virginia, the group encounters racial prejudice, reunites Joseph with his family, and ultimately brings an answer to the question posed by the novel's title.
Calling The Search for Belle Prater a "worthy sequel" to the award-winning Belle Prater's Boy, Marie Orlando added in School Library Journal that White's sequel shares "the warmth, love, and humor" of the first book. Noting the deepening friendship between Woodrow and Gypsy, Horn Book contributor Cindy Dobrez added: "Characterization, dialogue, and setting are among White's many literary strengths, and she doesn't disappoint here."
Other novels by White have continued to focus on young characters coming to terms with their personal reality during the 1950s. In Memories of Summer thirteen-year-old Lyric witnesses as her older sister, Summer, gradually declines mentally, becoming a stranger with schizophrenia; meanwhile, the young teen must also deal with a new culture as the family moves north to Flint, Michigan where her widowed father finds work in an automobile plant. Praising White's novel as "affecting," Kliatt contributor Paula Rohrlick noted that the story is based on White's experiences with her own sister, and added that in Memories of Summer the author includes "gentle humor … as well as pathos, and the tale is simply but movingly told."
1955 is the year thirteen-year-old music-loving Tadpole shows up at the Kentucky home of ten-year-old cousin Carolina Collins, guitar in hand and fleeing from an abusive uncle. Carolina's mother, Serilda, is usually docile, but she fights to protect the troubled young boy in White's novel Tadpole, which a Publishers Weekly reviewer praised for its "homespun language" and "evocation of ordinary people as they stumble into enduring truths about human strength and vulnerability." Another ten year old is the focus of Buttermilk Hill, which finds wise and self-reliant Piper Berry weathering her parents' divorce by focusing on her own dreams and gaining insights and strength from both her friends and her poetry. Praising White's "down-home, approachable style," Horn Book contributor Christine M. Heppermann noted that Tadpole is full of "appealing characters" and "eloquently crafted images of … life in the Kentucky hills." A Kirkus Reviews critic also had praise for Buttermilk Hill, dubbing it a "poignant, compassionate exploration of the hopes and dreams that burn in the hearts of a small-town community in 1970s America," while in Booklist Ilene Cooper praised White for maintaining "a good balance of happiness and hard knocks."
Biographical and Critical Sources
ALAN Review, winter, 1995, Pam B. Cole, review with White.
Booklist, June 1, 1993, p. 1865; April 15, 1996, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Belle Prater's Boy, p. 1434; May 1, 2003, Gillian Engberg, review of Tadpole, p. 1598; August, 2004, Ilene Cooper, review of Buttermilk Hill, p. 1937; February 15, 2005, Cindy Dobrez, review of The Search for Belle Prater, p. 1079.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, June, 1992, Betsy Hearne, review of Weeping Willow, p. 284; April, 2003, review of Tadpole, p. 336.
English Journal, November, 1993, p. 79.
Horn Book, November-December, 1988, Nancy Vasilakis, review of Sweet Creek Holler, p. 785; September-October, 1996, Maeve Visser Knoth, review of Belle Prater's Boy, p. 601; May, 2001, Kristi Beavin, review of Memories of Summer, p. 362; May-June, 2003, Christine M. Hepperman, review of Tadpole, p. 358; September-October, 2004, Betty Carter, review of Buttermilk Hill, p. 600; May-June, 2005, Betty Carter, review of The Search for Belle Prater, p. 334.
Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 2004, review of Buttermilk Hill, p. 750; April 1, 2005, review of The Search for Belle Prater, p. 428.
Kliatt, May, 1998, Jana Whitesel, review of Belle Prater's Boy, p. 42; July, 2002, Paula Rohrlick, review of Memories of Summer, p. 25; March, 2005, Janis Flint-Ferguson, review of The Search for Belle Prater, p. 16.
New York Times Book Review, November 13, 1988, p. 20; August 23, 1992, Linda Lee, review of Weeping Willow, p. 26; October 27, 1996, Meg Wolitzer, review of Belle Prater's Boy, p. 44.
Publishers Weekly, January 6, 1989, p. 52; November 4, 1996, p. 49; March 11, 1996, review of Bell Prater's Boy, pp. 65-66; February 9, 1998, p. 26; December 23, 2002, review of Tadpole, p. 71; November 8, 2004, review of Buttermilk Hill, p. 56.
School Library Journal, October, 1988, p. 165; July, 1992, Alice Casey Smith, review of Weeping Willow, p. 91; March, 2003, Connie Tyrrell Burns, review of Tadpole, p. 242; September, 2004, Miriam Lang Budin, review of Buttermilk Hill, p. 219; April, 2005, Marie Orlando, review of The Search for Belle Prater, p. 143.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), July 27, 2003, review of Tadpole, p. 5.
Voice of Youth Advocates, December, 1988, Joanne Johnson, review of Sweet Creek Holler, p. 244; October, 1992, Myrna Feldman, review of Weeping Willow, p. 234; June, 1997, review of Belle Prater's Boy, p. 87.
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