Alice Faye Duncan (1967–) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights
Born 1967, in Memphis, TN; Ethnicity: "African American." Education: University of Memphis, B.A., 1989; University of Tennessee, Knoxville, M.L.S., 1991. Religion: Christian. Hobbies and other interests: "Museum hopping, shopping, driving around town with my sunroof opened."
Agent—Kendra Marcus, 67 Meadow View, Orinda, CA 94563.
Children's author. Memphis City School System, Memphis, TN, school librarian, beginning 1993.
National Education Association, American Library Association.
Reading Rainbow Award, c, 1995, for Willie Jerome; Best Book in Social Studies for Children, 1996, and Gold Medal in Nonfiction for Children, National Association of Parenting Publications, both for The National Civil Rights Museum Celebrates Everyday People; National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Image Award nomination, 2006, for Honey Baby Sugar Child.
The National Civil Rights Museum Celebrates Everyday People, photographs by J. Gerard Smith, BridgeWater Books (New York, NY), 1995.
Willie Jerome, illustrated by Tyrone Geter, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1995.
Miss Viola and Uncle Ed Lee, illustrated by Catherine Stock, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1999.
Honey Baby Sugar Child, illustrated by Susan Keeter, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2005.
(With Phyllis Dooley) Christmas Soup, Zonderkids (Grand Rapids, MI), 2005.
The author of several highly praised books for young readers, Alice Faye Duncan maintains that, for her, inspiration often comes from her surroundings. As she once told SATA: "I try to surround myself around good people, good music, good books, and good art. All of these things cause me to think, and they spark my creativity. I recommend that other aspiring artists of any kind—do the same. And then when the muses gather—just let inspiration take control." Through her job as a high-school librarian, Duncan has also been able to inspire the students she works with by exposing them to a variety of writing, particularly poetry. As she told Vanessa St. Leger for NSA Today, "Poetry helps facilitate reading, writing, and learning in general."
Born in Memphis, Tennessee in 1967, Duncan was raised in an environment that encouraged curiosity and learning: both her parents were teachers. "As a child I was most awkward and goofy," Duncan recalled to SATA. "But when I meet friends from my youth—they say I was the kid who knew where she was going. Maybe, that was because I had an undiscovered talent—like acting."
Duncan's first published book, The National Civil Rights Museum Celebrates Everyday People, is a photo-essay that introduces children to the history of the civil rights movement in the United States. "I'm concerned about children's knowledge of the past," Duncan told Publishers Weekly interviewer Nathalie Op De Beeck. "A lot of children do not know what their aunts, uncles and grandparents had to go through just for the right to vote. I want them to leave the book knowing 'there were people who struggled for me. I need to be doing my part to protect these liberties.'"
Visually, the book presents historical black-and-white photos documenting civil rights demonstrations such as the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott of 1955 and the historic March on Washington of 1963, alongside color photos in which photographer J. Gerard Smith captures children interacting with exhibits of these events at the National Civil Rights Museum. Indeed, while Smith's original photos and selection of historical photographs received high praise from critics, Cindy Darling Codell insisted in School Library Journal that "the outstanding feature of the book is Duncan's simple, but beautiful prose." The book is "concise [and] accessible," a Publishers Weekly critic added, praising the "informative, affecting collaboration" between author and photographer as "the next best thing to an actual trip to the museum."
Willie Jerome is a celebration of the idea that, as Duncan told Memphis Flyer contributor Sandra Koch, "You have to go your own way and do your own thing." The title character of this picture book is a boy who plays the trumpet on the rooftop of his apartment building one summer, to the dismay of everyone in his urban neighborhood except his sister Judy, who is also the narrator. By story's end, Judy convinces her mother, who has been too tired to enjoy Willie's horn-playing, that her brother is playing jazz music. Writing in Publishers Weekly, a reviewer contended that "Duncan's story has an engaging musical quality and a contagious enthusiasm." Carol Jones Collins, commenting in School Library Journal, emphasized the author's message about believing in oneself: "Duncan tells a story that many should hear."
A budding friendship is the focus of Miss Viola and Uncle Ed Lee, a "sweet-natured picture book," according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer, in which a young boy helps his uncle make a fitting introduction with a friendly but house-proud neighbor. Uncle Ed Lee lives in comfortable disorder, but when he sets his cap for Miss Viola, he has to tidy up his act. Duncan tells her quaint story in upbeat prose, while the "soft and wispy" watercolor illustrations by Catherine Stock "deliver all the good cheer the story demands," the critic continued. Love is also the focus of Honey Baby Sugar Child, featuring a gentle portrait of an affectionate mother-daughter relationship. In School Library Journal Mary N. Oluonye deemed the work a "lyrical offering," while Jennifer Mattson wrote in Booklist that Duncan's "poetic narrative" includes "reassuring words" that are reflected by the "joyful images" of a mother and son featured in the rich oil paintings by Susan Keeter that illustrate the tale. Noting that the book is "couched in lilting language" reflecting the rich dialect of the South, a Kirkus Reviews writer deemed Honey Baby Sugar Child "excellent for reading aloud and rocking along."
Several of Duncan's books reflect her strong Christian faith, among them Christmas Soup, about a family of children who learn that by giving one learns the true value of things. In addition to writing and her work as a librarian, she also hosts writing workshops to help inspire each child with the realization that everyone has a story to tell. "As a young woman I wanted to be a pro-
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lific writer, famous, and highly regarded," Duncan once noted while reflecting on her career as an author, "but today my focus is very different. I now understand that even before the foundation of the world, God had in mind all the words that He wanted to go forth. So, my goal is simple now, to sit down long enough to effectively tell the stories that He assigned to me."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, February 15, 1995, pp. 1076-1177; June 1, 1995, p. 1784; February 15, 1996, p. 1006; February 15, 1999, Hazel Rochman, review of Miss Viola and Uncle Ed Lee, p. 1975; February 1, 2005, Jennifer Mattson, review of Honey Baby Sugar Child, p. 976.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, February, 1995, p. 196.
Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 1995, p. 466; December 15, 2004, review of Honey Baby Sugar Child, p. 1200.
Memphis Flyer, March 28, 1996, Sandra Koch, "The Picture of Success," p. 24.
NEA Today, November, 2004, Vanessa St. Leger, "Something to Say," p. 53.
Publishers Weekly, January 23, 1995, Nathalie Op De Beeck, "Museum and Book Herald Civil Rights Heroes," p. 32; February 6, 1995, review of The National Civil Rights Museum Celebrates Everyday People, p. 85; April 17, 1995, review of Willie Jerome, p. 59; January 4, 1999, review of Miss Viola and Uncle Ed Lee, p. 89.
School Library Journal, January, 1995, Cindy Darling Codell, review of The National Civil Rights Museum Celebrates Everyday People, pp. 114-115; June, 1995, Carol Jones Collins, review of Willie Jerome, p. 80; February, 1999, Olga R. Barnes, review of Miss Viola and Uncle Ed Lee, p. 83l; March, 2005, Mary N. Oluonye, review of Honey Baby Sugar Child, p. 170.
Alice Faye Duncan Home Page, http://www.alicefaye duncan.com (March 6, 2006).