Thursday, June 03, 2010
Eleanor Taylor Bland, 1944-2010
We lost a wonderful woman the other day. Yes, she was a pioneer for female African-American mystery writers. Yes she wrote graceful, velvety prose. Yes, she never met a cause she wasn't dedicated to. But Eleanor was so much more: a mentor, a cheerleader, a mother and grandmother, a fount of wisdom on craft and the way the "publishing world" worked, a diplomatic but endearing soul, who had a wicked sense of humor.
Many of you have written over the past few months to tell me what Eleanor meant to you -- even though you'd only met her once or twice. I hope you'll take some time now to share your memories of Eleanor in the comments section.
Btw, if all goes well, we hope to endow a scholarship in her name for female African-American mystery writers. More on that as it develops.
To start off, here are a couple of personal tributes.
FROM MARY HARRIS, A CLOSE FRIEND
June 2, 2010
This afternoon Eleanor ended her decades-long struggle with Gardner’s Disease. Despite her illness, Eleanor wrote and published 14 novels about small-town cop Marti MacAlister, and edited a collection of stories by well-known African-American writers, “Shades of Black” (2005). Her novel “Scream in Silence” (2000) was on the New York Times Bestseller List.
Eleanor accomplished more in one day than most people in a month. She helped pre-published writers at seminars, meetings and the bar; she chaired committees for outreach to marginalized writers; she spoke and taught at grade schools and high schools in Waukegan; and she always gently corrected a beginning writer by saying, “It’s good, but it’s not soup yet.” A memorial will be established in Eleanor’s name to keep her flame of helping others burning.
My first experience with Eleanor was at MWA Midwest's Dark and Stormy conference, probably in 1995. She was critiquing manuscripts, and I'd sent her 25 pages of my first (still unpublished) mystery. I was so nervous I was shaking. We met in a conference room, and she started to laugh. I didn't think it was that funny, but she made a joke about my nervousness, and immediately the ice was broken. She went on to say that my writing needed a lot of work, and I had to learn the craft of fiction, but she thought I "had something" -- that's the way she put it. And she said if I worked really hard, I might actually get published one day. That was the first time anyone had said anything good about my writing. I never forgot it. A year later, I ended up in her writing group, the Red Herrings. I can still remember her admonitions: "Eyes don't drop"... she would say. "They don't roll, either"...
But she always said it with a smile. Over the years we became friends. I mean, who else can you discuss ways to kill someone and what the cops might have missed at the crime scene? I will miss her generosity, her work ethic, and her stories.
FROM BARB D'AMATO:
Eleanor Taylor Bland was one of the most courageous people I have ever met. Many, many years ago, we knew how dire her prognosis was, and yet she kept on working and kept on being positive. During that time, she gave publication options to aspiring authors who had never been pubhished or who were underpublished. Through it all, she was vigorous, ebullient, and enthusiastic. I still remember her conducting the orchestra as one of the most fun things I have ever seen. Eleanor typified the best of what a writer can be. Bless you, Eleanor.
Your turn now...