“To be finished with a work that has taken my lifetime to tell is bittersweet,” said Mildred D. Taylor, whose All the Days Past, All the Days to Come, the fifth and final novel in the Logan Family saga, is due from Viking on January 7 with a 100,000-copy first printing. Inspired by the author’s own family, the sequence follows an African-American Mississippi family through more than three decades and intertwines their story with that of the civil rights movement. The series debuted in 1975 with Song of the Trees, a novella illustrated by Jerry Pinkney, and continued with the Newbery-winning Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (1976), Let the Circle Be Unbroken (1981), The Road to Memphis (1990), and a prequel, The Land (2001).
Born in Mississippi in 1943, Taylor moved north with her parents and sister when she was three months old and grew up in Toledo, Ohio. Yet the family returned to their home state annually for summer visits, and that time spent with her Mississippi relatives, listening to the stories they told about their lives, was a formative part of her childhood, and paved the way for her creative journey.
“I believe all my life was in preparation for me to write a family history, much of which is based on my own family,” Taylor said of the Logan Family saga. “From the time I was a young child, I remember sitting on my grandparents’ porch and hearing the stories about my family’s history and about incidents in Mississippi that happened long before my birth. These stories were told not only by my father and his brothers, but by my grandparents and others of their generation, and also by generations older.”
Though Song of the Trees was written from several characters’ perspectives, Taylor explained that, with its follow-up, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, “I found the right voice to tell the story—Cassie’s.” This Logan sibling, who is eight years old at the start of the saga and a woman in her 30s at its conclusion, had several inspirations. “Cassie was originally a creation based on one of my aunts—my father’s sister—my own sister, me, and my imagination,” the author said. “My aunt and my sister were both outspoken women and could have fiery temperaments. I, on the other hand, was quiet and reserved with mostly my imagination to guide me.”
Navigating a Rocky Home Stretch
Despite Taylor’s familiarity with Cassie’s voice and life story, the author faced some hurdles when she initially began writing the sequence’s final volume. After The Land was published in 2001, she signed a contract with Viking for what she knew would be the conclusion to the Logans’ saga. “At the time, I knew that the book would take the family from World War II to the beginning of the civil rights movement,” she recalled. “I got started on the novel but found I could not write it. During those years I had many losses—losses of so many who had supported me during my life. The book was going nowhere, so I decided to cancel my contract.”
That move had a fortuitous, if unexpected, result. Though Taylor was freed from her contractual obligations, she recalled, “I would not get free of the obligations I had to myself and to the history of my family, and the history of so many African-Americans whose stories I wanted to tell. As one friend told me, ‘It is something you have to do. We’re the last generation who remembers how it truly was—the racism and segregation and degradation and what we had to go through to rid ourselves of all that. Younger generations may think they know, but they have no idea what it was like.’ I knew that I had to write this final book and complete my mission.”
So the author returned to All the Days Past, in which Cassie searches for her place in the world, a journey that takes her from Toledo to California, to law school in Boston, and, ultimately, in the 1960s, back to Mississippi to join the voter registration drive. When Taylor resumed writing, Cassie’s story took on a new dimension. “In telling Cassie’s life as a young woman, I told my own story, incorporating my life into hers,” she said. “Her life in many ways mirrored mine. Her feelings were my feelings, and the close relationships Cassie had were based on people who were major in my life, too.”
Taylor credited her editor, Regina Hayes (editor-at-large at Viking, who first worked with the author on Song of the Trees) for “being with me from the beginning, every step of the way. Regina has continued to encourage me through all the rewrites, through all the anguish of digging deeper to find the right words, to continue with a story that meant so much to both of us.”
Hayes, in return, praised Taylor (the author with whom she has worked the longest number of years “by far”) for “blending the history of the black experience in America and the Logan family’s story so seamlessly—and bringing both to life so vividly. The final book was a daunting task for Mildred, but she plunged ahead, feeling so strongly that she had a responsibility to finish the story, and I am so happy that she did.”
As is Taylor, who noted, “If I have made an impact on readers and writers of today through the books I have written based on family stories passed on to me, then I have achieved what I set out to do—to tell the history of an African-American family as I saw it, as my family saw it—a story about strong black men and women of whom we can be proud.”
All the Days Past, All the Days to Come by Mildred D. Taylor. Viking, $18.99 Jan. ISBN 978-0-399-25730-8