On this first day of Black History Month, I want to introduce you to Oscar Micheaux:
“I was struck by the beauty of the scenery…. Stretching for miles to the northwest and to the south, the land would rise in a gentle slope to a hogback, and as gentle slope away to a draw, which drained to the south. Here the small streams emptied into a larger one, winding along the snake’s track, and thickly wooded with a growth of small hardwood timber. It was beautiful. From each side the land rose gently like huge wings, and spread away as far as the eye could reach.”
~ The Conquest: The Story of a Negro Pioneer, by Oscar Micheaux
I first became aware of Oscar Micheaux when doing some family research about the Rosebud Indian Reservation during the first part of the 20th century, and I learned that he had owned land in Gregory County, South Dakota, where my grandparents lived. Micheaux is perhaps best known for his film making, but I was more fascinated by his childhood, his life as a homesteader, and his career as a novelist, all of which I was drawn to explore further in a work of historical fiction for children (read excerpts here).
On a visit last summer to my family’s farm (where I took the above photo), I was keenly aware of how well Micheaux’s descriptions of the land captured its vast beauty. Every time I return home, if even for a few days, I breathe in the landscape until my lungs and heart are full to the brim, and both I and the world are rebooted.
Patrick Mcgilligan writes of Oscar’s early education in his biography Oscar Micheaux: The Great and Only: The Life of America’s First Black Filmmaker:
“He described his Metropolis schooling as inadequate in many respects. In his books he criticized his teachers… as ‘inefficient,’ and bemoaned the distance between his home and the school on the west side of town….
“Micheux insisted he always received ‘good grades’ in his Metropolis school days, but he felt unappreciated by those who tutored him. ‘About the only thing for which I was given credit was for learning readily,’ Micheaux recollected, ‘but was continually critiqued for talking too much and being too inquisitive.”
Learn more at Don Shorock’s Oscar Micheaux website and in this video tribute to Micheaux:
Micheaux is featured on the 33rd stamp in the U. S. Postal Service’s Black Heritage series. An Oscar Micheaux Education Kit (a pdf file) is available from the USPS.
Do you know any young pioneers who talk a lot and are “too inquisitive”?
Where might those traits eventually lead them?
Bree Ogden on the Future of Historical Fiction
How lucky am I to have a literary agent who believes in the enduring power of historical fiction?!
And isn’t it kind of amazingly strange and wonderful that the years of my adolescence are now considered historical fiction? 🙂
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