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Children's Author | Joyce Hansen
Joyce Hansen | Photo by Austin Hansen, Jr.
Joyce Hansen, author of many novels and nonfiction works for children and young adults, was born in the Morrisania neighborhood in the Bronx borough of New York City in 1942. Recalling her childhood, she says, “I was blessed with a mother who loved books and writing. She read to me before I knew how to read. My father was a photographer who told my brothers and I stories through his photography and his memories about his childhood.” She worked as a secretary while attending night school at Pace University and became a teacher in the New York City public school system after earning a bachelor’s degree in English. Ms. Hansen eventually earned a master’s degree from New York University while continuing her teaching career.
She taught in the public schools for 22 years, spending much of her time in special education working closely with teens who had reading disabilities. She used her experiences as a teacher to inspire her first novel for children, The Gift-Giver, published in 1980 and set in the Bronx. Ms. Hansen based the book and its two sequels, Yellow Bird and Me and One True Friend, upon her own childhood and the lives of the students she taught. Later, she turned her focus to historical fiction, writing a trilogy of novels set during the Civil War and Reconstruction in the south.
Set in Mars Bluff, South Carolina, I Thought My Soul Would Rise and Fly: The Diary of Patsy, a Freed Girlis Ms. Hansen’s examination of the Reconstruction era seen through the eyes of Patsy, a freed slave girl. Ms. Hansen’s character Patsy keeps a diary that documents her tenacity to rise above her difficult circumstances in order to assist other former slaves through the literacy she has been able to secretly achieve. Her books are a mixture of contemporary and historical fiction, and Ms. Hansen has also written and contributed to several works of non-fiction focused on African American historical subjects.
Four of her books have won the Coretta Scott King Honor Award and she has been the recipient of many other prestigious awards during her career. Of receiving the Coretta Scott King Honor, Ms. Hansen said, “The proudest moment of my career was when I received a Coretta Scott Honor Book Award for Which Way Freedom? I was just hoping that no one would say that the book was awful. I’d never written historical fiction before. You can’t imagine how shocked and proud I was when the book was given that honor. I still have the letter from the Committee telling me that I won the award.”
Ms. Hansen retired from teaching in 1995, currently lives in the midlands of South Carolina, and continues to write for youth. Speaking about her philosophy of writing on her website, she states, “I want my readers to sense the possibility of hope, to be aware of how the human spirit can rise to great heights – to see how some people manage to survive the madness and create a sane space where there is still beauty, love, peace and even joy.”
“I want my readers to sense the possibility of hope, to be aware of how the human spirit can rise to great heights – to see how some people manage to survive the madness and create a sane space where there is still beauty, love, peace and even joy.”--Joyce Hansen
— Joyce Hansen | The Brown Bookshelf
Which Way Freedom? | Coretta Scott King Honor | 1987
The Captive | Coretta Scott King Honor | 1995
I Thought My Soul Would Rise and Fly: The Diary of Patsy, a Freed Girl | Coretta Scott King Honor | 1998
Breaking Ground, Breaking Silence: The Story of New York's African Burial Ground | Coretta Scott King Honor | 1999
Contributed by Jenny Dilworth | Children's Room Librarian