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Patricia L'Ann Carwell was born to the civil servant parents Robert and Erma Carwell on August 9, 1944, in the small town of Smyrna, Tennessee. The Carwell family moved North to St. Louis, Missouri when McKissack was three. The family moved apart after Erma and Robert divorced. McKissack remained with her paternal grandparents in St. Louis, while her mother and siblings, Robert Nolan and Sarah Francis, moved back to Tennessee. At the age of twelve, McKissack left St. Louis and rejoined her mother, brother, sister, and maternal grandparents in Nashville. This move back to Tennessee brought Pat McKissack the friendship of Fredrick McKissack, who would become her future husband many years later.
Pat and Fred McKissack both attended Tennessee State University in Nashville, where they were able to rekindle their friendship. Their one-time childhood relationship as neighborhood playmates grew into an adult love. "I had known him all my life. We grew up in the same town, where every family knew every other family, but [Fred] was five years older and you just didn't date boys who were five years older than you. When I was fifteen and he was twenty dating was forbidden. But when I was twenty and he was twenty-five it was perfectly okay." The couple married on December 12, 1964, four months after Fredrick proposed on their second date. Eventually their family grew from two to five with the birth of their three sons, Fredrick Lemuel and the twins, Robert and John.
Pat McKissack graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English at Tennessee State University in the same year of her marriage, 1964. After this, she returned to St. Louis to further her education. She received her Masters in Early Childhood Literature and Media Programming at Webster University. She graduated in 1975.
After making careers in the fields of both teaching and editing children's books, Patricia McKissack, with the help of her husband, decided to become a full-time writer of children's and young adult books designed for and about African Americans. "I remember sitting in our car--just the two of us--and Fred asked, 'If you could do anything you want to do in this whole wide world for the rest of your life, what would you do?' I said, 'Write books.' And he said, 'Okay-let's do that. We'll take it as far as we can go. We'll take it day by day.'"
Thus, they set out together with a hope "to enlighten, to change attitudes, to set goals-to build bridges with books." Whether working solo or assisted by her husband, Patricia McKissack has written nearly one hundred children's picture books, young adult novels, and non-fiction biographies about African Americans and their cultural experiences and histories.
- Picture of Freedom, a: The Diary of Clotee, a Slave Girl , Belmont Plantation, Virginia, 1859 (1997)
- Color Me Dark: The Diary of Nellie Lee Love, the Great Migration North, Chicago, Illinois, 1919 (2000)
- Nzingha: Warrior Queen of Matamba, Angola, Africa, 1595 (2000)