Ellen Tarry

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Ellen Tarry
Born (1906-09-26)September 26, 1906
Birmingham, Alabama, United States
Died September 23, 2008(2008-09-23) (aged 101)
New York, New York, United States
Occupation Author
Nationality American
Period 1940–2008

Ellen Tarry (September 26, 1906 – September 23, 2008) was an African-American author of literature for children and young adults. Tarry was the first African-American picture book author.


Tarry was born in Birmingham, Alabama. Although raised in the Congregational Church, she converted to Roman Catholicism in 1922. She attended Alabama State Normal School, now Alabama State University, and became a teacher in Birmingham. At the same time, she began writing a column for the local African-American newspaper entitled "Negroes of Note", which focused on racial injustice and promoted racial pride. In 1929, she moved to New York City in hope of becoming a writer. There she befriended such Harlem Renaissance literary figures as Langston Hughes, Claude McKay and Countee Cullen. She was the first "Negro Scholarship" recipient at the Bank Street College of Education in New York City, where she met and became friends with Margaret Wise Brown and was influenced by the "here and now" theory of picture book composition.[1]

Tarry published four picture books: 1940's Janie Belle (illustrated by Myrtle Sheldon), 1942's Hezekiah Horton (illustrated by Oliver Harrington), 1946's My Dog Rinty in collaboration with Caldecott Medal winner Marie Hall Ets (photographs by Alexander and Alexandra Alland), concerning a Harlem family and their mischievous pet, and 1950's The Runaway Elephant (again illustrated by Harrington), which continued the relationships started in Hezekiah Horton.

Tarry's The Third Door: The Autobiography of an American Negro Woman (from 1955) tells of her life in the South, her migration to New York City, her friendship with McKay, and her deep commitment to Catholicism. In 1942, Tarry was one of the first two co-directors along with Ann Harrigan Makletzoff,[2] at the request of Catherine de Hueck Doherty,[3] of the Chicago branch of Friendship House, a Catholic outreach movement promoting interracial friendship.

Tarry's biographies include Katherine Drexel: Friend of the Neglected, Pierre Toussaint: Apostle of Old New York, The Other Toussaint: A Post-Revolutionary Black, and Martin de Porres, Saint of the New World.

Tarry died on September 23, 2008, three days before her 102nd birthday. She had one daughter, Elizabeth Tarry Patton, from a brief marriage.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Smith, Katharine Capshaw, "From Bank Street to Harlem: A Conversation with Ellen Tarry", The Lion and the Unicorn 23.2 (April 1999): 271-285.
  2. ^ Schorsch, Albert J. III (1990). ""Uncommon Women and Others": memoirs and lessons from radical Catholics at Friendship House". U.S. Catholic Historian. 9 (4): 371–386. 
  3. ^ Sharum, Elizabeth Louise (1977). A strange fire burning: a history of the Friendship House Movement (Thesis / Dissertation). Texas Tech University: University Microfilms. p. 145. 

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