Eleanor Taylor Bland, 1944-2010.
Eleanor Taylor Bland, 1944-2010, died on June 1, and our world of writers, readers, humans, is diminished.
I first met Eleanor in 1992, when she published Dead Time. We bonded over concerns about depictions of women and African-Americans in crime fiction, and the fact that we both had full-time corporate jobs while trying to write and raise a family.
I later learned that Eleanor had been diagnosed with a life-threatening cancer in the 1970’s, which she took as a signal to live each day to its fullest. Eleanor was awe-inspiring in her gallant and tireless spirit, her commitment to helping other writers, her dedication to her beloved grandson, Antony, and her ability to keep all these balls in the air while writing some of the country’s finest mysteries.
She was the among the first, if not the first, to create a hero who challenged the “mammy-whore” stereotypes of African-American women. She believed the crime novel was a perfect vehicle for pushing the boundaries of America’s class/race/sex consciousness because you can tell a story and explore issues at the same time. With Marti Macallister, she said, she could “comment on slices of life within black culture….This is the one genre where you can talk about it and have a little fun with it.”
Her passionate commitment to the lives of children and those damaged families who get swept under our social-judicial rugs showed up time and again in her fiction.
Eleanor’s support of the written word was legendary. She served on the board of the Waukegan Public Library and chaired their friends of the library. She also mentored writers like Libby Fischer Hellman and Michael Dymmoch, and served as president of Sisters in Crime.
Grace under pressure, gallantry, these are the images that come to mind, and, always, a smile that warmed us to the core of our souls. May your memory be a blessing to those of us you’ve left behind.