This Goodly Land

Ellen Tarry (September 26, 1906–September 23, 2008)

Alabama Connections

Selected Works

Biographical Information

Ellen Tarry was born and grew up in Birmingham, Ala. She converted to Roman Catholicism while attending St. Francis de Sales School, a boarding school in Rock Castle, Va. In 1923, Tarry enrolled at the State Normal School (now Alabama State University) in Montgomery. Upon completion of her teacher training program, Tarry returned to Birmingham, where she taught from 1925 to 1929. During this time, Tarry began writing for The Birmingham Truth. She moved to New York City in 1929, hoping to earn enough money to attend journalism school at Columbia University. The Great Depression made this impossible, and she worked many jobs to support herself. In the mid-1930s, Tarry joined the Negro Writers' Guild where she became friends with Harlem Renaissance writers such as Claude McKay and James Weldon Johnson. In 1936, she began working as a researcher/writer for the Federal Writers Project in New York. For two years, she also received a scholarship to study at the Writers Laboratory in the Cooperative School for Student Teachers (now Bank Street College of Education).

In 1938, Tarry began volunteering at Friendship House, a Catholic interracial outreach center in Harlem. Her experiences there inspired her first two children's books, Janie Bell and Hezekiah Horton. Tarry began writing feature articles for the black newspaper Amsterdam News in 1942. Shortly after she started there, she was asked to co-found a Chicago branch of Friendship House. She returned to New York in 1943, working again briefly for the Amsterdam News before being recruited to open a USO club for black soldiers in Anniston, Ala. In Anniston, she was married to a soldier stationed locally, but the marriage didn't last. She returned to New York in 1944, where her daughter was born late that year. From 1945 to 1948, Tarry was the Harlem Area supervisor for the National Catholic Community Service. In 1951, she became the director of community relations for the St. Charles School and Community Center Fund. Later, she worked for New York City's Housing and Urban Development office. She published two more children's books (one co-authored by Marie Hall Ets), four biographies (including one of James Weldon Johnson) written for young adults, and her autobiography. Tarry died in New York in 2008.

Interests and Themes

Ellen Tarry's picture books portray black life in a positive and realistic way. Her young adult biographies reflect her Catholic faith as well as her black heritage. Tarry's autobiography, The Third Door, describes her experiences as an African American whose skin was light enough to pass for white but who chose to identify as black.

For More Information

Please check your local library for these materials. If items are not available locally, your librarian can help you borrow them through the InterLibrary Loan program. Your librarian can also help you find other information about this author.

There may be more information available through the databases in the Alabama Virtual Library. If you are an Alabama citizen, AVL can be used at your public library or school library media center. You can also get a username and password from your librarian to use AVL at home.

Reference Articles

Reference Book Chapters and Encyclopedia Entries

Reference Book Prefaces

Location of Papers

Last updated on Dec 21, 2009.

Copyright © 2019 University of Alabama Libraries. All rights reserved.