Jewell Parker Rhodes, born February 12, 1954 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is an American novelist and educator. While she is best known for her middle grade novels, including Ninth Ward, which received the Coretta Scott King Honor Award, Rhodes has published six novels for adults, including American Book Award winner Douglass’ Women and the Marie Laveau trilogy.
Ever the educator, she is also the author of two instructional guides for black writers: Free Within Ourselves: Fiction Lessons For Black Authors and The African American Guide to Writing and Publishing Nonfiction. Each is comprehensive and energizing, chock full of excerpts and advice from over 30 black writers. Fiction Lessons is a nurturing book for affirming, bearing witness, leaving a legacy, and celebrating the remarkable journey of the self.
In The African American Guide to Writing and Publishing Nonfiction, Rhodes talks about the cultural heritage that African Americans can trace back hundreds of years to the West African storytellers-musicians-historians called griots. She encourages us to be modern-day griots, acquainting ourselves with the work of earlier writers and committing our own lives and the lives of others to paper.
Her Marie Laveau trilogy begins with Voodoo Season –earlier versions are titled Season–and tells the story of Marie Levant, a great-great granddaughter of Marie Laveau, a medical doctor compelled by unseen forces to relocate to New Orleans. The city’s slave-holding past merges with the present, to reveal that women of color are still being abused, raped, and turned into undead zombie-like Sleeping Beauties in a horrifying revival of the Quadroon Balls. Only Marie can untangle the medical mystery.
Her precise and engrossing style has created a work that celebrates Laveau’s legacy of spiritual empowerment, prophetic vision, and voodoo possession, allowing us “to appreciate truly the glory and wonder of being a woman; powerful; spiritual; in control of her life and body; valuing ancestors, family, and community.”