Monday, January 17, 2011

Guest Post: Traci L. Jones on Writing the 1970's

By Traci L. Jones

You can talk all you want to about the joys of growing up in the 50’s and 60’s. You could brag about the music and clothes, but while I agree that there were some definite advantages to being a young person in that time, I am here to make a case for the best decade for childhood being the 1970’s.

Naturally, since I’m an African American, my view of the 50’s and 60’s is skewed, what with all the Jim Crow laws and segregation and such, toward the negative.

The 70’s, however, that was a time where Black became beautiful, when the world was opening up for us. When our music and culture stopped being relegated to the chitlin’ circuit, and was brought from the backwaters into the spotlight.

It was in this light that I wrote my second book, Finding My Place (FSG, 2010). Set smack in the middle of the 70’s--1975--I tried to take a look at growing up in a way that is not often seen in popular culture.

Most often books where the main character is African American take place in one of three settings: during Slavery, Civil Rights, or in an urban city. But there are vast amounts of people who, like me, grew up in the aftermath of the Civil Rights movement, where the laws had changed, but the attitudes of those around us hadn’t always caught up.

We grew up with the burden not of creating laws to expand opportunity, but with the charge of taking best advantage of the opportunities presented to us.

The 70’s is chockfull of national events and societal changes that, while I was growing up I was seemingly oblivious to, but which nonetheless had an impact on the way I viewed life, others and myself.

Here are few of the things that took place, and how differently they were viewed by my culture.


The women’s movement wasn’t viewed within the African American culture as one might assume. While White women were marching and burning their bras, demanding to have a choice to work outside of the home for equal pay, African American women, who had worked outside of their homes for more than 100 years for awful pay, felt a disconnect with that philosophy.

I remember hear many of my mother’s friends express a wistful desire that they had the chance to stay at home and raise their kids, rather than leave each morning for work.

The Hippie Culture was dying down in the early part of the 70’s, but again, it was viewed different by the African American community.

After all, many of us had just marched and died for inclusion into many of the things and institutions that the hippie culture disdained. While my people often shared the hippies’ distrust of politicians and government, it was for historical rather than philosophical reasons.


While disco reigned supreme in the mainstream, it was R&B with bands like Earth, Wind and Fire, The Commodores and The Jackson 5 that dominated in the African American culture. Often when thinking back to my childhood, there is a wonderful musical accompaniment along with the memories.

Movies and Television

With the 1970’s came a wave of Blaxplotation films, such as "Shaft," "Blacula," "Coffy," "Buck and The Preacher," and "Cleopatra Jones," which showed Blacks in roles usually reserved for White actors.

In the 1970’s, Blacks on television went from being seen rarely, in guest appearances or as sidekicks to having entire shows populated with only Black actors, like "That’s My Mama," "Sanford and Son," "Good Times," and "The Jeffersons."

The 1970’s is a ripe decade to explore full of new chances, old conflicts, unprecedented growth and societal confusion. I tried to invoke some of the challenges, opportunities and atmosphere in my book Finding My Place. I hope readers can feel the 1970’s flavor.

Thanks for listening, and in the immortal words of Don Cornelius, host of "Soul Train," here’s wishing you Love, Peace and SSSSSOOOOULLLL!


Julie Hedlund said...

Great interview! I met Traci at the RMCSCBWI where she gave a fantastic talk!

I'm going to read this book for sure. I grew up in the 70s (as a white girl), and never thought about how different the experience would have been for Black kids. Especially since I grew up in Northern Michigan - talk about isolated!

I love the fact that books can open us all to the intimate experiences of others. :-)

Cynthia Leitich Smith said...

How wonderful that you had a chance to hear Traci speak and that you're so excited to re-enter the decade through her protagonist's point of view. It's a terrific read! Enjoy!

Cynthia Leitich Smith said...
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