Tina McElroy Ansa
(b. 1949), fiction writer, essayist, and journalist.
Tina McElroy Ansa was born in Macon, Georgia, and educated at Mount DeSales, a Catholic school in Macon, and at Spelman College in Atlanta. Early in her career, she worked primarily as a journalist. She freelanced and worked for the Atlanta Constitution and for the Charlotte Observer (N.C.). She has also conducted writing workshops in Georgia at Brunswick College, Emory University, and Spelman College.
Ansa's best-known work is her fiction. She may be considered a southern writer, for her fiction clearly draws on the physical landscape, specifically the middle Georgia setting, and the mores and folkways that shape the psyche of the American South. Unlike much of southern fiction, however, her tales are devoid of the subtextual exploration of the undercurrent of dysfunction and perversion that exists in the South. That is not to say that her fictive worlds are without dysfunction or moral conflict. Her fiction, however, confronts such problems openly in the worlds of the texts. Her novels and short fiction reflect the positive impact of her having grown up in a middle-class family in the racially segregated South. The South portrayed in her fiction consists of a supportive, closely bonded, and self-sufficient African American community that renders itself impervious to the horrors of southern racism. More specifically, her fiction explores some of the dynamics of the African American female experience.
Ansa's two major works are her novels Baby of the Family (1989) and Ugly Ways (1993). Both make use of traditional folk beliefs and the conventions of the ghost story. Ansa's fiction avoids self-conscious polemic and the predictability of protest fiction. The soundly middle-class McPhersons of Baby of the Family and the Lovejoys of Ugly Ways enjoy affluent existences and are relatively unharassed by racism and overt, brutal sexism. The dilemmas faced by these families stem from internal family issues rather than external forces.
Upon its publication, Baby of the Family was named a Notable Book of the Year in 1989 and 1990 by the New York Times Book Review. The novel won the 1989 Georgia Authors Series Award and was cited by the American Library Association as a best book for young adults in 1990. Set in the fictive town of Mulberry, the novel depicts the coming of age of Lena McPherson who, like Ansa herself, was born in the late 1940s with a caul, an indicator, according to folk belief, that a child is endowed for life with psychic powers. Unfortunately, her mother, Nellie, discounts folk tradition and inadvertently subjects Lena to a childhood of frustration and fearful experiences. What thus becomes Lena's affliction, however, is countered by the affluence and strong emotional support of the McPherson household. Buffered by the family's love, Lena escapes being overwhelmed by her difference from her peers. Simultaneously, because of her connection to the supernatural, Lena acquires information about African American traditions and roots necessary for her spiritual coming of age. The novel, therefore, suggests that the ideal existence for African Americans is one that embraces traditional American success while respecting African American traditions.