Gordon Parks attended the first celebration in his honor at his hometown of Fort Scott, Kansas, in 2003. I think he loved every minute of it, and we loved every minute of being with him.

Gordon Parks attended the first celebration in his honor at his hometown of Fort Scott, Kansas, in 2003. I think he loved every minute of it, and we loved every minute of being with him.

Gordon Parks: No Excuses

ISBN: 978-1589804111 | Pelican Publishing | 2006

"Gordon Parks is remarkable: a Renaissance man who has mastered photography, filmmaking, and writing. The story of his life is certainly an incredible one. Transcending voyeurism, Parks' photographs reveal vulnerabilities of the human experience with grace and compassion. In his 90s and still driven to experience what the world has to offer, and to express his response to it, Gordon Parks is an inspiration to us all." — Janet St. John, BOOKLIST

Gordon Parks overcame the obstacles of poverty and racism and never gave up on his dreams. He attributes his drive for excellence to his mother who told him,"What a white boy can do, you can too—and no excuses." The first black photographer for Life magazine, Gordon Parks spent over two decades as a professional photographer, and his resume has grown to include novelist, musician, artist, and poet.

After reading a story about Gordon Parks in a Kansas newspaper, Ann Parr immediately set out to learn more about his life. She first interviewed the mayor of Fort Scott, Kansas, whose efforts healed wounds between Gordon Parks and his hometown, and then many of Parks' friends. But it was after interviewing Parks in person that she knew she had a success story that would inspire generations.

Featuring forty-one vibrant black and white photographs and illustrations, this book includes details of Gordon Parks' life and his work. Included are his photographs of the poor, stylish Parisian models, and the Civil Rights movement.

Gordon Parks, Grit and Grace

Gordon Parks didn’t let his black skin or his lack of education stop him from becoming famous over and over again.

After the No Excuses book was published, I kept writing about Gordon because I think his story fits today as well as it did when he lived it. We don’t have the Great Depression now, but we do have homelessness and joblessness like he faced. With all Gordon’s problems— racism and prejudice, beatings and rejections—he could have chosen to be angry and resentful, much like the civil rights activists Stokely Carmichael and Malcolm X he had written about in his Life magazine features. He could have given up, like the DaSilvas in Brazil or the Fontenelles in Harlem, families he profiled for Life.  Instead, he ignored limits others wanted to put on him and became successful at whatever he tried, even semi-pro basketball and tennis. He took the high road every time and followed his mother’s words: “If a white boy can do it, you can too.” 

This is how I started: After reading about Gordon’s gift of photographs and poems to his home town’s—Fort Scott, Kansas—new health center in 2003 and his long list of accomplishments, I wanted to know about this 91-year-old Kansan. Why didn’t every boy and girl know his name, and how had he been able to forgive Fort Scott for the way it treated him? I read his three autobiographies and visited folks in Fort Scott who knew him. I learned about his ragged, poverty-ridden childhood, his becoming the first black photographer for Life magazine, a best-selling writer of more than twenty books, maker of ten films, and a music composer. 

I sent a letter.  “May I interview you by phone or in person in your home in New York City?” I asked him.  Three days later, he called. “When are you coming?”

What a thrill it was to meet him. So friendly and welcoming. In his comfortably cluttered apartment, I learned how he survived threats, broke through obstacles, and still clung to his Kansas ways of trust and friendliness. He appreciated honors and awards—including more than fifty honorary doctorates from colleges and universities around the world—but he didn’t need them to live a full life. Becoming well-known was not one of his goals. He wanted others to learn from his courage. 

My new biography, The Grit and Grace of Gordon Parks, for young adult readers tells his life from being born dead to living fully for 93 years.