Farmer, novelist. Dori Sanders was born in Filbert, York County, on June 8, 1934, the eighth of ten children born to Marion Sylvester Sanders, a rural elementary school principal and landowner, and his wife, Cazetta Sylvia Patton. The novelist’s middle name reflects the Native American heritage of her paternal grandmother. During her childhood Sanders saw herself as an underachiever in the family but also as its most popular storyteller. Her family’s more than two-hundred-acre farm, where fourteen varieties of peaches are grown, is one of the oldest African American–owned farms in York County.
Sanders attended Fairview Elementary School in Filbert and Roosevelt High School in Clover. For about a year in the early 1950s, she attended community colleges in Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties in Maryland. She married in 1956; the marriage did not end officially until 1989. During the winter months she worked, especially when crops had failed, as an associate banquet manager in Camp Springs, near Andrews Air Force Base, and did some of her early writing there. During the growing season she was still helping farm the family land in the early twenty-first century, and in the summer she often helped staff Sanders’ Peach Shed, an open-air produce stand on U.S. Highway 321.
After years of farming, Sanders tried writing, but her first literary effort (a Gothic romance about sharecroppers) was considered too melodramatic by Louis D. Rubin, Jr., her later publisher, and was not accepted for publication. Her first published novel, Clover (1990), gave a child’s-eye view of racial differences in a fictional South Carolina town in the 1980s. When her father dies only hours after his interracial wedding, Clover is left with a white stepmother. The novel shows how stepmother and child are met with resentment by both races, but it also suggests that people can overcome the racial barriers of the rural and small-town South. The perceptive ten-year-old black girl resolves cultural and racial crises in the lives of several people. The lyrical and insightful novel drew rave reviews, stayed on the Washington Post bestseller list for ten weeks, and won the coveted Lillian Smith Book Award. Sanders’s second novel, Her Own Place (1993), has an indomitable African American heroine who is abandoned by her husband, learns about life as a single mother of five, works her own South Carolina farm, and copes with things as they come. Sanders’s direct approach to the changing racial and gender situation did not disappoint.
Sanders also published Dori Sanders’ Country Cooking: Recipes and Stories from the Family Stand (1995), a cookbook and storybook. On Interstate 85 southwest of Charlotte, North Carolina, this book was advertised on a fourteen-foot, hand-painted roadside billboard showing her likeness marketing “Fine Produce and Books.” On September 10, 1997, Sanders was awarded the Order of the Palmetto for her creative writing by Governor David Beasley. On the same date a movie version of Clover by USA Pictures TV was first aired. Sanders was inducted into the South Carolina Academy of Authors in 2000.
Powell, Dannye Romine. Parting the Curtains: Interviews with Southern Writers. Winston-Salem, N.C.: John F. Blair, 1994.
Sanders, Dori. “‘After Freedom’—Blacks and Whites in the 1990s: The Facts and the Fiction.” In The Southern State of Mind, edited by Jan Nordby Gretlund. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1999.
Tate, Linda. A Southern Weave of Women: Fiction of the Contemporary South. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1994.