Freedom’s Sisters for Black History Month

Freedom’s Sisters was a wonderful traveling exhibit (now online) honoring 20 African American women in the categories Dare to Dream, Inspire Lives, Serve the Public, and Look to the Future.  I posted about many of these women already but realize I never mentioned the last 4 in the group — and now that it’s Black History Month, what better time?

Harriet Ross Greene Tubman (circa 1820 – 1913)

“Every dream begins with a dreamer.”

We all know her as the famous conductor on the Underground Railroad but just how tough she was is astounding — 19 trips into slave territory, ferried all her charges to safety, had a $40,000 reward for her capture (over $1,000,000 in today’s dollars), but she was never caught.  And she commanded a military raid during the Civil War and was a spy for the Union Army.  You know how people ask if you could have dinner with several people from history, who would they be?  Harriet Tubman would be one of them.

For kids, I highly recommend Alan Schroeder and Jerry Pinkney’s picture book, MINTY.  (Her name was Araminta, nickname Minty, but she later changed it to Harriet, after her mom.)

Here’s a kids’ website, too, and a more comprehensive, educational (and fascinating) one from Scholastic.

C. Delores Tucker (1927 – 2005)

“Never again will black women be disregarded.”

The first woman and first African American to be a secretary of state (Pennsylvania, 1971), she also helped found what is now called the National Congress of Black Women in 1985 and served as chairman of the National Black Caucus of the Democratic Party.  Here’s more information from the  National Women’s History Museum.

And yes, she’s the one who spoke out against rap lyrics, for which many ridiculed her, but here’s a very thoughtful contemporary article about that issue from Sharon Toomer in Black and Brown News.

Frances Watkins Harper (1825 – 1911)

“More than the changing of institutions we need the development of a national conscience, and the upbuilding of national character.”

Frances Harper was an author of poetry and many novels, and editor and contributor to the Anglo African Magazine, the first African American literary journal.  She was also a participant in the Underground Railroad and lifetime abolitionist, spending almost 50 years traveling traveling tirelessly and giving speeches against racism and sexism.  A friend of Sojourner Truth, she was another tough lady like Harriet Tubman.  Here’s some information about her from the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame.

Ida B. Wells-Barnett (1862 – 1931)

“One had better die fighting agains injustice than die like a dog or a rat in a trap.”

Another courageous woman, Ida Wells-Barnett sued the railroad in Tennessee for requiring her to sit in a blacks only car — in 1884!– 71 years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat.  What’s amazing is that Wells-Barnett actually won the case, although it was later overturned.  She went on to write about the event and other injustices and become a successful journalist and co-owner of Free Speech, an African Americans newspaper.  When she wrote in that paper about lynchings, she ended up having to leave town but that didn’t silence her.  She wrote and spoke around the world about social injustice.

Here’s a great site with info about her from Duke University and a piece in biography.com (although this site has those annoying audio-visual commercials that pop up).

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Talking Story

 

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I was so grateful to have the chance to talk story with students at Pukalani Elementary School in upcountry Maui, Hawaii.  Many of them were in the middle of reading Mockingbird and eagerly asked questions about the book and writing in general. It’s kind of far to go so they don’t get too many author visits which made it special for me — as a kid who never thought it was possible to become an author, I want kids to see they can follow their dreams, writing or otherwise.  Thanks to Jamie Ahlman for organizing and for being a tour guide for the evening, too!  And mahalo for my lovely gifts and thank you notes!!IMG_1720IMG_1719

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J.K. Rowling, King Charles I, and I

Here’s J.K.’s house in Edinburgh, which I visited last month:

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OK, so actually I was just a stalker and went to snap a photo because my friends live around the corner from her.  It’s just a big house on the main road.  Well, not just a big house; it has quite an interesting history, dating from the 1600′s.  It’s one of the oldest homes in Edinburgh and belonged to King Charles I’s lawyer, who traveled down to London to defend him against treason.  As the story goes, the lawyer was excellent and made compelling arguments but no one could understand his Scottish brogue so the king lost his head anyway.  I’m not sure what happened to the lawyer.

IMG_1443J.K. is putting in a new gate, hence the temporary screens.  My friend walked me up to her gate like a gentleman because I felt so stalker-ish.  He also said, with earnest, “Had she only known you were going to be in town, I’m quite sure she would’ve invited you to tea.”    Hahahaha!  I almost lost my head over that one.

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WAMS — William Allen Middle School

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Fantastic visit with William Allen Middle School in New Jersey — the whole school read Mockingbird!  I’m honored, and it was a treat to watch their role plays and see their projects and answer their questions.  Everyone, including me, got a wonderful T-shirt (soft and a very pretty turquoise blue which doesn’t come out in these photos) based on the book.  Thoughtful people, great place — truly good and strong and beautiful!!  Thanks for hosting me!

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Anne Westrick’s BROTHERHOOD

I don’t know of many YA novels set in Reconstruction era Virginia with a boy main character so that’s reason enough to read Anne Westrick’s BROTHERHOOD.  As others have said, you might think it’s not the venue for a gripping story — but you would be most definitely be mistaken.  It’s honest and authentic and will make you cringe sometimes, but that’s the whole idea — the times were definitely cringe worthy.  I respect her for reflecting the harshness of the era.  Anne grew up in a Southern family that purposely transplanted itself to Pennsylvania but she always wondered about her relatives during this time in history.

For a chance to meet Anne, she’ll be appearing at Teen ’13  in Richmond, VA and will be speaking at the James River Writers conference in Richmond that weekend.

For DC area natives, Anne (BROTHERHOOD), Kristin Levine (THE LIONS OF LITTLE ROCK) and I (SEEING RED) will be doing a panel on Civil Rights issues at Hooray 4 Books in Alexandria, VA on Friday, October 25, 2013.

Now, let’s hear from Anne herself:

Why did you write this book / choose this topic?

I have a sense that this topic chose me. I grew up in Pennsylvania where people said woudder instead of water. But at home, my Southern parents used words like y’all and howdy do there. When I asked them about our ancestors, they told me to read Gone with the Wind, and they regurgitated the noble-lost-cause diet of the defeated Confederacy because that’s what their community had fed them. But I think it gave them indigestion. When Daddy told me that as a child, he had vowed never to raise his own children in the South, I wondered what it would have felt like to grow up in a community polarized by racial tensions, a community where whites were expected to treat blacks badly. Brotherhood grew from those wonderings.

 

When do you write?

Every morning, six days a week (sometimes seven).

 

Where do you write?

On a mac computer on a table (that used to be my sewing table) in the northwest corner of my bedroom. There are two windows, one on either side of the table. When I glance to the right, I can watch the sun rise, and to the left, if I happen to be at my computer in the early evening, occasionally the setting sun will do such a number on the sky that it’ll compel me to get up and move to a window where I can take in the purples, pinks, reds and oranges. I guess I’m saying that I’m sometimes distracted.

 

What’s an important “nugget” that you’d like readers to take away from your book?

After the 2012 James River Writers conference, Maggie Duncan posted at “Unexpected Paths”  a quote from poet Camisha Jones: “Just because you’re white doesn’t mean you can’t write about diversity. I would like to see stories by white people about the pressure on them to conform to racism. That’s an important story to tell.” Before reading those words, I hadn’t thought of Brotherhood in that way. But that’s what Brotherhood is about—that pressure to conform. Sometimes pressure comes in big, bad, bold ways, such as in the ways the characters in Brotherhood must answer to the KKK, but sometimes it comes quietly, as in a racist comment during a dinner party. Do you let it go or call the person out on it? If you call her out, do you do it publicly or privately? If you don’t call her out, have you granted tacit approval? I guess I’d like to leave readers with questions when they finish Brotherhood.

 

Do you have a favorite quote or bumper sticker?

I have two favorite quotes. Brenda Ueland said, “The more you wish to describe a Universal the more minutely and truthfully you must describe a Particular.” And Flannery O’Connor said, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” Yeah. Same. I get that.

Favorite season?

Autumn. Fall colors mesmerize me.

 

Deciduous or evergreen?

Definitely deciduous (see favorite season).

 

Cat or dog?

Cat, but I’ve met some awesome dogs that could change my mind. 

 

Flats or heels? 

Flats. By the time I hit seventh grade, I was 5’7” and although I’ve shrunk a little over the years, I developed an “I’m too tall” complex and haven’t been able to shed it.

 

Favorite board, card, or computer game?

Bridge! I grew up in a bridge-playing family and met my husband playing bridge. These days, I think the average age for bridge players might be eighty, so it’s hard for us to find couples to play with. We enjoy contract bridge, not the competitive version (“duplicate bridge”).

 

Favorite musical instrument.

Tuba. My son is a tuba player and can make the instrument sound as mellow as a French horn.

 

Favorite sport or form of exercise?

Yoga

 

Activity you wished you enjoyed:

Cooking; it requires so much time that I wish I could find joy in it. But I’d rather be writing.

Thank you, Anne!  You can find out more about Anne and her writing at her website or one of the events mentioned above.  Happy reading!

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BREAK THESE RULES! Thank you, Luke

Some years ago I was lucky to make the acquaintance of Luke Reynolds, a talented writer, dedicated teacher, great family man and all around mensch.   Among his other writing, Luke has created anthologies to benefit various groups, the proceeds from BREAK THESE RULES going to the Children’s Defense Fund (where I volunteered, briefly, as a law student, so has particular interest to me).

I love this little bio which says so much about him so I’m just going to quote it here, but I do have to add that he has also recently written an inspiring book for writers, Keep Calm and Query On: Notes on Writing (and Living) with Hope.   If you’re a writer, this book will definitely speak to you:

Luke Reynolds is the author of A Call to Creativity (Teachers College Press, 2012) and is co-editor of both Burned In (Teacher College Press, 2011, with Audrey Friedman) and Dedicated to the People of Darfur (Rutgers University Press, 2009, with his wife Jennnifer Reynolds). His book A New Man (Stonegarden, 2007) explores the need for a more authentic, vulnerable masculinity. His writing has also appeared in The Believer, The Writer, The Sonora Review, The Hartford Courant, Arizona Daily Sun, Mutuality, Hunger Mountain, and Tucson Weekly. He has taught English in public schools in Connecticut and Massachusetts, and has also taught Composition at Northern Arizona University. He and his wife, Jennifer, have one son, Tyler. They love family dancing to the oldies.

I asked Luke to answer some questions so we can learn a little more about him.

Who or what has been the greatest inspiration for your stories?
So many people have provided inspiration, help, guidance, and encouragement–but one stand out most: my fifth grade teacher, Mr. Robert Looney. He walked into class with wild hair, wild eyes, and infectious joy. He created a writing program called FLAIR, and the name captures exactly what his teaching philosophy was all about. He encouraged his students to be wildly creative, and to be invested in our stories and in our ideas. I owe a debt to Mr. Looney that is larger than one could ever hope to repay.
[I remember reading about Mr. Looney, Luke, and I hope others will have that opportunity, too!]

You have the chance to give one piece of advice to teen readers.  What is that?

Tough question–but the biggest piece of advice I would give is probably this: YOU DON’T HAVE TO HAVE IT ALL TOGETHER. IT’S OKAY TO LEARN, GROW, CHANGE YOUR MIND, RETHINK, AND REALLY LIVE.

Why do you write?  /  Why do you write for young people?

I write because when I don’t my chest feels like I am holding my breath and if I keep not writing then I keep holding my breath and sooner or later there is going to be some kind of massive explosion because there are words and ideas and people and stories that just have to come out (even if some or many or most of them never make it into print). I write first because it’s a part of what my soul keeps saying I have to do–and I write for young people because I love, love, love them and I appreciate the fact that they are going through hard transitions, when they’re hearing so much advice, receiving so many cultural norms, and have so many expectations put on them that sometimes they just need to know that they are not alone. (And that it’s going to be okay, somehow.)

[See why I said "mensch?"]

When do you write?

I usually do my best work in the early mornings, before everyone wakes up. There’s a certain energy that the earth has in the early morning, and I love waking up and getting the chance to be a part of that!

What are you working on now?

Now, I am working on a couple different novels, two anthologies, and a few picture book revisions. But everything is about revision! Constant, unending revision. I sometimes feel as though nothing is ever really “finished” and maybe that’s true of all life: we’re never really “finished” with ourselves or with our own journeys and stories, and a certain acceptance of that fact helps me enjoy both my writing and my own life more.

Why should kids read books when there are so many other things to do?

Because kids books tell it like it is: there is so much depth, pain, beauty, tragedy, triumph, and transcendence in kids books–and they are fresh and real and original and vibrant. I think of books like GEEKS, GIRLS, AND SECRET IDENTITIES by Mike Jung and EIGHTH-GRADE SUPERZERO by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and MOCKINGBIRD by Kathryn Erskine and I sit back and close my eyes and say, thank you, thank you, thank you.

Tea or coffee?  Flavor?  Milk or sugar?

Coffee! With way too much cream!

Favorite season?

Fall: everything is leaving, but not yet, but almost, but it’s still here, and we savor it, but we’re reminded that change is necessary, a aprt of life, and that when one thing ends, another begins.

Can you deal better with wind or rain?

I absolutely love wind. It feel somehow fresh–and makes me feel as though something new is beginning. Rain–if its warm I like to play basketball in it. If it’s cold…..no!!

What’s always in your fridge?

Cream! (Or whole milk if cream manages to somehow escape from the fridge and collectively gather with other Cream escapees.)

Favorite comfort food?

BREAD. I absolutely love bread–especially the squishy, thick brown kind on which gobs of butter can be smothered.

Chocolate or some lesser nectar of the gods?

I’ve got to go with BREAD again for this one. It feels like dessert!

Ideal evening.

Going for a bike ride or a hike on a path near water, then getting back just as the sun dips below the horizon, then sitting and having a deep, long, zig-zagging talk about life, psychology, social change, justice, and love. And then a dance with my wife to remind us that with all the joys or injustices in our world, it’s still worth dancing.

[Aww, that is truly beautiful.]

Ideal vacation.

The mountains!

Skill you’d most like to acquire.

When I had my first teaching job out of college, I stopped by a local mechanic and asked him if I could be a sort of apprentice and work for free. He checked with some people and told me that because of liability and insurance, he couldn’t do it. But ever since then I’ve had a strong desire to learn how to fix anything that could go wrong with a car.

Topic you’d most like to write about.

Systematized gender and race inequality in America, and how that translates to real, lived experiences of children in our public school system.

[Ohhh, I want to read that when you're done, Luke!]

Author you’d like to meet.

I would love, love, love, LOVE to meet Harper Lee, my favorite author of all-time.

Question you’d ask that author.

“Ms. Lee, what have been your greatest joys and darkest moments?” Of course, she may very reply: “None of your business, young man!”

What / who gives you spiritual guidance and inspiration?

I love reading Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, and bell hooks.

What most surprises you about our current culture?

That there’s so much violence in mainstream media, and a culture of violence and male = tough, and yet we wonder why there is so much crime; it sometimes feels as though we live in a culture where violence and toughness are celebrated on the one hand, and yet there’s incarceration and punishment on the other. I think we need to work to change our culture so that peace, courage, and bravery are celebrated in other ways than through violence.

[Amen!]

Some favorite books?

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV, OKAY FOR NOW, THE PILGRIMAGE OF HAROLD FRY, MIDDLEMARCH, SKY COLOR, TEACHING TO TRANSGRESS

Some favorite movies?

A BETTER LIFE, A FEW GOOD MEN, Anything with Denzel Washington, RUDY, MORNING GLORY, I DON’T KNOW HOW SHE DOES IT, GLORY, CASABLANCA

Thanks, Luke, for sharing your time and heart with us.  For more of Luke’s inspiration, see his Intersections blog.  You can also learn more about him at his website, http://www.lukewreynolds.com.  And if you know a teen, consider giving them their very own copy of BREAK THESE RULES.  (See, I just broke a grammar rule in that last sentence — “a teen” followed by “them,” and I SURVIVED.)

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My Mentor, Mary Quattlebaum!

Mary Quattlebaum is not only my friend and fellow student from William and Mary, but also my very first writing mentor.  I remember sitting in her living room with other (much more talented) writers in awe of her abilities and her gentle way of critiquing my very poor drafts and, after pointing out all the beautiful bits she found (that was a monumental task), saying things like, “Might you want to consider …” and then giving me excellent advice when, really, she could’ve said things like, “Seriously, Kathy, have you ever heard the word plot?”

Her gentle insightfulness and talent appears in all her books — and she has written many — including her latest nature picture books.  Mary’s JO MACDONALD trilogy riffs on the Old MacDonald’s Farm theme but with young Jo at the center.  She’s an upbeat nature girl, much like Mary.  The text is upbeat, too, and will have kids (and adults) singing along.  They’re not only fun and adorable (wonderful illustrations by Laura J. Bryant), they’re very cleverly educational, too.  In JO MACDONALD HAD A GARDEN, we see what’s needed for a garden to grow.   JO MACDONALD SAW A POND explains a pond’s ecosystem.  And in JO MACDONALD HIKED IN THE WOODS, we see an entire forest community.  At the end of each book is an explanation (with pictures) of the items in the book and their importance to the theme.  The GARDEN book also tells young readers how to plant a garden, gives advice on gardening and also gives indoor activities that can be enjoyed year round.  In the POND book, there’s information on how to be a naturalist and a citizen scientist.  In her latest, JO MACDONALD HIKED IN THE WOODS, Mary tells us about different types of trees, how they work, various animals, forests, and even how to be a safe and considerate hiker (along with indoor activities, etc. like in the other books).  Simply put, these books are packed with great stuff for kids and all of us!

Now, for some fun for both readers and writers, here’s Mary Quattlebaum herself!

You love and appreciate nature.  How do you think nature can help our writing?  Do you every write outside?
Wow, nature feels like an endless source of inspiration, what with all the critters and plants, the shifting clouds and swaying trees.  Being in the natural world just makes my senses more alert (rather than overwhelmed and overstimulated, like going to a shopping mall).
I like to write on the front porch when the weather is nice.  One of my favorite writing places, though, is our kitchen table in the morning.  I can look out the window at the garden and enjoy the early morning rays.
What is your favorite outdoor place to hang out?
I love our front porch swing and our wildlife garden in the backyard, which has shrubs, coneflowers, and other native plants to help sustain birds and pollinators.  Even in winter, there’s something restful and calming about a garden.  And I love walking the dog daily, through all the seasons, in a field that is part of Fort Reno park in Washington, DC (where I live).  The hill there is the highest point in the city so it is a great place to view the changing landscape.  I love seeing how much my dog, Yoshi, relishes the outdoors.   I know you are a big fan of dogs, too, Kathy.  Don’t you just love walking Fletcher and seeing how he takes in the world?
[Kathy:  Yes, but mostly he lies down in the grass.  He can be a very lazy dog.]
What is your favorite outdoor activity?
Walking and gardening.
What is something nature-related that you think everyone should do at one time in their lives?
Grow a plant!  There’s something amazing about watching a seed sprout and grow.  A miracle of the ordinary.  It reminds us that the earth renews itself, and that we humans are part of a great cycle of life and death that includes many forms of life, over millions of years.
Kathy:   That’s beautiful, Mary–thank you!  Here’s Mary’s website for more information.  Enjoy the trilogy!

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