I'm thinking this morning about influences, especially writing influences, as I've had some exciting mail (which I'll get to in a moment). Don't you love it when you see the fruits of your labors blossom into surprising shapes and forms that you would never have dreamed of? The Buddhists (and others) tell us not to be attached to outcomes and instead to concentrate on the present moment, and I try to do that -- it's a great place to work from.
From time to time, however, I like to think about the path, which is something teachers and writers and I talked about quite a bit this past weekend: the path to reading like a writer, the path to writing and using all those conventions of good writing, the path to publication, and the path to becoming a whole human being.
So -- as I prepare to go to Chicago this afternoon to work with Scholastic Book Fairs (back Friday), I leave you with some influences on my writing, and my.... hmmm.... becoming. I thank every one of these lovely influences, every name, place,memory and moment below: Namaste.
1. There is still time, if you live near Bellingham, Washington (or even if you don't), to get yourself to the Bond Children's Literature Conference on March 1. Look at this year's lineup! Christopher Paul Curtis, Eric Rohmann, Chris Crutcher, and John Rocco! What a jackpot of stories to be gathered this weekend. I have spoken at this conference (ALL-STARS was just a twinkle in my eye) and can tell you how wonderful it is, how beautiful Bellingham is (The City of Subdued Excitement! Really!), and how fabulous are Nancy Johnson and her colleagues and students at Western Washington University.
2. If you are a Southern Writer (and even if you aren't) here are two treats: the newest issue of Juvenile Miscellany is here, detailing all happenings at the University of Southern Mississippi's De Grummond Children's Literature Collection, including the Fay B. Kaigler Children's Book Festival. I spoke at this conference in 2006 and it changed my life. That's Eve Bunting you see in the newsletter -- she was the Keats Medallion recipient last year. This year it's Pat Mora.
Speaking also during this year's festival (April 2-4) are James Ransome, Vicki Cobb, Will Weaver, and Kimberly Willis Holt. A lovely line up, and that's just the tip -- this is a conference full of concurrent workshops and southern charm. Plus, good friend Barbara Immroth is the Keats Lecturer this year, and you don't want to miss that. Hey, Cousin Ellen!
The second Southern treat is the spring edition of the Eudora Welty Newsletter, with an interview of Yours Truly in it. When you name a dog Eudora Welty, as I have done in ALL-STARS, well... folks want to know what that's all about. I am honored to be profiled by the fabulous Deborah Miller in this issue of the newsletter. If you'd like to read all sorts of scholarly goodness about Eudora Welty and one decidedly non-scholarly interview (although I think there's lots of scholarship in there, in its way, as I have studied Welty's work for so long I can recite it to you!), you can order copies here. At some point, I would like to put the interview on my website as well. We'll see.
3. Speaking of scholarship, I want to pass on a link to an excellent article written by Michael Dirda of the Washington Post about this year's AWP conference in New York City. I attended and spoke at last year's conference, here in Atlanta, on two panels; one about voice in southern literature for children, with Mary Ann Rodman and Sharon Darrow (all of us with Vermont College ties), and the other about writing about the civil rights movement in southern literature, with Tony Grooms and William Heath -- I was the only children's book author on this panel and was delighted to be asked to be a part of it.
AWP was quite the experience, to be one of a few writers for children in a sea of those writing and expounding on adult books in such academic, bohemian, important, strange, convoluted and wonderful ways. It was everything Michael Dirda says it was in NYC, too -- he captures the feeling of the conference well.
One reason I bring up AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) is because I've been thinking so much lately about how we separate out literature for adults and literature for children in this country... maybe in the world. I would love to hear your thoughts on this. I was asked to be part of the AWP panel on literature about the civil rights movement and was thrilled to have FREEDOM SUMMER -- a picture book -- represented along with Bill Heath's and Tony Grooms' novels. We all had something valuable to contribute. And yet, that's not always how it works.
Sometimes children's literature is seen as lightweight and undeserving of serious attention. The folks at the De Grummond Collection would say there is nothing further from the truth, as would the organizers of the Bond Conference and the SCBWI conference I just attended, and the Eudora Welty Society -- after all, Welty also wrote THE SHOE BIRD, a children's book.
When I took a writing course at my local community college in 1995, I was trying to figure how I could learn to write the stories I wanted to tell. I told the instructor, "I'm an essayist, I don't know how to write fiction, and I also want to write for children; I'm not sure I belong in this class." My instructor, who was teaching a fiction writing course, said, "Story is story. Come in." And she was right. Story is story. I started what would become LOVE, RUBY LAVENDER in that class.
Literature is hard to make. Maybe it's even harder to make for children -- that's another argument I've heard. But in any case, I love it most when literature is inclusive; I have never separated literature into camps. In my house, THE REIVERS by Faulkner sits on a shelf alongside THE GREAT GILLY HOPKINS by Katherine Paterson, THE GOLDEN COMPASS by Philip Pullman, and DELIVERANCE by James Dickey -- these books are part of my canon -- but I'm getting ahead of myself, I'll come back to that.
I know that children's literature is an art form -- I know it to my bones, despite the stories I have heard (and can tell you) of children's literature being relegated to "those nice little stories" that "anyone can write." I know better. I have experienced how nuanced children's literature is, how complex and layered good storytelling is, how difficult a business this is to survive in, how much stamina it takes to withstand the buffeting from within, to say nothing of the misunderstandings without. I also know how important it is, and how rewarding it can be to be part of it.
So I stand tall, even in the midst of AWP and gatherings of writers of adult books, even when I am the token children's book writer at an evening cocktail reception of writers at a small conference, and someone asks, "so what do you write?" and then that someone gives me a vacant smile and turns to the next, more worthy, conversation. I know better. "Here am I," I say as I chat about writing and books with those who have never read a novel for children, "Here am I; read me."
And sometimes, they do. Which brings me to number 4.
4. I had to read it twice when it arrived in my email inbox:
Deborah, I am the Executive Secretary for the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters. You have been nominated for an award in Fiction for your book, The Aurora County All-Stars.
I need your mailing address.
What did I do? I sent my mailing address.
And lo, a letter arrived just yesterday. I will go to Jackson, Mississippi on June 14 and attend a dinner with the likes of... well, I don't know who will be there, but here are some of the past winners of the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Fiction Award: Richard Ford. Barry Hannah. Lewis Nordan. Rick Bass. Ellen Gilchrist. Walker Percy. WALKER PERCY! What company! How very humbling. I am so totally and completely in love with this opportunity to step into the world of Mississippi writers and take my place as a WRITER. Not a writer for children or a writer for adults, but a WRITER. It's breathtaking. I wish I knew who I had to thank for reading ALL-STARS and recommending it to the committee. Thank you, thank you, thank you, all of you who understand that "story is story." Literature is literature. We are all in this together.
And me? I wrote a book, a southern story, a Mississippi story about kinship, family, community, our collective southern history, poetry... and baseball. And a dog named Eudora Welty. In this book, I wanted to say that everything is connected -- the past, the present, the dancer, the ball player, the outcast, the recluse, the living, the dead, the decisions we make and the choices that others embrace.
This book has been embraced by kids and teachers and librarians and booksellers all across the country, for which I am so grateful. And now, this book is recognized in the larger context of Mississippi stories, with other Mississippi writers and in the larger world of literature, which makes me feel as if I have truly come home. Home to the heart of story.
As a largely self-taught writer, I have learned all my life from the literature I have admired, and I have been indiscriminate about it -- adult books, children's books, it never mattered. It has always been STORY I have been after: essays, non-fiction, poetry, fiction... story. I have taken it apart, have studied -- "how does she do that?" and have tried to incorporate what I learned into my own writing, giving it my own stamp, my own voice, as I learned how. I've been thinking a lot lately about canons, as I mentioned earlier, and influences, and I spoke about this at the SCBWI conference this past weekend:
What is YOUR canon? Your canon of good literature? We argue over THE canon, but no one can argue with you about your own canon of what has made you a writer and a reader. Who is it? What books? Who have you admired and studied? And why? Over the next few months I want to introduce you, from time to time, to my personal canon of literature. I wonder if every classroom would benefit from thinking about a canon that is particular to each teacher, each grade, each subject. And I'll bet that every serious reader -- and certainly every serious writer -- can tell you about her canon, chapter and verse.
Be thinking about yours. Start making a list, in your notebook. Give yourself plenty of room. I'll bet, if you start back as far as you can remember, you'll find your influences are far-ranging and deep.
I'm off to Chicago in two hours. Time to finish packing. I'm very behind on email -- I've been having email problems at home, but I'm slowly figuring it out and will get caught up soon, I promise. Thanks for all the mail -- I love the conversation, even though I am a slow correspondent.
I wanted to show you my invincible summer today, since I'm going to write about the depth of winter. Here's part of that summer -- handmade cards from the good folks at Scholastic, officially welcoming me and "The Sixties Trilogy: Three Novels of the 1960s for Young Readers." I was tickled beyond words to received them. They decorate the kitchen table right now -- I walk by and pick one up and read it again and feel so solid, so sure, so delighted, and so honored in the decision to publish these novels with Scholastic.
Scholastic will take great good care of all three novels, and I will be in such good hands. Some folks slipped sixties photographs of themselves inside their cards (loved that Halloween photo taken in a Catholic school with a back row of Flying Nun costumes!), and one, this one, stole my winter-hardened heart. Hahahaha -- "Please bring Dismay back." Scholastic has carried all three Aurora County novels in their Book Fairs, and has loved those characters as much as I have. Here we go, step-step-stepping it, into the future, provided I survive the rest of the winter.
Winter has always been hard for me. I want to love it. I want to love the cold, the short days when evening falls at 5pm and the soup is ready to be sopped with good, crusty bread, the nights with five blankets on the bed, the mornings with frost and snow and a quiet world to contemplate... but it's just not for me, winter. As February (surely the longest month) creeps ever-more-slowly toward March, I curl up against the cold and dark and wait for spring. It seems as if events conspire against me in winter, as I am not always at my best mentally or psychologically. I am slower, less nimble, and less resilient -- and I am in need of that invincible summer.
I got sick this winter -- that flu-bug that everyone is talking about hit me hard. Delirious with fever, I fell down my basement stairs ten days ago and thought for an odd moment that I had killed myself. The bruise on my upper left arm is finally beginning to turn from black/purple to red/yellow. I've eaten lots of protein in this past ten days, to feed this bruise and the others I received from that fall and from another tumble I took two days before that one, which involved walking too fast and getting my foot caught in the errant strings of the blinds in my office. Bam! Down I went onto my left knee, bruising the back of my right shin, somehow. And I never fall. Falling is akin to throwing up, in my book -- just say no. So, I'm telling you -- the depth of winter. The stairs fall was much worse than the office fall. I couldn't move my left arm for three days, and I'm still gingerly "helping" it move (yes, you did see me helping my left elbow up onto the table with my right hand) -- but it is substantially better now.
On the day before my fall down the stairs, I knocked heads with local bureaucracy in a long, ugly, humiliating way -- I can't even talk about this yet -- and on the day I fell down the stairs, I had just hours before been insulted in my yard about the colors of my house. This, on the heels of the bureaucratic brouhaha, stung more than I thought it should have (and it was ugly, it was) -- but it also harkened back to ancient stuff (and boy-oh-boy have I loved all your words of encouragement about my colorful house -- thanks so much). Then my beloved contractor and I had a misunderstanding about next-steps, although we quickly worked it out, but do you see what I mean?
I know this is not February's fault. But winter.... winter has always been the season when life's challenges seem to descend with a vengeance, just at the time of year I'm least ready to handle them... while at the same time, the universe knows I'm more vulnerable, less at-the-ready, more curved into that ball of hibernation and waiting for spring, and longing for a peek here and there into invincible summer. And always, it comes.
It comes in the form of kinship, community, and friendship. Here's half the room at the Southern Breeze SCBWI Springmingle in Atlanta, where I spoke this weekend. I loved every minute of this conference -- it is so good to be in-country, isn't it? I know you know what I mean.
I took no photos of the cavernous room at South Carolina IRA, where I opened the conference on Thursday night, then scooted home to Atlanta Friday afternoon after a morning session on reading with students in the classroom, but boy, I loved those South Carolina teachers. My South Carolina roots run deep; I didn't realize how deep until I prepared my talk and saw all the connections. Thank you SCIRA and Jeannette Davis at R.L. Bryan, for bringing me back to South Carolina. Joan, send me pictures of baby Grace!
I loved the friends I made and met in this past week of travel. They have restored my soul in the midst of this deep-winter time, and have reminded me that I am a writer, I am a reader, I am a teacher, a friend, a fellow traveler, and a resilient human being, after all. Thanks to Sarah Campbell, who took so many fantastic photos at this year's Springmingle, including the one at left. You make me look good, Sarah! Sarah's book WOLFSNAIL, will be here from Boyd's Mills in May. Congratulations, Sarah! Sarah has a blog here, where you can read more about the conference and the presenters. We had fun; I learned a lot.
Thanks to Hester Bass, good friend who took such good care of me this past weekend and hey to all my fellow SCBWI members who were so kind -- remember, spend it all, hold nothing back, write from your heart, and be not afraid. You just never know what breath or what story will be your last. I have a story to share with you about that very thing, but I need permission first... so more to come soon, more invincible summer.
What are your invincible summer moments this year, in the depths of your winter times? Last night, as daughter Hannah's Oscar party swelled from the basement and frivolity filled the house, husband Jim and I excused ourselves and tiptoed with our bowls of chili to Hannah's darkened upstairs bedroom, where we shut the door and ate together in Hannah's bed, and watched the Oscars on her tiny television, in the dark, basking in one another's company after four days away from it. Invincible summer, I thought. This is it. Laughter and loveliness surrounding us as a balm to the pain and indignation of the world.
This is what I'll write about in the Sixties Trilogy as well, that invincible summer inside each of us, that pulled us together, and pulled us through one of the most turbulent, changing, challenging, and defining decades in American history.
I'm starting back to work today, as February turns, oh-so-slowly, into glorious March.
Here's where I write to you; a few days ago I blogged about teaching personal narrative writing and finding the heart of your story. I'm about to go on the road to talk about this very thing, so if any of you are members of South Carolina IRA (SCIRA) or Southern Breeze SCBWI, come see me so we can gab in person.
My schedule is always on my website, here. I'll be speaking in Myrtle Beach on Friday, Feb. 22, and in Atlanta on Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 23rd and 24th. And, I'll be in Chicaco, at the Bolingbrook Country Club, courtesy of Scholastic Book Fairs, on Feb. 28. You'll need to contact your SBFs sales rep if you haven't already RSVPd to this wonderful event.
I have publishing news, but it will have to wait until I'm back from my travels. When I arrived home Dec. 5, after a full three months away more than I was home, I did a little collapse and said, "Next year will be for the writing." I vowed I would find a way. Freelancing (teaching and speaking and writing on assignment) has been my day job for the past seven years, and has allowed me to write in the cracks. Last fall, even as I was having a wonderful time and doing meaningful work, I knew the writing was waiting, waiting... suffering, even... and I pined to be with it.
So. This year, less travel. I have determined to afford it. There are ways, eh? (Oh, and there used to NOT be ways, not at all, I have been there so often, so it's delicious to be in a position, finally, to Find Ways). Six months, I told myself. June to December 2008 I will be off the road. That's still the plan. This year so far, I have fooled myself (as I always do) with the occasional school visit, writing day, conference here and there -- just a day or two out, a night or two away from the writing, I say.
But the writing -- the stories -- will not be fooled! "What about us!" they demand. And I see their point. I agree.
It's hard to find that passion and courage for a story (which I wrote about in last week's blog post) when you're a constant road warrior, although I remember I did it with LITTLE BIRD, writing in airports and hotel rooms, and taking a three-month stretch off the road in order to focus and complete the draft. I did it with ALL-STARS, unbelievably, as my schedule was so packed.
On the other hand, RUBY and FREEDOM SUMMER, my first books, were written with the luxury of time at home, every day suiting up and showing up, every day feeling the leisure of spaciousness, process, the ideal I talk about in the classroom so often.
But I became suddenly single as RUBY and FS were being published, and the road became my friend. It has kept my youngest daughter in college. She will graduate in May, thanks to a good financial aid package and all the teaching, speaking, visiting, and some lovely booksales over the years, and all the fantastic state book award lists that my books have been on. Thanks so much, teachers, librarians, parents, readers! You have served as my benefactors in this crazy business and I appreciate you more than you know.
And I do love being in the thick of your lives -- I love schools. I love young readers. I love talking about their stories, listening to them come up with that one clear moment in time they want to write about so passionately, watching that story come alive under their fingers, in that processing time... watching a miracle, really.
All stories are miracles. This new trilogy -- The Sixties Trilogy that I am embarking on -- feels like a gift, a miracle, a ship that is about to sail. So I will honor its coming by giving it the time it needs to come to life. I can't wait for those strings of days that I will spend with these stories, learning from them, fashioning them, publishing them -- with a new publisher, Scholastic -- and a new editor, and a new way of creating in the world.
So I guess I've told you my book news. I knew I couldn't keep it to myself for long. I've been shedding such sad tears of goodbye, although it is never goodbye, in my experience, not goodbye to the two editors I lost last year, not goodbye to my publishing home of 12 years, Harcourt, or my colleagues there (where I am still a Harcourt author, with the Aurora County Trilogy in good hands at Harcourt, with ALL-STARS so newly minted and coming to life in paperback next year... and who knows what the future brings); not goodbye to friends and colleagues who have steered me through the past two months of finding a new home for this trilogy. Not goodbye. Just different. But I still mourn for what was, while at the same time I shout from the rooftops my joy and delight in new beginnings.
It's an Uncle Edisto/messy-glory moment, for sure. A business decision. The result is that The Sixties Trilogy is home, and so am I, and off we go to work together on a new adventure. I need to have the completed manuscript for book one on my new editor's desk by Halloween. You can bet you're going to hear a lot from me about process. I'm ready.
Soon I will return from South Carolina and Chicago. I hope to see some of you in my travels. Come love my neck, as my great-great aunt Mitt would say. We'll celebrate being together. And we'll create new stories to tell!
As you can see, the Little House in the Little Woods is being painted. The colors are actually "beach purple" (which, darn it, looks blue in these photos; trust me, it's purple) and "impetuous," which is not quite chartreuse... my across-the-street neighbor, Elizabeth (Emma's mom), helped me pick out the colors. "I love it!" she says. My next-door-neighbor, C., hates the colors, marched across the grass to tell me so, and when I said, "I love it!" said, "ARE YOU SERIOUS?" and stalked away. Then she wrote me a stern letter asking me to reconsider. Jim found the letter in the mailbox on Saturday, typed, no signature. I was catapulted back to being Comfort's age and cowering at my mother's "aren't you ashamed of yourself?" And of course, I was, because I was told to be.
But I'm not ashamed of myself, for heaven's sake. Still... it's another Uncle Edisto messy-glory moment, isn't it? I like my neighbor. I love my neighborhood. And I love my little house. What would Ruby and Miss Eula do? After all, they have a Pink Palace!
WW: -20.6 pounds as of Friday. All that road weight coming off, just in time for me to get back on the road again. Ah, well. I am rested and ready, and I won't be out long.
I was hired to spend the day working with fourth graders on their personal narrative writing, something I have done quite a bit in the last umpteen years and something I've learned so much from as I've taught. I've tweaked and changed and modified and morphed the way I work as I have learned more, as I've had such rich, diverse, challenging, joyful classroom experiences, and as I've internalized the life-affirming importance of sharing ourselves, through our stories, with one another on this planet.
"We've done some work with notebooks and Lucy Calkins' work; are you familiar with that?" Yes, I am. "Are you familiar with Six Traits?" Yes, I am. Have you read Ralph Fletcher, Nancie Atwell, Stephanie Harvey, Shelley Harwayne, Donald Graves, Georgia Heard, Katie Wood Ray, and more? Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, and more. I've worked with some of these folks, have admired, read, and learned from them all, and continue to feel their influence in how I teach. Their books adorn my bookshelves; they are comfort reading. I slip into them and breathe a sigh of recognition -- I am in-country.
And while I enjoy talking about methods and theories and approaches until the cows come home, really, so much of teaching writing involves common sense and experience and matching student needs to student abilities within a framework of realistic (and, yes, I know mine are high) expectations, and marrying that to ways of knowing, seeing, telling, showing.... without attachment to a strict or prescribed method (but taking what you can use, and leaving the rest, perhaps), as teaching writing is not a cookie cutter experience, as we all know.
But story is universal. I think story is what we're here for. To dance it, sing it, write it, paint it, draw it, act it... to decipher our experiences in some meaningful way and share them with others. Our stories help us understand what it means to be human. I'm convinced that we treasure, protect, and develop the sense of wonder we are born with, if we are heard and respected when we are young, and if we learn to hear and respect others.
But how do we do that? Again... stories. Personal narratives.
We all have them: "Guess what happened to me today?" moments. Those "let me tell you about the time that" moments, and those "I'm finally brave enough to tell you this story" moments. And those moments are worthy of capturing on the page (or canvas, or stage, in song, in the laboratory, the field, the... you get the point).
In a very real way, there is nothing magic about this process of discovering and accessing story. It is organic and intuitive -- we all want to be heard, we all want to belong, to be safe in the world, to love the world and to be loved, and we define our days by the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, and the stories we share with one another. The magic is held in the moment we understand that, just as the authors of books have told their stories, our stories are just as important, crucial, valuable.
The craft of writing can be taught. The art -- the passion and courage to tell your story -- the art (if that's the right word) -- that's the part that can't be taught. Or perhaps, that's the part we teach ourselves by giving ourselves permission to be true to who we are. The passion and courage requires a thorough connection to all other stories in the world, and a solid understanding that your story belongs right up there with all the others. When you really and truly discover that, your heart breaks along with the pain and the gladness of the world. That's the heart of the story -- the voice, too. When you want passionately to show "guess what happened to me today!", the smallest moment becomes an intimate, moving, hilarious, powerful, heartfelt story... and it is connected to the entire web of stories.
Of course, if I stood in front of ten year olds and said this (and I do say this, in a different language), they would scrunch their noses and say what? WHAT? So I don't say this... I read to them instead.
I read WHEN I WAS YOUNG IN THE MOUNTAINS by Cynthia Rylant, SO MUCH! by Trish Cooke, HONEY, I LOVE by Eloise Greenfield, THE PAPERBOY by Dav Pilkey and more. And as I read I point out what I love and I ask questions. "Don't you love that turn of phrase?" and "Listen to that transition!" and "Oh, I love this part, I love the rhythm of this sentence" and "What a voice!"
And I tell my students that every writer has a voice. They have voices that are waiting to be found. And stories that are waiting to be shared. And an opportunity, in the time we have together, to find one of those stories to share.
How do we do that?
We keep notebooks.
We find that "what happened first" killer opening.
We partner up and we tell our stories to one another.
We listen to each other's stories.
We write SHORT. One clear moment in time contains a universe.
We write in a circle.
We use the senses.
We find the just-right ending -- it usually involves a little surprise.
And we do all these things supported by the literature that shows us how. Nancy Johnson and Cyndi Giorgis have written a beautiful, meaningful book that showcases this concept beautifully. It's called THE WONDER OF IT ALL: When Literature and Literacy Intersect. I want to say more about this fabulous book and will, soon.
We revise, again using the literature.
We have fun while we work hard.
And, maybe most importantly, we give ourselves the gift of process. So much of our time on this planet (especially in school) is regimented. To have the time to think about story -- to ruminate and plan and go forward and back up and make a mess and rethink and create... it's a gift our stories require, in order to be their best.
I'm waiting for the stories from Mantua to arrive at my doorstep. I can't wait to read the finished stories, to get to know these writers -- these human beings -- better. It will enrich my world. And yours. The world becomes more known -- and more peaceful -- through the sharing of our stories.
The next morning, I scrambled out of a fitful sleep to ask my mother, "What happened? Did he live? Is he alive?"
As my mother bit her lip and shook her head, I burst into tears. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated that April; now Bobby was gone. I was a freshman in high school and I had no power. But today I do. Georgia's presidential primary election is tomorrow. I will be at my polling place, first thing, to vote vote vote.
And I will write about 1968, in my Sixties Trilogy, which I will be chronicling here at One Pomegranate. Thank you, Maura, for the CD of RFK speeches -- it arrived this week and I am transported.
I'll be writing about voting, too. It seems such an uninteresting word, "voting." But it is powerful -- I hope to show this throughout my Sixties novels. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 abolished the so-called literacy test, and brought the vote to millions of disenfranchised voters, most of them black, many of them poor. Today we have a black man running for president. And a woman -- women didn't have the vote until the nineteenth amendment was ratified in 1920. Black women didn't vote in any substantial numbers until the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
When I pull my voting lever, I stand on the shoulders of so many women -- and men -- of all races and persuasions who have fought over the long years for my right to vote and be heard. I can't wait for my opportunity to vote on Tuesday, and again in November. I wish Bobby Kennedy were here today. I wish. And you know... I can almost have him back. I read about him, I look at pictures about his life, I talk about him with other people, especially at this pivotal time in history, and I wish him back again by writing about him. I'm telling a story with my 1968 book, and Bob Kennedy is at its heart. Maybe he *is* its heart.
Speaking of hearts, several of you have asked about where you can find the February issue of Hallmark Magazine -- thanks so much for the kind words. The magazine is in its inaugural year and available at most Hallmark Gold Crown stores. Click here for the February issue online, and here to go directly to the story I wrote. (That's not me -- or Jim -- in the photo, haha.) My essay is the third story on the page, titled "Second-Chance Reunion." There's no photo here -- the photo (and layout) is here.
I have pictures now of the writing residency day at Mantua Elementary. I'll post them in the next couple of days, along with some thoughts about teaching writing -- can it be taught? Or do we teach, really, ways of looking at the world and our lives, and ways to access what we really have to say. I know I use my writing as a tool to archive who I have been, to figure out who I am becoming, and to keep alive those I have loved and lost.
"Few will have the greatness to bend history; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation ... It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is thus shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance." -- Robert F. Kennedy