(*I had this complete with cover images but alas it has now erased three times and I am loosing patience.)
Deborah Helligman, with Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith was the first reader of the night. (And the first of the Orgin of Species themed books since next Tues is the 150th anniversary of its publication.) Deborah read a section that had me thrilled at the profound nature of working romantic relationships and fully aware that had not married Emma that Orgin of the Species would not be the book it is. (The readings are done in 5 groups of 4. Young People, poetry, non-fiction, and fiction.)
David Small took the stage next and introduced a striking short film built around Stitches. He said the book is about voicelessness that he couldn't read it since the words were so tied to the art. Then he stepped to the side, the lights dimmed and the mini-movie played. There was the haunting music of a violin and perhaps another stringed instrument, David's growely voice narrating the spare text, "When I was six," and the large auditorium projected the black and white images of David's Detroit home. His mother, his father, the kids who taunted him as he wore a yellow towel on his head, pretending to be Alice in Wonderland...all until he climbed into the blank pages and fell down his own birth canal of creativity, an ending a new world. Mesmerizing and moving.
Laini Taylor was next, and as she read from Lips Touch: Three Times, she also showed some of the intricate artwork drawn by her husband and illustrator for the book. Laini rocked it, complete with her neon pink hair, and read from her novel with furvor. Her words wrapped around us and made us all feel "ripe" to be plucked and devoured by a goblin. I was in awe.
Then the night was over...leaving us all on pins and needles until the big winners are announced tonight.
Good luck to all!
Norma Fox Mazer was not my mom, but oh how a part of me wanted her to be. She was the same size as my mom—pint size, same energetic eyes, but what Norma had over my own dear mother, was a love for books and writing that was even more insatiable than mine. She was my greatest teacher. The ability to teach, I believe that is what makes a parent a parent. Their ability to encourage, to bring out the best, and to stand by while the “student/child” begins to make impactful, empowering decisions for themselves. They applaud but they don’t turn cartwheels, for they knew it was in the “student/child” all along.
I worked with Norma in my first semester at Vermont College. I was so green and when I got Norma Fox Mazer as my advisor I thought I had plucked a lucky four-leaf clover. Like any good mother, Norma told me when to sit down and shut up; well, in this case, to show and not tell. To write, write, write. To start with two person scene, to lay the conflict, to weave in all that we say and don’t say in the scene. She worked me. She worked me hard. She had standards and I wanted to do anything I could to meet them. I read. I studied her books, writing an essay on After the Rain and others. I wrote her essays; I was so anxious to learn structure, to absorb and build and tear down and build again. Norma told me how her love of scenes and structure came from her pulp fiction days, about how she and her husband, Harry, cranked out story after story to support their growing family as writers. I don’t remember what essay it was, maybe the 3rd one I wrote to send to her, and in her response she told me that she admired my mind. I was floored.
Then the work really began. I was working on the novel that was to become Between Us Baxters but I also was brimming with word-play picture books. I wrote one about a honky tonk singing grandma who as she aged had lost her audience. This character, Ivory Ann, thought she needed a makeover, that that would lure the crowds back in. She and her granddaughter visited every store in town. By the end, Ivory Ann was dolled up in leopard lame and feathers and she was unrecognizable even to herself. As she and Maebelle traveled to the honky tonk for her performance the truck broke down. The two hoofed it; Maebelle talking her grandmother into not giving up. Slowly, a caravan of townspeople began to follow the singing duo as Granny’s hair fell, a bird stole her feather boa and her leopard lame lost its glint. Granny arrived at the stage looking more bewildered and bedraggled than she ever had, but her voice was as strong and as powerful as ever. She sang a song called the “Honky Tonk Blues” and out came her truth, she still had the best voice around. It didn’t matter what package it came in.
If she sang with all her heart—her pain and her joy—folks would be moved to listen. The audience erupted, stomping and clapping, hooting and hollering. Ivory Ann didn’t need to change one whit. She just had to embrace who she was, where she was. Norma loved this story. She was doing edits on her first and now only picture book at the time, Has Anyone Seen My Emily Green? After years of writing novels, Norma had taken on the challenge of the picture book form. She pushed herself as hard as she pushed her students—even more so. She had me send my story to an editor at Candlewick. My picture didn’t get published but it morphed its way into a novel that will be. Truth With a Capital T, is much changed from the picture book Norma and I worked on together but when it hits the shelves in fall 2010, it will bear a dedication to Norma, for without her encouragement the book wouldn’t be.
All week long I haven’t been able to put into words what Norma meant to me. I’ve commented on the various blogs, sent emails to Anne, Norma’s daughter, and I set about asking authors, editors and friends to write tribute essays for the fall issue of Hunger Mountain, but what I couldn’t do, until now—a full week after Norma has left us, is attempt to even find the words to say goodbye. Norma changed me. She got me to believe in myself. To believe in my mind. To believe that story, the stories that live within me and within others matter. She did this with every student she had. She was a mother to us all.
Ah, a day home from the office. I am going to blog and post some pictures of last nights PEN event, moderated by Andrea Davis Pinkney with Neil Gaiman, Shaun Tan, etc. But first I have home from the office duties to do, but I wanted to spread the news far and wide about the Baxters SLJ review that hits shelves and is online today.
HEGEDUS, Bethany. Between Us Baxters. 306p. WestSide. 2009. Tr $17.95. ISBN 978-1-934813-02-7. LC 2008911813.
Gr 5–9—In 1959, in Holcolm County, GA, there is a palpable tension. Times are slowly changing, causing resentment among some folks and optimism among others. The volatile mix sets the tone for this story of family, friendship, and racial discrimination. Jim Crow is the law of the South, separating the races, but it cannot dictate human emotions, creating the pivotal struggle of the novel. Twelve-year-old Polly Baxter, daughter of a poor white couple, and 14-year-old Timbre Ann, child of a black business owner, share the most improbable thing in this environment—a friendship. When suspicious fires, vandalism, and threats to successful black business owners cause fear and distrust among the townspeople, the strength of Polly and Timbre Ann's bond is tested. It is further jeopardized after a tragic incident threatens to separate them forever. The connection between the two girls and their families is beautifully described and believable, and the richness of the characters is apparent. The pacing of the story is deliberate and suspenseful with twists and turns that add to the bittersweet conclusion.—Margaret Auguste, Franklin Middle School, Somerset, NJ
I am up to my ears in novel revisions trying to make my June 1st deadline and work on Hunger Mountain, but found the time last week to talk to Sarah Sullivan at Through the Tollbooth about my writing process and my debut novel, Between us Baxters. Part one appears today and part two tomorrow!
This just in--a manuscript critique auction on e-bay with GREAT AUTHORS/PLAYWRIGHTS!
Please join us for the Hunger Mountain Spring Fundraising Auction, featuring manuscript critiques with notable authors and agents, and limited edition letterpress broadsides. All items will be available at: http://stores.shop.ebay.com/thehungermo
Not only are we offering an opportunity to work with authors such as Michael Martone, David Jauss, David Wojahn, Donna Jo Napoli and Tim Wynne-Jones, we also have a full-length children’s/YA fiction critique donated by literary agent Mark McVeigh, founding member of the McVeigh Agency, as well as a middle grade/YA critique offered by Tracy Marchini, agent assistant at Curtis Brown, Ltd. Picture book authors and illustrators Laura McGee Kvasnosky and Marion Dane Bauer will also be offering their expertise. Been toiling away on a script or stage production? Bid on a full-length play critique with playwright Gary Moore. Sue William Silverman is offering a full-length creative nonfiction manuscript critique, complete with a complimentary signed copy of her latest book Fearless Confessions: A Writer’s Guide to Memoir.
Other authors offering critiques in the auction include Philip Graham, Jess Row, Thomas Christopher Greene, Natasha Saje, Xu Xi, along with children’s and young adult authors Sarah Ellis, Martine Leavitt, and more. Also available are signed broadsides from the Stinehour Broadside Award Series including work by authors Alice Hoffman, Neil Shepard, and David Rivard and Lucia Perillo. These letterpress broadsides are all signed and numbered, limited edition, and frame worthy, making them the perfect gift for anyone who appreciates the artistry of literature! All purchases are charitable in support of Hunger Mountain's non-profit mission to cultivate engagement with and conversation about the arts by publishing high-quality, innovative literary and visual art by both established and emerging artists, and by offering opportunities for interactivity and discourse.
Thanks for your support and please pass this announcement along far and wide!
Also, last week the lovely Cynthia Leitch Smith on her blog Cynsations announced the contest rules and guidelines for the Katherine Paterson Prize, where the big winner's work will appear in the Fall issue of Hunger Mountain and get a nice $1000 check and have their submission hand-selected the winner by Katerine Paterson herself!
While I am exhausted, I am also excited and energized to see how Hunger Mountain is being received by those we have approached to write for us and will be thrilled when the site launches in late June. It's going to be a great place for discourse, industry news, scholarship and well-crafted fiction, poetry, and creative non-fiction.
And, that's not all. I am over here trying to keep my fingers moving as I work on my latest MG novel--with a looming deadline of June 1st--while keeping an eye on what is happening in the Blogosphere on Between Us Baxters. I am also thrilled at an SLJ review that is set to hit stands on May, 1!
HELP US FIND A TEACHER TO BE OUR NEXT COVER MOM!
Working Mother magazine is looking for a grade school teacher-mom for our September cover— and we need your help! She should live near the tri-state area and teach grades 1-5 (public or private). She will be on the cover of our back-to-school issue with her child(ren) and featured in a story that will be seen by 2 million readers.
The photo shoot in New York City will occur in late April/early May. If you know of a teacher who fills this bill, please have her fill out the info below and send back to Irene.Chang@bonniercorp.com along with a photo, by FRIDAY, APRIL 10. This is a great opportunity to celebrate a teacher mom who deserves our recognition.
Name and age:City/State of residence:Names and ages of children:Daytime phone number and email address:Subject or Grade you teach/School:
Thank you for your help.
“…Polly’s first person narrative shows the heartbreaking family and friendship drama…the struggle and fury of poor whites, and the shocking persecution of blacks. The good guys are not idealized. Polly’s quarrels with Timbre Ann run deep, and healing the hurt takes more than just saying sorry.”
— Hazel Rochman
The luncheon was held at Kent, a banquet venue, under the Williamsburg Bridge with a view of NYC. However, as yesterday was foggy and overcast, the view was hidden. There was nothing but fog and more fog, which gave the room a nice cozy feel.
I spoke to the educators about my time as a teacher in rural Georgia and detailed a few of the more precarious moments and relayed the story of how the KKK was, and probably still is, active in the area where I taught. And how that time influenced the writing of BETWEEN US BAXTERS. I read from the opening and from a scene about three-quarters of the way in.
I ended with:
During a recent school visit talk, I asked each of those students to close their eyes, and to imagine their best friend: regardless of color. The friend they im'd, texted, hung at the mall with, and couldn't go a day without. And once they had their best friend in mind, I asked them to imagine their whole town, their school, their community, and the local law enforcement all working to separate them.
I ask you now to close your eyes, to see the hallways of your schools. The kids: Asian, Indian, African-American, Dominican, Puerto Rican, Caucasian, Caribbean. All of them: dark-skinned, light-skinned, born here and immigrants. Do you see them? Can you hear them all learning together side by side? Once upon a time, in the days after Brown vs the Board of Education was passed in 1954, teachers in the state of Georgia had to take an oath not to teach in any integrated school for fear of losing their jobs. This is how far we have come, to your schools, to today and students should know that the Movement that fought against separate but equal wasn’t just factual. It was personal. As personal as a friendship between two girls, as personal as the love and difficult choices of two families.