A lot of the work of being an author is the dull and dry sitting at a desk (even when that desk is in a tree) and writing day after day. But every now and then an event comes along that you know you’ll remember forever. The American Indian Cultural Festival in The Dalles last week was just such a moment. It was a celebration of literature and poetry and music and dance. It involved a group of books that I admire and authors I feel honored to share the stage with: Elizabeth Woody, Oregon’s Poet Laureate, Craig Lesley, acclaimed author of contemporary western literature, and National Book Award winning writer Sherman Alexie.
I was lucky enough to spend time with an adult book club and share a poetry reading with some truly outstanding young poets. I got to hear the culture club from Lyle school in Washington give their very first performance in the Sahaptian language with traditional dancing. They were simply amazing. I’m so proud of all they’ve accomplished in a year. I meet with some avid writers in the North Oregon Juvenal Detention Facility, and best of all I got to dance with the Taholah drum group from the Quinault Reservation. My favorite part of the whole thing was the series of classrooms who came to hear me and the Taholah drum group speak. They had all kinds of great questions about the culture and art of the Quinault and Makah and the practice of tribal whaling. It was the sort of mind-opening conversation that cultural festivals are made for. I am very grateful to Julian Peterson and Marko Black and all the tribal dancers from Taholah who shared their songs and prayers and dances so generously, and who invited the students to dance and drum along so whole-heartedly. I know those are memories the students will always cherish.
Thank you to Jim Tindale the librarian at The Dalles School District who made this all happen in conjunction with the great booksellers at Oregon’s oldest bookstore Klindt’s who sold all the books and hosted many of the events. Tina Ontiveros is the manager at Klindt’s and Joaquin Perez is the owner. The fundraising for this event was truly a community affair with donations coming from area schools and libraries, educational foundations, local congregations, Oregon’s poet laureate program, the Wasco County Cultural Trust, the Ford Foundation, the Meyer Memorial Trust, and the Confederated Tribes of the Grande Ronde. It’s inspiring to see so many community members come together in support of literacy and the cultural understanding of our local American Indian communities. Thank you!
I am beyond thrilled to be included in the American Indian Cultural Festival held this week in The Dalles. I will be appearing alongside Sherman Alexie, Elizabeth Woody, the poet laureate of Oregon, and adult writer, Craig Leslie. We will be doing a poetry reading which is free and open to the public on Thursday April 13th at 4:00 in The Dalles Middle School Commons. There will be live music and a drum and dance group from the Quinault Nation. Each of the authors will read a new poem. If you happen to be in the area, I’d love to see you there.
Klindt’s bookstore will host a book signing party at 7:00 that same evening. Klindt’s has the distinction of being the oldest bookstore in the state. I am particularly grateful to the owners of the bookstore who purchased hundreds of copies of my book, Written in Stone to give away to the students I will visit the day following these events. I am also very grateful to Jim Tindale, Librarian extraordinaire who did the lion’s share of the work in coordinating this festival which includes coordinating readings and author visits in 7 locations over the course of two days. He also spearheaded all the fundraising that made this celebration possible.
In addition to the poetry event I will be attending a talk by Sherman Alexie at The Dalles High School. Hundreds of children will come in on busses from all over the county to hear him read from Thunder Boy Jr. which was illustrated by the amazing Yuyi Morales. This event will include drummers and dancers from the Quinault nation.
February 16th is World Read Aloud Day. I will be celebrating this day by reading aloud via Skype to as many classrooms as I can. Last year I read to 15 schools on 3 continents over 24 hours. I’d love to include your school in this year’s celebration. If you are a teacher of students between 3rd and 8th grade and you’d like to share some reading excitement with your class please get in touch as soon as possible so I can fit you into my schedule.
My newest novel The Turn of the Tide will come out in paperback on Valentines Day and in honor of that I’ll be giving away one of my paperbacks to the first ten teachers who schedule a free Skype visit for World Read Aloud Day.
You can use the contact me feature on the website or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
World Read Aloud Day is sponsored by Lit World and they have a pretty impressive slogan:
Read aloud. Change the World.
World Read Aloud Day motivates children, teens, and adults worldwide to celebrate the power of words and creates a community of readers taking action to show the world that the right to literacy belongs to all people. World Read Aloud Day is celebrated by millions of people in more than 100 countries thanks to people like you who participate and spread the word across the globe!
If you are not a teacher I hope you will honor the day by choosing a book or poem you love and reading it to somebody you care about. My mother read poetry aloud to me her whole life long and those are some of the memories of her that I treasure the most.
Today is the feast of Saint Lucia, which is traditionally celebrated with a procession involving a girl wearing a crown of candles and a tray full of cookies or sweet breads. The custom commemorates an Italian teenager who, during the Roman persecution of Christians, spent her dowry to bring food and books and letters to Christians who were hiding in caves to survive. The story goes that she wore a crown of candles to light her way in the dark and give the refugee Christians light to read by.
My family has made a custom of baking sweet bread and sharing it with people who are light- bringers in our lives. For the past 21 years that my children have been attending public schools, we have brought sweet bread to their teachers with a note of thanks for all the unsung work they do to make their classrooms and the lives of my children a brighter place.
My youngest will graduate from high school this year, so I wanted to take one last opportunity to thank all of my children’s teachers and librarians over the years, their 16 primary school teachers and the the primary school librarian. their 72 middle school teachers and the middle school librarian, and their 96 high school teachers and high school librarians. All of them teaching in the Beaverton School District in Oregon. I am inspired by your dedication to excellence in the classroom, by your creativity, your steadfastness in a culture that shows little respect for education and even less for those who have dedicated their lives to teaching. Even in those years where one or another of my children struggled with illness or injury or immaturity, you were a steady hand in their young lives. Even in years when you struggled–I remember those too–the year your mother went blind, the year you were pregnant with twins, the year you were critically ill or grieving a death in your family. You were still faithfully in your classroom day after day trying your best with a dwindling pool of resources.
And I want you to know that even though I will no longer have children at home to send to your classrooms, you are still all my local teachers. And my work of advocating for better schools and more just funding of educational needs and wise allocation of the funds you have, will go on. Your value extends far beyond what you can do for my immediate family, and I will continue to do what I can to support the light you bring to our community.
I work at my local independent bookstore and it’s been an education in all sorts of ways. I’m astonished by how often people are buying a book for someone they don’t know very well. I’m touched by all the people who come in just to make a face to face connection with one of the booksellers or to pet our store cat, the beautiful and heroically patient Molly Bloom. And I love it when a flock of middle schoolers descends in the middle of a hot chocolate date and settles in the picture book section to sip cocoa and read aloud to each other. I think of Annie Blooms as a warm and welcoming place. But I had an experience over the summer that has me rethinking my assumptions.
One day last summer a pair of sisters, one about 12 and the other 4 or 5, came into the shop fresh from the yogurt place across the street. The older settled into the cosy chair in the back with a YA novel and the younger rocked the dragon and sang to herself. This sort of thing happens all the time. About 30 minutes later the mother of these girls came in visibly agitated and asked if her girls had been good. I assured her they had, pointed out other children shopping without their parents, and told her that we love to encourage independent browsing by young readers. It took much more than the usual amount of reassurance to soothe her. I would have just put it down to a mom having a rough day. I’ve had plenty of those myself. But this mother was black. And it made me revisit what I know about the black experience in a retail environment. For many black people their retail interactions are negative, and sometimes overtly threatening. It made me think about whether this bookstore is as welcoming as I want it to be. For one thing, none of our booksellers are black. I know quite a few booksellers in the region and honestly I can’t think of a black bookseller anywhere in town.
This brings up lots of questions for me. Does that lack of black booksellers all by itself make a bookstore a less welcoming place? Does the overall negative retail experience make a black family less likely to bring the family to a bookstore for recreational browsing, even if the bookstore itself is not overtly racist to it’s black patrons? Would a black-owned bookstore make a difference? Why are there so few minority-owned bookstores? And what would make minority ownership of a bookstore more likely?
So often when there is a discussion of diversity in children’s literature the bottom line tends to be “those books just don’t sell very well.” It seems to me that most of the energy in the We Need Diverse Books movement is on the production end of the equation. And yet I don’t see how meaningful change can be made with out as least as much, if not more, attention on the consumer end of the bookstore experience. I wish I had answers. I’m not even certain that I’m seeing this problem as clearly as I might. Please feel free to share your thoughts and experiences in the comments. I do hope going forward that we have as many conversations about the retail end of diversity in literature as we do about the publishing end.