Monday, October 22, 2018

In which I will be hanging out with KATHERINE PATERSON

I'm up early. It's a busy day. I'm going to be spending most of it with KATHERINE PATERSON.

You know her, right? Two-time Newbery winner, author of Bridge to Terebithia and Jacob I Have Loved and a whole bunch of other fantastic novels. I love Come Sing, Jimmy Jo and The Same Stuff as Stars and Lyddie, but it was her classic The Great Gilly Hopkins that changed my view of what children's literature could be.

Ah, yes. Here it is. I just now got up from my desk, shimmied around the floor loom that takes up a huge amount of space in my office, and looked for my copy of Gilly.

I read a lot of books. These days, I buy a lot of books. These days, I don't keep that many. I have a pretty good feeling for which books I might reread, and even then, I can always buy them again. So unless I think a book is going to be useful for research, or it was written by a friend, I will mostly pass it on after I'm finished reading it. Not always, but often. Between the Appalachian Literacy Initiative and the two Little Free Libraries I maintain, I've got a lot of places to donate books.

But I used to hold onto every book I ever got. When we moved into this house, nearly 17 years ago, I still had nearly all the books I'd ever owned, and I filled the shelves in my new office with them. Honestly, someday soon I'm going to weed those shelves like crazy. There are plenty of books on them I will not read again. But for now, they're something like a museum, the books I loved long ago.

Here's my copy of The Great Gilly Hopkins. Paperback. $3.95.  A Newbery Honor winner, which I hadn't realized. (It also won the National Book Award.) This paperback edition copyright 1987--in other words, the year I took the children's literature class that changed my life. I'm pretty sure this book was a required text for the class.

Let me find the passage I remember. Gilly gives a hand-written card to her teacher, who, unlike Gilly, is black:

They're saying, 'black is beautiful!' but best that I can figger, 
Is everyone who's saying so looks might like a 

And inside the card in tiny letters:

Person with a vested interest in maintaining that point of view.

I remember the shock of it. I howled with laughter. I laughed until I cried. (For the record, Gilly's teacher thanks her for the card, saying, "You and I are two of the angriest people I know.")

This was the voice of a damaged child. This told me, in children's literature, there was room for my voice, too.

So, yeah, I've got a little crush on Katherine Paterson. Have for a very long time.

I've met her once before, at a dinner at ALA, years ago. Her book The Same Stuff as Stars had just come out, as had my Halfway to the Sky. I was at ALA only because it was within driving distance and my husband wasn't on call and I wanted to see what the party was like. My editors invited me to some of the cocktail parties, and Penguin had an author's dinner after one of the parties. It was really nice, a pasta buffet. I sat down at a big round table, and was joined by Jane Yolen and Katherine Paterson and Patricia Lee Gauch and Lawrence Yep--and Gary Blackwood, a midlist author like myself. Gary and I were grinning like fools. It was a blast.

Katherine Paterson went to King University, a small school here in my hometown. My friend Martin puts together one of their speaker schedules. If you want me to say yes to an appearance, any time, any where, just put me on the same stage as Katherine Paterson.

I know lots of authors these days. I'm so glad they're my friends. But Katherine Paterson is a whole different level of awesomesauce. All week I've been shamelessly namedropping. "I'm not sure what I should wear at this event with Katherine Paterson." "Where do you think I should take Katherine Paterson to lunch?"

She's speaking this morning at chapel at King, 9:15, don't know if that's for students only or open to the public. (I'll be there--bells on). Then, tonight at 7:00 pm, we're on the stage together, me and Katherine Paterson, at Central Presbyterian Church on Euclid (across from St. Anne's.) That is open to the public, and I'm told there will be book sales and signing afterward. Please do come if you can.

Me and Katherine Paterson. I still don't know what I'll wear.

Friday, October 19, 2018

To Ada, Love Kim.

I’m in Allen, Texas, a suburb of Dallas, visiting author for a community reads program, and having a lovely time. The Friends of Allen Public Library could not be more hospitable; the students I’m visiting are engaged and engaging, and last night we had a great time at the public library.

After my talk I signed books. We ran out of books so I also signed bookplates, and the event flyers, and frankly I’m happy to sign just about anything. I’ve signed kids’ hands before, and hoped it wouldn’t make their parents angry. Last night’s signing, like the rest of the event, was well-run, and so every person who wanted their book personalized handed me a post-it with the name they wanted the book personalized to written on it. This helps immensely, because people spell their own names so many different ways. Kaitlin can be Caitlyn can be Katelynn. People can spell out loud all they want, and I’ll hear M-I-C-H-A-E-L, because that’s what I’m expecting, instead of M-I-C-A-H, and here’s Micah with his brand-new book personalized to some other dude. (There’s a reason most of my reading copies are personalized—it’s because when I screw up, I trade the person out with a book of my own.)

Anyhow, a child came through the line, patiently as it was a long one, and handed me a post-it, and right there, on the yellow square of paper, was everything about why I write for children and why I do events and sign books. It was all the reasons I love my work, distilled into four simple words.

To Kaitlin, it read, Love, Kim.

A presumption of love. That the person who wrote this book, which a child loved, must therefore also love the child who reads it.

Which of course is absolutely true.

To Kaitlin, I wrote. Love, Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (because I always sign my full name.)

Monday, October 8, 2018

An Update From The Field

Boy howdy, what a week. I found myself in an incoherent a bit of a rage for four days straight from time to time. I was hard to live with.

I practiced good self-care. I rode my horse. I took baths. I reread favorite books. I stayed away from social media less than I should as much as I could.

Today, though. Today feels better because today is better. The initial classroom sets of books for ALI are heading out--not all of them have reached their schools yet, but some have, and already it feels like we're doing some good. Teachers are saying they're surprised at how excited their students are about being able to chose books to keep.

I'm not. I've put books into disadvantaged kids' hands before. I've seen what happens. I put a small library into a teen girls' group home once. After a few months of my popping by intermittently to add books to the shelves, one day I handed out little cards to all the girls. "Write down the title of a book you want for yourself, to keep," I said. "I'll get it for you."

These were girls I was told by the staff were not the least bit interested in reading. These were girls from very hard places. "Anything anybody can do to anyone," one of them told me, "has already been done to us."

They crowded around me, snatching the cards from my hands. They grabbed pens, scribbled titles on the cards, handed them back. "You can have time to think about it," I told them.

None of them needed to think about it.

Here's the problem with school book fairs, lovely though they are: if you're a kid whose parents can't or won't give you money to buy books, you start thinking, "Books aren't for me."

At ALI we're saying, "Books are for everyone."

So that's all true, and good, but what's really gotten me teared up today is the list our partner, Parnassus, just sent me of all the people who have donated books to ALI through our wish list so far. I don't feel right showing it without donors' permission, but I will say, if I printed the names, you would recognize some of them. Not one but two Newbery Award winners. Other kidlit writers. Friends of mine. And, even more awesomely, people I've never heard of before. Total strangers. Moved to kindness.

Which, God knows, we need more of right now.

If you’d like to support the work that we’re doing, you can mail a check to Appalachian Literacy Initiative at PO Box 3283, Bristol, TN 37625, or click here to purchase books on our wishlist from Parnassus Books, our preferred bookstore. You’ll receive 10% off with the code GIVEREADING, and Parnassus will ship the books to us free of charge. You can also purchase books from our Amazon wishlist by clicking here.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Always, a Way Out

Yesterday I took most of the day off social media, cleaned stalls, and cobwebbed the entire barn. It was a useful way to spend the day in more ways than one. I'm going to try to remember that the next time I get the urge to Google anything about politics.

I have been reposting a lot of different things, and posting a few opinions solely my own, on both Facebook and Twitter. Some of them are angry. I'm angry about a few things right now. For myself, as a sexual violence survivor, the last few months have been rough; the last week particularly so.

I've had good friends ask me if we can still be friends, given that their political views are different than mine. As far as I'm concerned, absolutely--and I hope I behave in a manner where despite my beliefs they can still be friends with me. I've never required the people I care for to believe the same things, or give the same weight to different aspects of any story, as I do, any more than I require them to worship God exactly the same way I do (or at all) or dress the way I do, or love horses, or hate olives. If my friends don't like yoga, that's okay with me.

But there are certain lines I won't cross. Because I use social media in part to promote my books, I'm "friends" with a lot of people I don't personally know. Sunday someone had the--I can't even think of the word--insensate racist audacity comes to mind, but it was worse than that--someone suggested, seriously, that what's happening to Judge Brett Kavanaugh right now is the equivalent to what happened to Emmett Till. If you don't know what happened to Emmett Till, look him up. I'll wait. The comparison is beyond ignorant. It's willfully, deeply racist and inflammatory. For once words failed me. I responded by deleting the post and banning the poster from my page.

Most of us harbor some unconscious biases, whether we like to admit it or not. I hope my friends, like me, will continue to question themselves and work toward being better, more inclusive, less racist people. It's a slow ugly process but there's hope for most of us.

Here is something I know: just as there is not a single way to be assaulted, there is no single way to respond to an assault. Yesterday a friend of mine, a muscular Southern man who's usually armed and also usually open-minded, said, "If it really happened, why would she [Ford] ever go to a party again?"

Nope. We don't get to decide how Ford would have acted, based on how we imagine we might have acted were we in her shoes. We are not her; we are not wearing her shoes. Sexual assault is not one-size-fits-all.

Here's another thing I know: Dr. Christine Blasey Ford's house has two front doors. She first told her husband about the assault several years ago, when they were remodeling their house, and she wanted to put in another front door. He thought that was crazy, until he learned why.

Their house has two front doors.

I don't worry about front doors much. What can get my anxiety going is the position of the bedroom door relative to the bed I'm sleeping in. The worst is to have the door open near the head of the bed, and to be sleeping on that side--even typing that sentence makes me tense. The best is to have the door far away, at the foot of the bed, and be sleeping catty-corner across from it. Two doors, for me, would probably be worse than one door--two places from which to be attacked. But for Dr. Ford, it's the opposite--two ways to escape. Someone asked online why not use a back door. I don't know. Is her backyard fenced? The truth is that I'm equally safe in my bedroom no matter where I'm sleeping relative to the door. But I don't feel that way, even after all this time.

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford's house has two front doors.

Here is the final thing I know about this, and want to say: that the people she names as being present in the house where the assault occurred don't remember the occasion does not mean it didn't happen. They aren't refuting it; they simply aren't remembering it.

Several years ago I went to a funeral in my home town, and afterward to a large gathering that included a meal. My husband and I ended up at a table with a priest, Fr. Widman, who'd taught us in high school. (Because I've mentioned predatory priests who taught at my high school, I will say that Fr. Widman was not one of them, not according to my memory, and not according to the list just released by the diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.) My husband and I were in the same religion class sophomore year. I think it was early church history, though I could be wrong. I remember Fr. Widman as someone without much of a sense of humor. He assigned me a paper on iconoclasm, which I'd never heard of but ended up finding interesting. My future husband and I were two of the best students in the class, getting top grades, sitting toward the front with shiny bright faces, and when we met Fr. Widman at the funeral, and told him who we were, we expected him to smile and say something polite about us. Look at you two! Married!

Fr. Widman had no idea who we were. He didn't remember us at all. Not our names, not our faces, not the A I'd gotten on my paper on iconclasm. "I'm sorry," he said, "I just don't."

It is absolutely true that I sat in his classroom--the corner classroom on the second floor--every day for a semester. It is absolutely true that I participated in class, did well on the tests, did my homework, talked to friends. It is absolutely true that 35 years later he didn't remember me at all.

I would prefer a Supreme Court Justice who interpreted the Constitution but didn't try to legislate from the bench. I am against abortion, but I think Roe v Wade is pretty far down on the list of things our government should be working on right now. (A Mormon mother of six wrote an essay cruising the internet about how, if we really wanted to end abortion, all we'd have to do is start castrating every man who causes an unintentional pregnancy. It's brilliant--because of its logic, not its conclusion. Worth your while to find and read.) I don't understand why the Republicans are clinging to a flawed nominee, who very clearly lied under oath at his hearing, several times, and who probably sexual assaulted more than one woman. Surely we have better candidates. Let's find them.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

#AmWriting

Writing is my job. I tell people that all the time when they gush about how inspired and creative and I-don't-know-how-you-do-it. "It's my job," I say. "I sit down and I do it." Which doesn't sound romantic but is the truth.

It's also more than my job; it's my vocation. I know that, too. Right now I'm in writer's limbo. I finished a draft of a historical novel. My editor hasn't yet gotten back to me with her thoughts. The best thing I can do for that book right now is ignore it, because I'll be in a better place to start revising if I've stayed away from it for awhile.

I've got other historical novels lined up in my mind like ships awaiting tugboats to pull them into harbor. I can't start them, because they need research, and because I know that it's hard for me to pull my mind from one historical setting to another.

The first few days after I've sent off a draft are usually vacation. I clean up my desk, at least a little. I read. I catch up on any reviews that are due--I usually have at least a few review books waiting. In recent months I've been traveling during these writing lulls.

But right now I'm not. I'm really glad to be home for several weeks in a row, but it's very odd not to be working on a manuscript. For the past few days I've been increasingly uneasy about it. I've written blog posts, but honestly, to me these feel like the scales I used to start my piano practice with. They're something that clears the way for more important work.

The news feed has been disturbing. A lot of my friends are suffering. It's been a hard week for many people I love. And I didn't have a novel to escape into.

Today I woke at 5:45 only because I have a puppy. She woke and had to go out. I'm the one that takes her out. My hard-working husband went to work and I'd had coffee and was wide awake. 6:30 in the morning. Yoga wasn't until 8. I went online and paged through the sites I follow, but that only took about ten minutes. I'm mostly caught up with online correspondence.

I didn't know what to do with myself. So I opened a new word document, set the font to Courier, and typed my name and address in the upper left-hand corner. It's how I've formatted manuscripts forever. I scrolled down, centered the title, and typed WHO KNOWS. by. Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. And then I started writing. My new tattoo is covered by a band-aid but halfway through recess the band-aid falls off. I'm walking back to the fourth-grade classroom when my teacher, Ms. Davonte, gasps. "Della," she said, "is that a tattoo?"

And then I kept going for eleven pages of pure stream-of-consciousness writing. I skipped yoga. I've only stopped to riff off this scale, quickly, and because now I've got to go to Faith in Action.

I have no idea if this will turn into anything. I don't care. I am writing.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

I don't care who you vote for.... #BookTheVote

...I care that you vote.

Today is National Voter Registration Day, and my primary publisher, Penguin Random House, asked me to share on social media why I vote.

I vote in every election. Looking back, I think I've missed one--a local election, not a national one. I screwed up with the early voting (didn't realize it closed) and was out of town on the actual election day. I'm still irritated that I missed it.

I vote because I usually have opinions.
I vote because I have a voice.
I vote because I can.

Second semester of my freshman year at Smith College a large percentage of the student body staged a sit-in in the main administrative building in protest of apartheid. It was awhile ago now, but if you'll remember, South Africa was governed by a racist, unjust system called apartheid. People across the globe began to refuse to do business with any company that did business with South Africa. College in particular were divesting their endowment funds from those companies.

Starting that semester, and continuing at least while I was there, Smith gave two full four-year scholarships each year to non-white women from South Africa. The first recipients, Thembikile Mazibuko and Siphokazi Koyana, arrived that January and lived in my house (like a dorm, but smaller. Smith doesn't do sororities). So the big apartheid protest happened only a few weeks after they'd gotten on campus.

I didn't take part in the sit-in. I was at the time only vaguely aware of apartheid; South Africa had yet to become one of my favorite places in the world. I had enough to do handling myself at Smith, at the time, and also, the idea of camping out in a hallway in Massachusetts to protest something half a world away seemed ineffectual, possibly ludicrous. But as the week wore on and the sit-in intensified, the president of the school called an all-campus meeting to discuss the situation. It was held in the evening, after dinner, and attendance was mandatory. Each house was to go to the meeting as a group. Attendance would be taken. Attendance was required.

I'd gotten to know Sipho and Thembikile a bit already--they were friendly and bubbly, and I liked them. I'd noticed that they'd taken no part in the apartheid protest. When asked about their country they talked about their families, their home life, not politics. I didn't really think much about this. I, too, was not that interested in politics.

That night we all walked across the street to JMG, the largest auditorium on campus. Sippho and Thembilike walked through the doors, and stopped. They were panicked. They looked ready to vomit, or cry, or both. They were terrified.

I will never forget the expressions on their face.

We can't be here, they said.

Older women from my house said, this is a mandatory meeting. You have to be here. You can't be blamed for attending a mandatory meeting.

They said, They will find out. They will take back our passports. We will have to leave. We will lose our chance.

In South Africa Sipho and Thembikile's families had no vote. That wouldn't come for another several years. But they were convinced, both of them, that their government would find out they'd gone to this meeting in a small town in Massachusetts, and they and their families would be punished for it. That was the difference between their government and mine.

We couldn't talk them into coming farther into the building. They wouldn't sit down. They stood against the doors, shaking. So we stood with them, all the women from my house. We stood in a group in the back of the building. We listened while the president of our school said she was divesting the school's endowment. The sit-in had won.

Divestment won too. Worldwide financial pressure was a large part of why the government of South Africa changed.

Years later, I visited the school in South Africa where Nelson Mandela, imprisoned for 27 years for protesting apartheid, cast the first vote of his life--for himself, for president of South Africa. In front of the school on that day, some local people had set up a booth to register people to vote. They were all black. Later that week I visited the apartheid museum in Johannesburg. After a whole series of rooms detailing years of oppression, violence, and injustice, the tour ends in a room full of video screens. Each screen shows endless lines of black people lining up to vote for the first time. Smiling, laughing, waiting for hours. Having their say.

If you aren't registered to vote, fix that here.


Thursday, September 20, 2018

3,184

Yesterday the board of the Appalachian Literacy Initiative met to decide which classrooms we would accept into our pilot program this year. Our plan is to provide each teacher with a classroom set of 28 brand-new high-quality children's books, delivered in four batches through the year, and to give every student their choice of any four of those books, to keep, brand-new, again divided across the school year.

When we first started, several months ago, I'd offered up the pie-in-the-sky hope that we could enroll 20 classrooms, 400 students, of fourth graders this school year. The other board members looked at me with skepticism. First, would there really be that much interest? Second, could we afford it? We've been fundraising, but we haven't raised enough yet. We've applied for some grants, but have no idea whether we'll get them.

We had 40 classrooms apply. 850 students.

Oh man, that was tough.

There was one large school that frankly wasn't that badly off (less than half their students got free lunch) on the outer edge of what we'd consider our territory, so we eliminated that one. (We're sorry. We'll help you next year if we can.)

There were a few that were absolutely automatic thank-God-we-can-help-these-kids ins. Small towns in West Virginia rated C-minus on a national website (on a scale of A to C-minus). Nearby county schools where fewer than one kid in three reads proficiently.

And then we read through the other applications. "We have a school library. It is staffed by occasional parent volunteers." "To get books for my classroom, I shop at Goodwill." "Access to books is the biggest obstacle we face." "I believe every loves to read when they find the right book!"

We accepted 28 classrooms. 600 students. 3,184 new books.

If you’d like to support the work that we’re doing, you can mail a check to Appalachian Literacy Initiative at PO Box 3283, Bristol, TN 37625, or click here to purchase books on our wishlist from Parnassus Books, our preferred bookstore. You’ll receive 10% off with the code GIVEREADING, and Parnassus will ship the books to us free of charge. You can also purchase books from our Amazon wishlist by clicking here.