Saturday, July 20, 2013

Vermont College

I've just returned home from Vermont College of Fine Arts where I teach in the Writing for Children and Young Adults. We had a fantastic residency. It's so intense, it's like a writing boot camp. We go from early morning until way after dinner with lectures and readings and group workshops and individual meetings between students and advisers.
 This time I did yoga (classes almost every day) and I managed to get there (7 am!) six or seven times, so I felt like I had a yoga retreat as well. But sleep? Not so much.

Kathi Appelt and I did back to back lectures. I led off with writing picture book biographies, discussing the brilliant craft moves in four of my favorite picture book bios. I couldn't resist talking about the dance between images and text, and how to save "scrap" for the upcoming illustrator while researching. I unplugged my PowerPoint and Kathi plugged in, rolling with her lecture on autobiography and memoir, and how facts and feelings play into them. It was a great saturation in the whole genre with both of us coming at it from different angles. Kathi is pure inspiration.

Residency is a time of taking in more than you ever thought you could, a bittersweet time of letting go of old teacher-student relationships and starting new ones. It's a time of risk-taking, and falling or leaping off cliffs and flying, as the graduating class of Wingbuilders can attest.

Here are the last couple students making it to a reading, just at that moment when it is getting dark but you can still take a photograph. And yeah, I was the very last one there, or I couldn't have taken this shot!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Supreme Court Rulings: Day of Sorrow, Day of Joy

I'm thrilled with the supreme court ruling against DOMA. This is a tide that can't be stopped.

Last fall my son, living in Minnesota, applied for a job at a university in the south. They were a little worried about how someone from the north would do in the south. At a round table with all the faculty, one young prof. asked him what he liked about Atlanta. "Well," my son said, "you have some good gay rights going here."

"Is that the kind of thing you're into?" said the young prof.

The head of the committee's hand shot out. "You can't ask that!" Because, of course, its strictly against the law to ask about sexual orientation.

My son was hired, and took the job. He moves to Atlanta in a few months, with his wife and new baby.

But. My joy is tempered by the striking down of the heart of the Voting Rights Act. This is such a huge, huge loss for our country.

We had a movement, a wonderful, committed leader, a group of (mostly) young people willing to put their liberty, even their lives at risk.  We had a Congress willing to work together. The reverberations of this will run through our politics for so long. Five to four. So close.

Here's congressman John Lewis, who was tear-gassed and clubbed at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama while fighting for the right to vote in 1965:

And President Johnson, 1965. Imagine the courage it took for this Southern politician to push this legislation through.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

In love with Pantone 8005

More digital proofs arrived in the mail this week. First came all of the pages, every beautiful image. There's something breathtaking about seeing them full-size done by the printer. We're still adjusting density, tonal range, and contrast on a couple of the images, and catching places that need to be spotted. Sometimes there is a speck of dust on the negative, or a scratch, and when you blow up the photo, it suddenly is very apparent.

And then the cover. Incredible. This is where the Pantone 8005 comes in: Besides the black and gray, the designer added in the 8005. It's gold. Beautiful, shimmering gold. The magic that makes the whole cover just ring. I hope you can see it in the photo here. The big patch of 8005 on the right: the endpapers. Incredibly rich and beautiful.

Yolanda said it best:"Jacket, case and endsheet proofs are here and they look oh so beautiful, strong and sweet."

Here's the corner of my writing room right now.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Working with the publisher to get the images just right

Dorothea Lange is in the final prepress stages. Caitlin Kirkpatrick at Chronicle Books sent me one huge page of what the printer is coming up with, using the paper and ink we'll have for the book. A few of the images were too dark, so the next day I went in to Chronicle -- the joy of having a publisher a short BART ride away!

Sheet of pages for color correction
I worked with the production coordinator, Yolanda Cazares, and the editorial assistant, Caitlin Kirkpatrick, on  figuring out the best way to show Dorothea's photos. We were going to do duotone, but there were just not enough mid-tones, so Chronicle is doing tritone! Do you know how gorgeous this will be? 

Yolanda Cazares and Caitlin Kirkpatrick in the worlds best-ever, walk-in light box
Yolanda is using two blacks and a third color to add the tonal range they want. In her words, "not sepia, but a touch of gold." See how hard it is to talk about color using words? After the printer lays down the ink, the whole thing gets a very light coating of varnish, which adds to the warmth of the image.

This is the next best thing to holding an actual, archival print in your hands.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Courage, kids, and Selma

I'm fascinated by courageous people -- probably because I do not have a courageous bone in my body. I'm a total chicken. I especially don't like to get hurt, so people who are willing to put themselves on the line for something they believe in have my heartfelt admiration. When I've asked people how they found the bravery to do something -- especially if it went on for awhile -- they don't consider themselves courageous. As Lynda Lowery said of being a jailed and beaten young teen during the protests and march for the vote in 1965: "I was not brave. I was not courageous. I was determined. That's how I got to Montgomery."

I was just in Selma for the annual Bridge Crossing Jubilee, along with Vice-President Joe Biden, Representative John Lewis, and some of the determined, courageous people who changed our national voting laws.Which was a crucial part of changing the whole discourse on civil rights in our country.

48 years ago, an amazing group of children and teens showed unbelievable courage. And here they are today, still speaking up. My heros.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Selma Freedom Fighters and Jubilee to Commemorate Voting Rights Act bravery

I've spent an amazing weekend in Selma, Alabama at the Jubilee. 48 years ago,kids and young adults joined the adults in Selma to fight for the right to vote. Lead by Martin Luther King, they pledged to be non-violent. They marched, were jailed, and some were beaten. They stuck to the principles of non-violence. Four years ago for my book I interviewed several of these now-grown Freedom Fighters. I came back this weekend to speak at the National Park Service Interpretive Center and to join in the commemorative march across the Pettus Bridge.

My favorite photo of the weekend: with four who marched as kids: Charles Mauldin, Lynda Lowry, Chief Henry Allen, and Joanne Bland. Honored to be with them!

At the National Park Service Interpretive Center.

The next morning I arrived early at the center, just before a huge swarm of law enforcement officers needed to make sure the area was safe for the Vice President. We were locked into our building, as we were right across the street from the bridge. It was fascinating to watch them. My favorite was the dogs and their trainers. They are the cream of the crop. Most dogs can smell three kinds of explosives: these dogs are trained (and constantly retrained) to sniff out fifteen. They checked and rechecked the area, doing a last sniffing job across every speck of the bridge.

Once the area was cleaned, we were allowed out to stand quietly in front of the building. But before the Vice President and Representative John Lewis came roaring over the bridge towards us in a cavalcade of vehicles with flashing blue and red lights to give their talks, we had to go back inside.
The secret service man (yep, he was wearing a trench coat) let us go upstairs to watch. He had to radio for permission first, and I suppose also to let the snipers on the roof across from us know that the faces suddenly appearing in the deserted upstairs were okay.

Wonderful but too short speeches by Attorney General Eric Holder, Ryan Haygood, John Lewis and Joe Biden. They started up the bridge, and the rest of us were soon allowed to go surging after them.

A moment of prayer on the bridge.

Best shot I couldn't take: we were asked at the prayer to remember those who had fought for justice, now passed away. An impeccably dressed, older man took off his hat and held it to his chest, tears sliding down his cheeks. He was all shades of brown: deep brown hat, mahogany face, tweedy brown suit, and behind him the sun was bursting through the clouds. Such a beautiful moment, but it was his, not mine.

Thanks to Theresa Lorraine Hall, ranger at the National Park Service.

My heartfelt thanks to all who marched to make this country live up to our ideals.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Extraordinary School

 I just had the most amazing school visit at Hamlin School in San Francisco. It's an all girls' school, begun by Sara Dix Hamlin in 1896. The school is in an old mansion full of amazing rooms. That built-in cabinet in the upper left corner of my collage is part of the school secretary's room! Full-on fake bamboo ceiling, too. And the horse? A huge student mural, hanging right in the main hall.

 The Head, Wanda Holland Greene, is incredible. When she was six years old, her father and mother decided she should be one of several children to integrate a school in the New York. Everyday she climbed on a bus and went to an all-white, Jewish neighborhood from her home in Brooklyn. She's energetic, direct, and determined to pass on to the girls the values of being an engaged citizen.

Ms. Greene wanted me to especially talk about Marching for Freedom. Here's what the girls were studying when I came: sixth graders were discussing freedom and personal rights, and the challenges of migrant farm worker families. Seventh grade: social class and identity, and will soon discuss Jim Crow era. Eighth graders: about to do a long unit on race and identity, and look at Nazi Germany and the Holocaust.

These students will have such a rich understanding of history and social justice.