Author Visit with Murrah Students

Today I was the featured author for the Murrah High School library’s Snack and Chat Program. I told them about my journey to becoming an author. Part of the fun was showing pictures of my sons when they were young — these students knew the boys as older high schoolers.

Snack and Chat

Ms. Courtney Holmes, pictured far right, will guide these young writers as they write and publish their own stories, using the Storybird website.
The students had great questions. Several were familiar with my work already from previous visits to their schools. (Shout out to Davis Magnet IB School!)

Mississippi Book Festival

What a wonderful day it was on Saturday for the first Mississippi Book Festival! It was amazing to have full rooms (though not so amazing to have people turned away).

I had a tough time getting into any of the other sessions, but the crowd was tremendous, the bookstore(s) fantastic, and I always love seeing colleagues (though, again, I hated missing out on hearing/seeing/greeting some of my favorite people.)

Sarah showing page

One great thing was that since the festival was in my home town Richard got to come along. He took some nice photographs so we can update the website with my “new look” so I won’t surprise people when I show up with longish hair.

Mississippi Book Festival-2

I love this panorama of the room.
Mississippi Book Festival

And, guess who else gets to come when we festival in my home town: my nephew! Another budding Wolfsnail fan, I’m sure.

Mississippi Book Festival-4

School Visits to Prentiss Christian and Lawrence County High School

Prentiss Christian and Lawrence County-

This past Thursday Sarah visited Prentiss Christian School and Lawrence County High School to promote teen writing contest, the theme for which is “Animals and/or Nature.”  Students are encouraged to write either a short story about nature or a nonfiction essay about the theme. This contest is a partnership between The New Walden Writers Retreat and Environmental Arts Center and the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality with support from the Jefferson Davis and Lawrence County Soil and Water Conservation Districts and the Central MS RC&D Council.  While at Prentiss Christian School Sarah gave a brief presentation on her books to introduce the students to the process of writing nature-focused non-fiction.  She shared both Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator and Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature, both of which are non-fiction books.  Although her work is non-fiction, I noticed that while we were at St. Luke’s in Baton Rouge that her work seemed to unanimously inspire fiction work from the students. I wonder what it is about these scientific and mathematical concepts in nature that inspires us to write creatively?

Prentiss Christian and Lawrence County--5


Special thanks to Hope Daley of the Jefferson Davis County Soil & Water Conservation District and Mandy Callaway of the Lawrence County SWCD for organizing these visits, and another thanks to Chuck Jepsen and Laura Beiser of the Central MS Resource Conservation and Development Council for facilitating them! Hopefully the wonderful weather (and Sarah’s wonderful presentations) will inspire the students to get out and start writing about nature!

Young Readers Center

I visited the Young Readers Center at the Library of Congress this week, and look what I found. Wolfsnail! Actually, I wasn’t surprised. I met the founding director of the Young Readers Center at a conference a few years back and heard her pitch for books. She had no budget, but wanted to build a collection of books in the Library of Congress that kids could actually take off the shelves and read when they visited. So, I sent her a copy.

wolfsnail at LOC

I learned that they don’t have a copy of Growing Patterns, so that’s one of my jobs for this week. While I was at the LOC, I spent some time in the Science Reading Room. It is a lovely space, and reminded me of the many great libraries I’ve had the privilege of studying in — especially Northwestern University’s Charles Deering Library, the New Bodlein Library at Oxford University, and the Corpus Christi College Library.

I was only in Washington, D.C., for a few hours, tagging along with Richard on a business trip. We flew to DC, where he met with members of Congress and I visited the LOC, and then took the train to Baltimore, where I did some site-seeing, reading, and R&R. It reminded me of the summer I graduated from college (25 years ago) when I spent a term in DC covering the Capitol for a Mississippi newspaper. Several of my classmates and I spent a day up in Baltimore. Lovely times.

Though it rained much of the time we were in Baltimore, Richard and I managed two nice meals out — one Italian and one Thai. I read a few New Yorkers, Big Brother by Lionel Shriver, and started Life After Life by Kate Atkinson.

We’re working hard to finish the images for the fractal manuscript. This one is proving hard to put to bed, but I think it’ll be all the better for it.

News, news, finally, some news!

I got word today that Boyds Mills Press is ready to commit to my latest work-in-progress. It’s gonnna be a book, y’all!
broccoli macro

I can’t wait to push this project through the rest of the steps to publication.

Letter From First Grade Teacher

Here’s another fun letter I found while going through my files. It is written by the teacher who taught me first grade in Evanston, IL, at Dewey Elementary School. She was writing after I (with my mother’s help, no doubt) sent her some sugar cane for her class in the year after I moved to Mississippi.
burr page 1
burr page 2
Late in the letter, she asks if I still write stories and poems. My reading lately has been full of questions about how our childhood experiences shape us and to what extent we are destined to become who we become. (Far From The Tree by Andrew Solomon and The Philosophical Baby by Alison Gopnik) It does make me wonder how much I was bound to be a writer and how much I became one because I was so encouraged in my writing from so early. Guess, it’s the usual answer. Both.

A Letter From Mississippi 1973

I have been going through more of my boxes of letters, and found this gem. It was with a bundle of letters I received from Sarah J., my best friend from early elementary school in Evanston, IL. Some years later, her mother gave me this letter that I wrote to Sarah J. It appears to be the first letter I wrote after moving to Mississippi. I was in second grade.
letter to sarahj
letter to sarahj2

In one version of a work-in-progress titled “My New School,” my character Beth writes this letter back to her school friends in Chicago.
To Mrs. Armour’s Class at Dewey Elementary School:
I like my new school. This is my friend Franny. We play “Miss Mary Mack” at recess. I am learning to play new games and do hair.
Your friend, Beth

Interviewing Myrlie Evers-Williams

I had the great privilege of interviewing Myrlie Evers-Williams last week. We spent a few hours together in a conference room in Alcorn State University’s administration building. From the window, I could see the spot where I first lived when we moved to Mississippi.
Myrlie Evers Williams

We had a wide-ranging conversation. I will share some of the video as it is polished and ready to show.

Rod on location with Mrylie Evers Williams

My partner in this work is Roderick Red Jr., production manager of Red Squared Productions, LLC.

Rod with Mrylie Evers-Williams close-up

Writing and Illustrating for Kids 2012

All children — those who live sheltered, protected lives and those who face hunger, cruelty, and neglect — need to read about terrible things, according to children’s book author Donna Jo Napoli. If you visit her website’s page listing interviews, you can listen to her TEDx talk on the topic.

Donna Jo NapoliHere are some quotes I noted down: “I don’t think there’s anyone lonelier than a child who thinks they are the worst person alive.”

“It is very consoling to see that other people have problems. It gives you perspective. … When we write about terrible things, we look for the strand of strength in our characters.”

“From reading books, she (an unprotected child) can learn that with hard work and a good spirit, she can see that she can live decently in her own world — even if just inside her own head.”

“In reading, you step inside someone else’s skin. You live their life. You develop empathy. And empathy is the cornerstone of civilization.”

“There’s no better, no safer place to develop that empathy than in a book.”

“When it comes to trying to be the writer you want to be, I urge you not to be afraid of the things that bring high emotion to you. … We need to embrace our misery and learn how to use it.”

Napoli delivered the keynote address at this year’s Writing and Illustrating for Kids conference. Put on by the Southern Breeze region of the SCBWI and held each year just outside Birmingham, WIK offers workshops, critiques, and opportunities to meet and learn from other writers, editors, and agents.

Sarah at signing table

I presented two workshops: Stories + Photos = Winning Nonfiction and You Mean I’m Not Finished? Developing Marketing and Educational Materials. I uploaded two handouts for the Stories + Photos workshop on my website. Click here to see them. I created a Pinterest Board to gather examples for the Not Finished workshop. Click here.

I love sharing my stories in my own workshops, but the downside of being on the faculty is that it limits the number of workshops I can attend. I chose What Educators Can Teach Writers by Jodi Wheeler-Toppen and Trends in Award Winning Nonfiction by Julie Ham, associate editor at Charlesbridge.

Julie Ham

Ham led a fascinating workshop. We read excerpts from 10 Sibert Medal winning books and 4 Sibert Honor books. Based on these short snippets of writing (and, our own background knowledge of the books), we rated them on a continuum between traditional, safe writing to expressive, edgy writing. Making these judgments forced us to look carefully at the writing.

pegram and lewis

 Here are Sharon Pegram, the conference coordinator, and Keri Lewis, my angel during the conference.

My Sister’s Latest Scholarly Article

My sister, Emilye, spent the academic year in Atlanta (instead of Rochester, NY). One of the happy consequences was that we got to see her more than we usually do. We also got to see early drafts of one of this year’s projects, an article on school desegregation for the Oral History Review.

My Mom and I gave her our impressions of the early drafts, and helped her track down some information. Now, I have the published version. It is titled “White Privilege, Black Burden: Lost Opportunities and Deceptive Narratives in School Desegregation in Claiborne County, Mississippi”.

Emilye, who teaches history at Geneseo College, said I can distribute it to people who are interested. Please send me an email if you want a .pdf copy.
Em, Mom, and MeEmilye and Patty Crosby, Sarah C. Campbell.