Thursday, May 6, 2010
DEAR JULIUS LESTER
Dear Julius Lester,
You don't know me, but I talk about you all the time. That's because you have been an important part of my writing journey. Allow me to explain.
Back in 2003, I saw something that changed my life. It was The Quilts of Gee's Bend art exhibit at the Whitney in New York City. I was captivated by the quilts, fascinated by the quilters and their history. After a couple of years of immersing myself in all things Gee's Bend, I started writing a story.
Eventually that story became LEAVING GEE'S BEND, my debut historical novel for children. It's about a ten year old African American girl in 1932 Gee's Bend, Alabama, who sets out to get medical help for her sick mother and records her ensuing adventures in a quilt she is making.
But I am not African American, and I did not grow up in poverty. So, when I got the offer from Putnam, I was terrified. What if I got it wrong?
Like any good word-loving gal faced with a challenge, I turned to books. Among them, yours: ON WRITING FOR CHILDREN & OTHER PEOPLE. And there I found your voice, your experience, and these priceless words:
"To equate identity with race and culture is to deny the power of the imagination which can be the empathatic bridge between nations, cultures, and indviduals. Instead of placing barriers around a culture and denying others permission to enter, we should be thankful that people from outside our group are interested, curious, want to learn, want to feel a sense of belonging with us. Cultures are not private reserves but humble offerings."
So when people ask me about my experience writing across culture, I tell them this: Julius Lester said I could. So I did.
And I have to tell you, it has been one of the most meaningful experiences of my life. Thank you for the gift your words have been to my writing career. I will do my best to live up to them.
Readers: Julius Lester has written many stories for adults and children, one of which is the Newbery Honor winning TO BE A SLAVE. He blogs periodically here.