Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Writing from a Place of Anger

One of the amazing sessions I attended at NCTE included Laurie Halse Anderson on a panel with Jason Reynolds and Patricia Hruby Powell.

I don't remember what the question posed to the authors was, but I can't forget Laurie's answer. She said, "The angrier I am, the better the book."

Anger inspires her. And that got me thinking about what inspires me, and about my relationship with anger.  Because anger is not generally a source of inspiration for me. I'm kind of scared of anger... yet aren't we supposed to write what scares us? What would happen to my writing if I allowed anger to fuel it? Where would my stories and words take me?

I want to be a brave writer. I also want to write what brings me pleasure - to write from a place of love and celebration. Where is that place where bravery and love meet?

All of a sudden I am thinking of Katniss Everdeen when she shoots the arrow at the gamemakers. They're ignoring her, and she's mad, she turns the arrow on them.

That's the kind of anger that has the power to change a life. Thank you, Laurie, for making me think!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

My Secret Santa

Last week I received in the mail a package from one of my favorite catalogs to browse: Uncommon Goods.

Inside was a beautiful glass "Wishing Ball & Gratitude Globe."
Along with the glass piece, it included small slips of paper for writing your wishes or gratitudes to insert into the globe.

I love it! For me it's most certainly a Gratitude Globe. And the design is for the month of April, which was also noted in the packaging. Not my birthday, but National Poetry Month. Hmmm...

What wasn't noted in the packaging was who sent it to me!

Maybe this was a mistake. Or maybe this giver wishes to remain anonymous. Either way I want to share here today that the first slip I put inside the globe said, "whoever gave me this gift." Thank you!! I'm keeping the globe in my studio, right beside my desk. It's gorgeous, and I am delighted every time I think of it!

And, note to self: give more gifts anonymously. How beautiful!

***ETA: Turns out, my secret Santa is.... my sister!!! I totally should have guessed that. :)***

Monday, November 28, 2016


O frabjous day! Holiday movie season is upon us.... seems like all the most anticipated movies arrive within the last six weeks of the calendar year.

After viewing the trailer a number of times, we were pretty excited to see THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN. And it did not disappoint! (I do wish maybe they hadn't shown so much in the trailer, much as I loved it... what fun those surprises would have been!) Really great casting and well-rounded characters. Plus I could relate to main character Nadine who is still struggling 4 years after her father's sudden death with normal teen angst and her relationship with her mom and with the fact that her best friend is now dating her brother... yep. Been there! Several of my best friends ended up dating my brother Ken... one of them even married him! I hated that. And just like Nadine, I blamed my brother for stealing my best friend.

Nadine is really trying to figure some things out, and in the process she makes some crazy decisions. As we all do! One of the best things in her life is a caring, funny (and thank goodness not an inappropriate) teacher. He does what the best teachers do: he listens. And he helps Nadine get through a critical moment.

This movie had some powerful moments that were well-earned. Plus it was funny! And it felt real to me, not just from my own memories of that time, but in light of all the amazing teens I am privileged to know and love.

And to Ken, if you happen to be reading this: I love you!

If you like smart family relationship movies, then you'll like this one. And if you are writing YA, you MUST see it!

Friday, November 25, 2016

Poetry is truth. (more from #NCTE16)

How 'bout this day-before-Thanksgiving sky?
Hello and happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Carol at Carol's Corner for Roundup.

So I am full of turkey at the moment and thinking back over some of the poetic highlights from NCTE16. There were so many! I'll just mention a few of them here.

Pomelo Books supper at BoccaLupo. Those who know Janet Wong know she is kind of famous for selecting really great restaurants. She chose this one because it was on several lists -- one of them a "last meal" list written by chefs! A couple at our table enjoyed a Tasting Meal, which was small portions all several of their specials. It was pretty amazing, and inventive... and if memory serves, it included things like a parmesan crusted meatball... calamari over shrimp pate...a fancy piece of steak... carrot cake.... All excellent! And the company was, too!

* Session on Risking Writing with Poetry-Friday-ers Mary Lee Hahn and Heidi Mordhorst. It was about writing WITH your students, and the panel modeled this for us. It takes a lot of bravery to share our early drafts with anyone, and how powerful for students to see that the work takes... work. Here's the work and photo we started with... and then you'll find mine as it stands now... I was in an imaginative mood!

At the Harvest Ball

Deer look on as dancers twirl
in their starlight gowns --
Listen: maraca-song!
They dance until they collapse
into their cardboard-castle beds
to dream of leave and rain,
and sometimes,
a white eggplant moon.

- Irene Latham

* Books. I picked up F&G's of forthcoming books by THUNDER UNDERGROUND by Jane Yolen and KEEP A POCKET IN YOUR POEM by J. Patrick Lewis. And I got to admire Laura Purdie Salas's forthcoming IF YOU WERE THE MOON. Beautiful!

* Our panel on Writing for a Better World. At the end, the radiant Katherine Bomer summed up everything with one line from each of us, and it IS a poem! Here it is:
The panel - all except Margarita,
who had to dash to her next session!

To the Poets on the Panel, Your Words Coming Back

- Irene, Amy, Laura, Margarita, Tara, Margaret, (& Katherine)

Err on the side of love,

Amplify the light,

Hold the space for children to enter in,

Words are bridges,

Develop our empathy muscle as the reflex response,

When we provide poems in our classroom, we get to the heart of our children,

Poetry is truth.

And here is a Visual of our session created by Paula Bourque. Love it!

I have several more odds-n-ends to share with you about NCTE -- I came away so very inspired! I will be posting about these things in the weeks to come. Thank you for reading!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Poetry Brain

Well hello there!

You've heard of "squirrel brain," right? Well, since NCTE, I've got Poetry Brain. If you popped open my skull, I think it would probably look kind of like those small leafy tornadoes that spin in the yard during fall... my mind has been swirling with wise words I heard, like "Poetry is about bearing witness." and pieces of books I've been reading, like SOMOS COMO LAS NUBES/WE ARE LIKE THE CLOUDS by Jorge Argueta and fragments of poems I want to write. It's kind of crazy in there right now, but beautiful, you know?

And today I am cooking. I tend to tackle Thanksgiving dinner in stages, preparing a couple of dishes a day beginning the Monday before the BIG day. Yesterday I made cranberry festival (gelatin) salad, and this morning I made the sweet potato casserole and the pumpkin bread. It smells like love and family and all that is good in the world.

I will be back for Poetry Friday to share with you some goodies from NCTE, including a poem I wrote in a brave, excellent session led by Mary Lee Hahn and Heidi Mordhorst.

OH. Did you hear Marilyn Nelson won the NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry? Congratulations, Marilyn!! And to the committee: well done, all!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Poem for a Better World

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Brenda at Friendly Fairy Tales for Roundup.

I'm in Atlanta for NCTE, which happens to be one of my most favorite conferences of the year. I love being around so many people who are passionate about books and education and children. I always come away so very inspired -- more about this next week!

So today, I have a new original poem to share with you. It's inspired in part by world events and the Writing for a Better World panel I'll be on tomorrow, and also by my seamstress-mother, who can create beauty out of even the most tattered piece of fabric.


And this is how
we shall remake
the world:
like a seamstress
with pins in her mouth,
steady fingers
coaxing thread,
a hum forever
in her throat
as stitch by stitch
the fabric is fitted,
             gathered –
until what was once
tattered, now dances 
across the floor.

- Irene Latham

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Letters to the Dead

A couple of weeks ago I issued the last 2016 edition of my occasional author email newsletter. If you missed it, you can view it here and subscribe here.

In the letter I offered a giveaway for my new chapbook DEAR SLAVE, which contains poems that are letters to former slaves. I wrote the letters after I read their words in slave narratives collected by Ruby Pickens Tartt.

To enter the giveaway, I asked people to reply with the name of a deceased loved one they'd like to write a letter to, and (optional) what they would say in the letter.

Response continues to be overwhelming! I've gotten so many messages from folks sharing their loved ones  -- parents and sisters and children and friends -- and I'm so very honored to read the things they would like to say to them.

A couple of things stand out to me about the experience. First, we NEED to say the names of the ones we love who are no longer with us. Saying their names, sharing them with others, is important. Second, we are all the same. Grief unites us. All the feelings and regrets and love -- no matter how different we are, or what the relationship, or what the circumstances of the death -- we share those emotions.

Below please find images of a few of the former slaves to whom I addressed poems in DEAR SLAVE. I wish I could have talked with them in real life. May we never forget their names.

Ank Bishop

Emma Crockett

Amy Chapman
All photos courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

"Rhapsody" for November

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Jama's Alphabet Soup for Roundup, where she is offering up HOPE, which is pretty essential, isn't it? Thank you,  Jama. What an emotional week this has been... and I've had the stomach flu. Feeling MUCH better now, thank you very much! Nothing like a few sick days to make one extra grateful for those good-health days. Wow.

So I have a lovely little poem for you, and some sheep. Yep. Read on!


I am glad daylong for the gift of song,
For time and change and sorrow;
For the sunset wings and the world-end things
Which hang on the edge of tomorrow.
I am glad for my heart whose gates apart
Are the entrance-place of wonders,
Where dreams come in from the rush and din
Like sheep from the rains and thunders.

-William Stanley Braithwaite

Speaking of sheep, have you read THE SHEPHERD'S LIFE: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape by James Rebanks? I loved learning about these sheep families and the whole world of Beatrix Potter. (And now I totally want to watch again MISS POTTER.) It's a hard life, methinks, with so much out of one's control. But it's also obviously rewarding. I particularly enjoyed the lessons of such a life:

"We don't give up, even when things go bad.
We pay our debts.
We work hard.
We act decently.
We help our neighbors if they need it.
We do what we say we will do.
We don't want much attention.
We look after our own.
We are proud of what we do.
We try to be quietly smart.
We take chances sometimes to get on.
We will fail sometimes.We will be affected by the wider world...
But we hold on to who we are."

Here's to holding on to who we are in the midst of wider world events! 

And finally, here again is my NCTE schedule -- even though there's glaring typo AND we've added Laura Purdie Salas to the Nonfiction Roundtable! Even better, right?? I know I will be seeing a number of you... very excited!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Don't Miss Atlanta's Center for Civil and Human Rights While at #NCTE16

Last year I was able to visit The Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, and it was powerful and unforgettable. I was there with dear poet-friends, and as we entered the building we asked one of the employees which part was his favorite, of all the displays, which did he most recommend. Right away, he said, "the lunch counter."

I nodded, thinking literally "lunch." I am always down for a sandwich or a nice salad. But that's not what he was talking about. He was talking about the interactive lunch counter exhibit where visitors sit at a model lunch counter, put on headphones, and "be" the people who were brave enough to do the sit-ins. To be taunted and shouted at and hit.

An exercise in empathy. And it left me in shambles. I was shaking when I came away from that counter. Shaking and crying and feeling so grateful for all the folks who have risked their lives for equality.

Seriously. Make time to go to this museum. Take a seat at the lunch counter. Let it change your life.

And, ponder this: What is your ethical footprint?

from an exhibit and The Center for Civil
and Human Rights in Atlanta, GA

Monday, November 7, 2016

Inside a Literary Agency

I've just finished reading MY SALINGER YEAR by Joanna Rakoff, as part of Bas Bleu's Book Club. It's about the author's stint typing letters and such during the late '90s working for the literary agency that represented J.D. (Jerry) Salinger.

As an author who's repped by a stellar literary agency, I found a couple of passages that really resonated:

Reading manuscripts was the exact opposite of reading for grad school: it was pure instinct, with some emotion and intelligence thrown in. Does this novel work? Or can it be made to work? Does it move me? Does it grip me?


“First rejection,” he explained with a huge grin. “And it's a really great one.” I had worked at the Agency long enough to understand that there were rejections and there were rejections. There was not for me and I just didn't find these characters sympathetic and the story struck me as improbable at best, and also simply I'm afraid this is too similar to a novel we're publishing next fall or too similar to a writer already on our list. And then there was I truly loved the writing but I just didn't feel the story hung together and I'm so torn about this novel and I'd love to see this writer's next novel, which was essentially the gist of the note James held in his hand.
That last one is a heartbreaker. It can make a writer wonder if they know anything at all about storytelling. I've gotten it a few times... one way to get through it is to do exactly what's suggested: WRITE THE NEXT NOVEL.

There's also a little bit about a (rejected) manuscript by Judy Blume in the book! Interesting....

 So, if you're in this book industry, give it a go! I think you'll like it. 

Up next in the Book Club: The Journal of Helene Berr!

Friday, November 4, 2016

Poem for Election Day

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Laura at Writing the World for Kids for Roundup.

I don't enjoy politics, but I do appreciate the fact that I live in a country where my voice counts for something. 

Freedom matters to me. A lot.

Here's a poem I wrote about it that was published in Scholastic's Storyworks magazine back in 2012.  Happy voting!

Election Day

Sift through promises,
replay interviews;

step inside the booth.
Forget scripted speeches

and candy-wrapped slogans.
Weigh again each pro

and con. Remember
the teeming world,

its people who dream
of freedom --

so many denied
the right to decide.

Read the names,
imagine a future;

make the best choice.
In the space between breaths

your voice is heard
without a word.

- Irene Latham
...and for something entirely different, I posted yesterday at Smack Dab in the Middle about using a personal mission statement to navigate when to say Yes and when to say NO. I fear the only personal mission statement our current presidential candidates ascribe to is "win the election." Sigh.

But. It will be okay, no matter what. This I believe. xo

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Hot, FRESH & Tasty at Louisiana Book Festival

The wall of book covers at the State Library!
This was my second time to participate in Louisiana Book Festival -- the first time was in 2012 just after DON'T FEED THE BOY was released. It was a busier festival this time, with more folks roaming about, more tents, more books, more authors... and this time it was HOT. Being under those tents was a little like being microwaved. At the signing, Tessa Gratton and I peeled back the velcro on the tent to let a little air in, and boy did that help!

The book signing line.
Before my book talk, I picnic-ed with writer-friends Pat Weaver, Sheila Renfro and Margaret Simon, who totally needs to write a book about how she fosters a passion for writing in her students!

 We sat under a giant magnolia tree, and the ground was so damp we had to sit on our books or bags -- and we still ended up a little muddy! But it was okay, because what is better than lunching with writer-friends?! The food was decent, too: catfish and red beans and rice. Gotta love Louisiana!

I presented FRESH DELICIOUS to a small but enthusiastic crowd, and the best part was afterward, when Margaret spied her student Madison, who, earlier that day, had received an award for a poem she wrote called "Reef for All" after my poem "Tree for All" in DEAR WANDERING WILDEBEEST. Isn't that cool? Here I am with Madison.

Two authors I was glad to see again were Rita Williams-Garcia and William Joyce. I should have taken pictures, but my arms were full! Later that evening we celebrated Sheila's birthday at a lovely French restaurant back in New Orleans called Cafe Degas... and then we came back to our rental house to read more books! 
The Birthday Girl!

Books! Books! Books!