Archive for the ‘National Book Awards’ Tag

Inside Out

When you shared a heritage, or a culture. And then the attempt to pass on that culture. In the stories. The sense of belonging. The language which conveyed a sense of belonging. To a group of people. To pass on, in like the eggs.

The eggs had been forgotten at the Seder. I got a call from the hostess of the Seder dinner who mentioned one oversight last Tuesday. About the eggs.

The symbol of creation had been forgotten? Like a good teacher, she wanted me to know about the importance of the hard boiled eggs, at the Seder.

This week I had heard an author who was a winner of the 2009 National Book Award speak. The book was Claudette Colvin: Twice Towards Justice. I never got to ask why the title, Twice Towards Justice. Phillip Hoose reminded me of the retired sixth grade teacher that I curl with. There was a sensitivity present in a voice that Hoose was trying to communicate. The morning after, I found an old interview where he told Willie Perdomo his purpose in writing is to go in search of a voice to be heard, which never really had been listened to before. Claudette Colvin, as a teen-ager was thrust into the spotlight of the “separate but equal” world of the American South. In an old interview, Hoose told a National Book Award interviewer, Willie Perdomo, that he had once heard complaints of a young student who objected that in the study of history there were no people her age in the stories which made her feel so “invisible,” as though she did not, would not, qualify as a real person.

As he discussed Claudette Colvin: Twice Towards Justice, I recognized a Southern perspective from those times about just another carpetbagger, this one from Yale one hundred years later, telling a society about what was wrong with it, as he tried to profit as an author. What good was it for someone from New England to preach about racial intolerance in a part of the world that he was never a part of?

There was a sensitivity present in a voice, but it was more the perspective that interested me. The subject of the book had turned down his request four consecutive years to sit down and tell her tale. With a developed sensitivity to preserve habitats from his job on staff at The Nature Conservancy, Hoose said in a National Book Award interviewer that extinction often was on my mind, as he writes books. In the National Book Award interview, Hoose said that his motivation to write about Claudette Colvin, a complete stranger, involved a danger of her story being totally erased from history. Well, I was not so sure that there was a need for an eraser, since most of the people alive more than fifty years later never had heard the story which “often is told incompletely in unflattering comparison to Rosa Parks.” A more honest appraisal of his motivation seemed to be found in Hoose’s description of his youth in Indiana, a state where he said the Klu Klux Klan dominated the Republican Party. And life in Indiana, in his perspective, was never much different in those day from Alabama.

When you shared a heritage, or a culture: He wrote to inspire an audience to forestall species extinctions. The one with the echo of an inner hollowness of death. Or the aching involved to get out –of an egg. When your freedom was restricted. Or in the pain of childbirth. And then the pain of getting what was inside out for any child. And species extinction always involved fertility.

One of Hoose’s first books was about his cousin, Don Larsen, who had pitched a perfect game in the 1956 World Series for the New York Yankees. I was aware that Larsen had died in the past 12 to 24 months. I was about to read a few of Hoose’s books. To find more about his attempt to pass on that culture. In the stories allegedly about dealing with loss, to forestall species extinctions. The Claudette Colvin story was about an imperfect world, man-made, about a system set up to forestall the extinction of a way of life, in one part of the country. In his attempt to pass on a culture, in the stories which conveyed a sense of belonging –in the language which conveyed a sense of belonging — I am not so sure that the author yet understood how this opus fit into the shelf with his other books. Except about being invisible in a world, when the subject seemed to revere an invisibility with her move to New York City after living in the spotlight during her teen-age years. After having sacrificed her invisibility, over a way of life, which put her own life in jeopardy. Over a cause, until her own young pregnancy, to forestall species extinctions. Gravida One, as one response. One strong response, about the injustice in the world. When Rosa Parks had a “natural gravitas” and was an “inherently impressive person,” said David Garrow, the author of Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

About the eggs. Yeah, the eggs had been forgotten at the Seder. Maybe a bit like Claudette Colvin was forgotten. I am not sure the author grasped the whole story, with a bit of quiet fear in his one reference to her pregnancy, in the time after her arrest, in the conflict of public life with private life. Especially in those times. About the subject not wanting this book written until after she had retired from her job at a Catholic hospital. The story which somehow involved the eggs. The woman who, nine months before Rosa Parks, had been the real incubator of the protest over segregation on the Montgomery bus system.
Copyright © 2011.

PHOTO COURTESY of BACKYARDCHICKEN in Dexter, Michigan

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