The children at Madie Ives Elementary School helped me to experience being the kind of artist I've always imagined myself to be: a writer working in the community for the community. And because Grandpa Sydney's Anancy Stories is set in our neighborhood of Ives Estates, they were delighted when I read about the trees, birds, people and things that they see (0r didn't see until we read about it in the book) every morning and evening when they walk to and from school. We talked about using the imagination to solve problems and conflict resolution. I made a special effort to emphasize that Anancy as the smallest, weakest animal in the forest was often the target of bullies. They were also full of questions:
Q. Does it take a lot of reading to write good stories?
A. Even if you are a born storyteller, reading other stories and learning what makes a story work is always helpful. (Everything comes down to form.) In this way I am very "old fashioned" because I believe that stories should have a beginning, middle, and end.
The more you read, the more you will discover new ways of telling stories and you will learn about other writers who faced similar situations and you will learn about the answers that they devised. You may not agree with them, but you have given yourself another alternative, another possibility, another choice.
Q. How many steps does it take to write a book?
A. These steps don't follow a 1, 2, 3 pattern. They all overlap. But, generally, these are the steps:
1. The "AHA" moment when an idea pops into your head either by sheer luck or the conscious effort of always reading, reflecting, and making connections with your life.
2. The "squirrel' stage. You begin to do research by reading, getting all the facts straight by asking who, what, why where, when, and how.3. Planning. Figuring out how you are going to tell the story. First, second or third person? How to begin? Some writers skip this stage. They just begin and worry about this later. Because I'm usually involved with other projects other than teaching, I've always had to plan, so this has always been an invaluable step.
4. Writing. Firmly sitting in a chair/ desk with paper/ pen/ writing instrument and writing.5. Proofreading. Checking for grammar, style, and spelling errors.
6. Simmer over a low heat for a few days, weeks, months, until the story is clear in my mind. Tweaking word choice, style, and voice. Structuring the sentences to say what I mean or sometimes holding back information so that the reader will put the pieces together: Do I need to say more or less?7. Sending the story out to my friends and asking for their opinion about the overall story and minor revisions.
8. Rewrite. Rewrite. Rewrite.
9. Sending out for publication. Saying a prayer. Lighting a candle.10. Conferring with an editor about changes via phone or e-mail.
11. Publication and helping with publicity via my blog or web site.12. Back to work: See Step 1.
Q. Do you get frustrated when you can't get your ideas on paper?
A. All the time. Some days are better than some. Some days are just awful. Some days I can walk on water. On the days when nothing seems to go right, I work on other things. I read more. I study more. And then I get back to the writing. These are the two big lessons of writing: persistence and perseverance.
Q. What inspires you as a writer?
A. My inspiration has changed over the years. When I started writing, it was all about seeing my name in print, trying to impress people (some of whom I didn't know or didn't even like) and to be recognized. Now that I've written a few books, I've realized that writing is what Charles Deemer calls "a way of being in the world."
Also, because I grew up in Jamaica listening to Reggae and when I was old enough to see the inequality and injustice around me and realized that I could put two sentences together that could have some influence about how others viewed the world, I livicated myself to the idea of InI. That was why I wrote Grandpa Sydney's Anancy Stories. I found out that many children, who grew up in Jamaica and the Caribbean and now living in Miami, had never heard of Anancy or the value of Anancy stories. Somehow, I think, their parents thought that Anancy stories were no longer relevant. Something had to be done and I could do it.
I wanted the children to experience something that was very important to my self-esteem: seeing myself or someone who looked like me in a book. It's a feeling that never leaves you.
I would like to thank Dr. Tanya Brown-Major, the principal of Madie Ives Elementary School for inviting me to speak to the children during Caribbean-American Heritage Month.
I would also like to thank Ms. Ferro-Philp, Ms. Debose, Ms. Hope Murray, who presented me with this Golden Apple Award, and the children for their interesting responses (PDF file) to the reading: Ms. Murray's and Ms. Ferro-Philp's Second Grade Class. I really liked the one that said, "Jimmy is just like me."
Best compliment, ever!!!
I had a wonderful time reading at Madie Ives Elementary School and I look forward to more events like this.
For more photos of the reading, please follow this link: Anancy @ Madie Ives Elementary School.
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We are story-telling beings, that's our nature. Stories are, in general, sequential. That's not old-fashioned, simply human. You and Derek have it right.
Give thanks, Fragano. Give thanks.
Looks like the children had fun. Like Stevie's Wonder album cover, It's hotter than July here in DC. How are you, Geoffrey?
Yeah, I'd like to think they had fun!
Right now, I'm busy, busy, busy...
Have a great weekend, Stephen!
Busy is good. The alternative isn't. have a good weekend.
Looking at the pictures carefully, I can see you had a wonderful time with the children. What a wonderful way to spend the day. I am sure the children loved your story and walked away influenced in some way by its message.
Fearless, working with the children is a joy that no one can ever take away from me.
Thank you for your kind words.
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