Personal posts by public historian, Rose O'Keefe
It felt good to read Robert Lawson’s 1945 Newbery Award winner, Rabbit Hill, because it was such a heart-warming and clever story. The characters were animals in the countryside who were all atwitter about new people moving into a rundown house. The critters were anxious about whether the newcomers would have a mean dog or cat, use poison, traps and baits, and most of all, what kind of garden they would grow. Each animal had its favorite foods that it longed for.
My Humble Career
Recently, when I re-read the words of the Desiderata, a poem written in 1972 by Max Ehrmann, a line jumped out at me: “Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.” How true. I keep plugging away at projects that keep me happy. Speaking of happiness, it’s a pleasure to share the link to a short video on Spectrum Local News about a recent school visit:
The Learning Curve
I have had my share of successes and failures with the learning curve on book projects. The creative burst-and-bust cycle has thrashed and bashed me more than once and my latest round with editing a non-fiction history project was like wrestling with an alligator. So what, right? Having to take breaks only meant that it took longer to complete than expected. It also meant that I didn’t keep up with my regular reading.
I have the pleasure of being one of 49 authors and illustrators who will be at the 25th Rochester Children's Book Festival, Saturday Nov. 5. This year’s event is at RIT, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Student Alumni Union. My presentation on Frederick and Anna Douglass will be at 11 :30 a.m. in the Bamboo Room. If you plan to attend, be sure to give yourself plenty of time to walk from Parking Lot D. I am selling my history books from 1 to 4 p.m. in the main room.
Down a Rabbit Hole
On Being a Wannabe
The October issue of Rochester’s City magazine hit the spot. The page-two Welcome was about the return of a bigger and better Best-of-Rochester readers’ poll. The enthusiasm was catchy! Every time I read City, I wish I were working at a newspaper again (but only while I’m reading it.)The feature, “Family Business, A century of being there,” about Millard E. Latimer and Sons funeral business, was well done. This hundred-year-old business has been an anchor in the black community through countless ups and downs. David Andreatta’s article was informative, respectful and thorough.
Like the cold front that moved across WNY with low gray clouds and high crystal-blue clouds, downpours and brisk winds, my reading habits have been unsettled. Each week, I plan to finish one book and start another, but that didn’t work with Pearl S. Buck’s memoir, My Several Worlds: A Personal Record (1954). My heart ached at the poignancy of her longing for the early, innocent years of her childhood in China before 1900. She was eight during the anti-colonial Boxer Rebellion that forced her missionary parents to return to the United States around 1901.
If only I had bionic eyes that could read without straining and could complete all my chores and errands without getting discombobulated, then I would definitely add more books to my reading list. The Christian Science Monitor Weekly of Sept. 12 & 19, Books for Global Readers, was so enticing, starting with How to Speak Whale by Tom Mustill. I remember buying the record mentioned, Songs of the Humpback Whale in the Seventies and playing it for my baby. Such fond memories.
Gather and Heal
While I was looking on my shelves for another book, I came across a postcard for Gather at the Table: The Healing Journey of a Daughter of Slavery and a Son of the Slave Trade (2012) by Sharon Morgan and Thomas DeWolf. As we enter into the glorious fall season with its harvests and feasts, we also get to acknowledge painful legacies against kidnapped workers and the peoples who were already here when colonists arrived. My wish is that we may gather at our tables, enjoy our feasts and spread the healing that so many long for.
My regret about finishing Walter Edmonds’ 1934 story collection, Mostly Canallers was partly because of so-little-time, so-many-books syndrome. While I am moving along well with my goal of reading all 100 Newbery Award winners, detouring into one of those authors’ other books took more time than I wanted. Most of his stories took a step back in time and showed the hardships and harshness of the frontier era along the Erie Canal. Some of the stories included former canallers who had turned to farming and missed their days moving back and forth across the country side. Strict social codes were observed or ignored. Harsh sexist roles made for uncomfortable reading. The bullying, competition, occasional murder and suicide left no room for nostalgia for easier times. The last story had a harsh ending I never saw coming. I wished I hadn’t read it.
The August/September issue of AARP magazine had a wonderful article in the Real/People War Hero page about Fannie McClendon. As a young woman, she enlisted in the Army during WWII when it was still segregated, and served in the first all-Black, all female unit that sorted through a backlog of mail that had piled up for 2 to 3 years. The 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion worked non-stop and moved about 17 million pieces of mail in three months. After that war she joined the Air Force where she was repeatedly sent for more training rather than being promoted. Eventually she became the first woman to lead an all-male squadron and served for over 26 years. While she was honored to receive a Congressional Gold Medal for service during WWII, she was sorry that out of 800 women, only a few were left to accept it.
Witness to Change
It was a gorgeous late summer day on Friday (9.2) when I attended the unveiling ceremony for a statue of Harriet Tubman, “Journey to Freedom.” This dramatic nine-foot tall sculpture by Wesley Wofford has traveled around New York state this year. Congratulations to project director Jacqueline Sprague who brought it to Washington Square Park in Rochester for two months. The speakers and performer were outstanding and included a magnificent Harriet Tubman reenactor and two local school girls who nailed it! The plaque next to the statue explained that the foot of the slave child Harriet was pulling along rested on a cliff between slave states and free states. It was a living history lesson including Sept. 2 being celebrated as Harriet Tubman Day. Many thanks to Dr. Susan Taylor-Brown for her sponsorship.
I am such a happy camper when the daily high/lows fall in the 80/60 range. My enthusiasm wilts in the 90/70 range, but we still have glorious cool morning air here in WNY. The dew is heavy on the grass, but I miss the morning birds because of fans or AC. The crickets and locusts have taken over, sounding like they will last forever. Yes, morning light starts later and sunsets are earlier.
On my way to the funnies, I scan the daily sports section of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle and count how many articles and photos there are about girls or women. Most of the time? Not too many. It was a pleasure to see the 1C article under Women & Sport, about female athletes on Monday (8.22.22) by Melanie Anzidei. If this is a regular column, I’m all for it, but it was also bittersweet to read about tennis champ Serena Williams’ decision to retire. Both Serena and Venus Williams have been role models for countless people around the world, and Serena was blunt about not wanting to choose between her love of the sport and her family. That if she were a man, she would have more options, the way someone like Tom Brady has.
How I’ve enjoyed reading The Old Famer’s Almanac over the years. The 2023 edition was full of surprises. The farming section had varied and delightful briefs: a seaweed farm in North Haven, Maine, started by a woman from a lobster fishing family; Norway House, a Cree Nation hydroponic project that sells lettuces, kale, pak choi and herbs to 8,000 neighbors, year round in Manitoba; Norma’s Produce, a farm that two migrant workers took over in Colonial Beach, Virginia, that now sells 40,000 pounds of fruits, vegetables and herbs at area farmers’ markets; Gill Family Orchards in British Columbia, owned and operated by an immigrant from the Punjab region in India, that now has 100 acres of vineyards and orchards; a 12-acre certified organic farm in Beamsville, Ontario, that shreds grapevines, brush and leaves and brews them into a compost tea to spray on the soil; and Askin Land and Livestock in Lusk, Wyoming, which started with a dream to buy a farm, instead leased land, and now manages 75,000 acres of leased land offering custom grazing.
How wonderful to read in the Christian Scientist Monitor Weekly Aug. 8 that over 300 Indie bookstores opened in the U.S. in the last two years and 80% had higher sales last year over the previous one. Also, Black-owned bookstores grew from 54 to 111 last year. Marvelous! The Over Heard page highlighted the election of Droupadi Murmu as India’s 15th president in July. President Murmu is the first tribal president and second woman president. Why did it surprise me to learn that India has 104 million tribal people?
It’s happening: after hot and humid weather last week, we’re having days with highs around 80 and lows near 60 that make Rochester such a wonderful place in the summer. The puffy white clouds and crisp blue skies are a delight to the heart and soul, and later sunrise and earlier sunset are barely noticeable. Quite a few of the events in the 1938 Newbery Award winner Thimble Summer by Elizabeth Enright, took place outdoors in summer on a family farm in Wisconsin. The childhood innocence of a tomboy was set during a heatwave and drought, outside a small town, with a variety of believable neighbors and townspeople. While it accurately described an honest hard-working farm family with their struggles and joys, it was also euro-centric in a way that occasionally came off as dated. The wishes and misadventures of headstrong unladylike girl are still something to think about. On to the Newbery for 1939.
Set In Our Ways
The July/August issue of Poets & Writers gave a short tribute to Muriel Rukeyser, who in 1949, wrote of people’s fear of poetry. With eradicating that fear in mind, the editors of rinky dink press publish poetry micro zines, tiny booklets 2.75” x 4.25”. Phoenix poet laureate, Rosemarie Dombrowski started it in 1915 at Arizona State University when a final class project was so popular, it gave birth to a micro press. Eighty micro zines later, rinky dink is now run by Dombrowski and Shawnte Orion. Each zine is made by hand from treeless sugar cane-waste paper, with a first run of 25 copies. Since the pandemic rinky dink has done 10 a year. “We love being surprised by brilliance in all its forms,” Dombrowski said.
Easy Does It
The heat and the humidity have kicked in, making it a good time to sort through the pile of magazines on the coffee table. This is from the July issue of The Writer: “Off the Shelves, 7 Literary Lessons from Author-Owned Bookstores.” What smart coverage of Parnassus Books in Nashville, Books & Books in Key West; An Unlikely Story Bookstore and Café; Birchbark Books and Native Arts, Minneapolis; Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee and Books, Philadelphia, Books Are Magic in Brooklyn, and Beastly Books in Santa Fe. No two author-owners alike. Wow!
The early birds are still calling out at the break of day which has moved so gradually to after 5:30. I must have childhood memories of early mornings with marvelous cool breezes that have me convinced summer will last forever. So far, my city garden is holding its own. During the afternoon heat last week, I made it through the 1938 Newbery Award winner, The White Stag by Kate Seredy. It’s a dramatic tale about the Huns and the Magyars’ trek from ancient lands no longer remembered, westward to promised lands.