Personal posts by public historian, Rose O'Keefe
Oh my gosh! Thank you to the Christian Science Monitor (Mar. 14) for its touching two-page spread of a father-and-daughter reunion in Poland, after fleeing Ukraine in February. Also, although I’d read a biography of Beatrix Potter years ago, the piece in Books for Global Readers taught me about her fascination with mushrooms and fungi and belated credit for her work.
Having a nasty head cold put a crimp in my reading pace. Not only did I keep dozing off, but more often than not, I didn’t have much focus. One evening, I took out one of my favorite books, The Complete Tassajara Cookbook (2011) by Edward Espe Brown in search of a soup recipe.
Good Reading for Slow Times
Despite a head cold, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Accidental Archaeologists: True Stories of Unexpected Discoveries (2020) by Sarah Albee. It was so much fun. She is a clever writer and the book was a constant page turner with its fascinating facts. Have to admit, the Newbery Award winner, Tales from Silver Lands (1924) by Charles J. Finger, while also fascinating has been a slower read. The unusual stories told to the author by natives in South America stretched the mind and the imagination.
Once again, The Christian Science Monitor (Jan. 31, 2022) delivered timely takes on a variety of topics, from at-risk owls, unwelcome Eritrean refugees who moved to Toronto, a music program for expecting parents to create lullabies for their children, upbeat tidbits in Points of Progress and more. The two-page photo spread of a worker installing lights for the Year of the Tiger celebration in Taiwan was so colorful!
My latest blog post. https://rokeefehistory.com/blog
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The Beginning of the End
This is the third post about the Iroquois Peace League. My intention is to acknowledge and thank many for their efforts to understand pre-contact history across upstate New York State.
Educational author Lydia Bjornlund wrote in The Iroquois that they called themselves, We Human Beings, and the Europeans, Axemakers. These Human Beings began to ally with English traders in New England and the Dutch along the Hudson River in trade wars that were the beginning of the end of the Great Law of Peace.
More on the Peace League
This is the second post about the Iroquois Peace League. My intention is to acknowledge and thank many for their efforts to understand pre-contact history across upstate New York State.
Let’s continue with the Five Nations of the Haudenosaunee or Iroquois being well established by 1,000 A.D. and their democracy being one of the oldest continuing democracies in the world, from Alvin Josephy in 500 Nations. And, a historic marker in Clay, Onondaga County states: “The Onondagas had settlements in central New York that existed for several centuries before Columbus' arrival in 1492.”
The Great Law of Peace
This is the first post about the Iroquois Peace League. My intention is to acknowledge and thank many for their efforts to understand pre-contact history in New York State.
Let’s start with Mohawk historian Darren Bonaparte. In Creation and Confederation: The Living History of the Iroquois, he wrote of oral histories about the Five Nations uniting in the generations before the arrival of Europeans. Clues to the founding date exist in league traditions which evolved with retelling over time.
The American Dream
In a PBS news interview last week with Tiffanie Drayton, author of Black American Refugee (2022), she spoke of feeling betrayed by the myth of the American Dream that brought her family to the U.S. from Trinidad. After a rough time here, Drayton moved back home.
A few days after seeing that interview, I’ve was reminded in a Non Fiction Fest post on research, to take long-winded writing, underline and use only the best parts. I searched through my files for an essay to revise. How ironic. First up was “The American Dream” from 2013.
A Moment of Silence
Maybe it was the drums of war pounding in the ethernet that knocked me over. Maybe it was the intense cold front that came through, but when I thought about starting a blog post – which I enjoy – I binge watched short TrueFoodTV videos instead. FYI, pecan comes from a native word pakan. Pecahn, generally used in the southern U.S, is the French pronunciation. Peecan, as spoken in the northeast U.S, is the English version of this nut which has become very popular in China. I watched videos on permaculture projects in India – fascinating and uplifting, and a long one on an intentional living community, Eco Village at Ithaca, New York, that is soon to celebrate its 30th anniversary.
Why I get excited about lists could be a character quirk or defect. A list of 100 Newbery Award winners was too hard to resist and I decided to read through it. I started with the Hugh Lofting’s The Voyages of Doctor Doolittle (1922).
Talk about not judging a book by its cover, the paperback cover had a scene from the Disney movie with Rex Harrison in front of a giant snail, facing a native with feathers spiking out of his head, in an orange robe. The prologue was marvelous and by the time the good doctor appeared chapters into it, he was nothing like the book cover. Annoying. The story set in 1820s coastal England was fantastical and in parts, sweet. Yes, it was condescending at times but the adventures were so far out it was a ton of fun. That the doctor was a naturalist who was pro animal rights was a big surprise.
Working women, women of color, and enslaved workers’ worth has been downplayed for centuries. Scholar Celeste Marie Bernier coined the term “invisibilization” to describe how many people’s contributions have been erased from history.
Both Frederick Bailey and Anna Murray were born in rural Maryland in the early 1800s. They grew up with strict roles for men and women. Fred Bailey grew up enslaved in backwoods near Tuckahoe Creek on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. He went to Baltimore around age 8 as a babysitter for a young boy.
By the age of 17, Anna was a live-in servant in Baltimore. The two white families that she worked for thought well of her, and she became a respected cook, a status symbol.
By the time Frederick and Anna met in the 1830s, he had the indignity of turning over his wages as a skilled caulker to his master/owner, for a pittance of an allowance. Anna, despite being a free woman whose white employers valued her skills, was not well paid. I venture that her sister Charlotte, a dressmaker, helped her make the sailor suit Frederick wore as a disguise on his daring escape to New York City.
Getting in Sync
Getting in sync with February’s Nonfiction Fest was slow, but I thoroughly enjoyed the daily entries once I did. All the encouragement one could use was in Doreen Rappaport’s piece on Finding Your Voice. Her suggestion to tackle an unfinished manuscript was on my to-do list last year – and still is. Melissa Stewart’s original video on Revision Decisions made me think about learning to do presentations like hers.
Lights, Camera, Action (verbs) by Beth Anderson gave a refreshing take on spotlight, focus and punch. Although I enjoyed all of them, my favorite was Lionel Bender’s Which Category of Children’s NF is Best for Me? He gave an excellent overview of the differences among the trade, school and library, and magazine markets. His view of what the SCBWI focused on and did not; what certain publishers wanted from authors and didn’t, was eye-opening.
Carol Kim’s piece, Writing for the Educational Market: A Research Junkie’s Dream held up a sobering mirror to what it takes, and what it doesn’t. Hmm. Yes, I am a research junkie.
Catching up on emails, I read in Association of Independent Author’s newsletter (ALLi) about 2021 trends, that readers in India, Thailand, and China spent the most hours reading per week; romances were most popular with U.S. readers; Millennials read the most books; Finland, Poland, and Estonia were Europe’s biggest bookworms, and audiobooks were popular in China.
ALLi had colorful charts on statistics about readers in the U.S. and around the world. No surprise, romance and erotica had U.S sales over $1 B. ALLi has more podcasts than I could ever keep up with.
A recent editorial in The Writer mentioned not toughing it through a book if the first 50 pages didn’t work. I made it to p. 97 in The 1619 Project created by Nikole Hanna-Jones (2021) and got stalled on the chapter, Fear by Leslie Alexander and Michelle Alexander. After waiting two weeks, I skimmed through it, and then moved on to the painfully ironic fact from November 1775; the tragic essay, Freedom Is Not For Myself Alone, by Robert Jones Jr.; another ironic tidbit from August 1791, and the painful Other Persons by Reginald Dwayne Betts. Wow.
My latest blog post. https://rokeefehistory.com/blog
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An Early Role Model
I’d read about the life of Frederick Douglass who was born in a backwoods cabin in 1818, on a farm in Maryland. That plantation’s owner, Edward Lloyd V, kept over 550 enslaved workers. Lloyds’ career as a politician came second to running an estate of about 10,000 acres, but – the clothing allowance for each slave child under 10, was a sack cloth shirt a year and a monthly portion of meal and salt pork. It was in Lloyd’s home, where Frederick was a playmate for Lloyd’s son, that he saw what wealth looked like.
Frederick became a skilled caulker in Baltimore, where he earned a dollar a day, ($30 now). It had galled him to hand over his earnings every week to his master. After escaping from Baltimore in 1838, when Frederick and his wife Anna moved to New Bedford, Massachusetts he was not able to work in his trade. Racism in the North limited him to hard, dirty work. Once he started lecturing for the Anti-slavery Society, he was paid less than white speakers. His freedom was fragile since he was still a wanted man. Supporters paid for his freedom, but he supported his family and newspaper from lecture fees and book sales. Despite financial highs, like his second autobiography selling 5,000 copies in two days in 1855 at a cost of $1.25 ($40 now), life on the road as a speaker was hard.
It wasn’t until the 1880s that he found a steady income of about $5,600 a year ($160,000 now) from fees collected as Recorder of Deeds in Washington D.C. But he still traveled. By the time he spoke at the Tuskegee normal school in Alabama in 1892, his fee was $100 to $150 a speech ($3,000 to $4,600 now) plus the cost of a travel aide. Over the years, with his sons, he invested in real estate and property development that placed the Douglass family in a circle of wealthy Blacks.
Douglass is known for his formidable passion and commitment to social equality. He is less known for the business savvy that made him rich. Later in life, he remembered Edward Lloyd as “a gentleman of the olden time, elegant in his apparel, dignified in his deportment, a man of few words and of weighty presence. … No governor of the State of Maryland ever commanded a larger measure of respect.” What a role model!
The Book in Hand
We made it through an intensely cold week in WNY when even 10 minutes of light snow shoveling was overwhelming. Afterward, reading some of my regular magazines was an invitation to a nap. One article that kept my attention was on the last page of PW’s issue of 1.31. In the Soapbox opinion by Christian Peukert, Digging into the Data, he explained well how digitization made the book publishing more efficient.
While I had read years ago that romance and erotica were top-selling categories, he pointed out the impact that Kindle had on them. Data tracking showed clearly what was going on in the industry. Then, research about advances paid to eBooks and self-published romance and erotica authors and their book’s success, led to offers from traditional publishers. This kind of article could have told me that as a niche history author, I was in the wrong money-making category. What I got out of it was that self-publishing was the way to go for writers like me.
Speaking of the last page, I usually head first for Gigi Will Know at the back of The Writer. Yi Shun Lai’s column, Broadening the Bookshelves in the January issue was a shocking reminder of how little I knew about Mexican culture and writing. Yes, I recently slogged through Charles C. Mann’s 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus (2005) but that was not the same. The Nightstand’s feature article on six picks by attorney and writer Daniel Olivas woke me up. I was most interested in Zapote Tree by Alejandro Morales (2021) about Sephardic Jewish Mexicans. Yi Shun Lai’s February column, Broadening the Bookshelves on Native American works gave me a lot to think about too.
It may seem like there’s never enough time to get to all the books on my reading wish list, but the only thing that truly matters, is the one in hand.
My latest blog post. https://rokeefehistory.com/blog
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Megastar Will Smith
Megastar Will Smith’s WILL (2021) was an astounding read. Smith was amazingly honesty about having lived his adult life driven by goals set during his tough childhood. His decision to redefine himself as an adult man with mature and healthy goals was profound. No doubt co-author Mark Manson made it more readable, but Smith’s story was powerful. Very powerful.
As someone author and agent Regina Brooks described as an RU – relatively unknown – author, I appreciated Smith’s sharing how the public perceived musicians, TV stars, movie stars and mega-movie stars and what it was like to be on the receiving end of overwhelming, boundary-breaking attention. His list of accomplishments and firsts made me think of Alexander the Great who, once he had conquered all the known worlds of his day, wondered what was left? The ending was outrageous fun!
I could pretend that I’m not going to go nuts reading the Nonfiction Fest posts this month and order 10 gazillion books from the library. So far I made it through three days without placing anything on hold and then I lost it after our monthly RACWI meeting last night. I ordered a bunch of Little Critter and Jolly Postman books that I’ve never read. Then I added the highly-recommended The Leaf Detective. As it goes, we got socked in with snow, so the county library system was shut down today. Good enough. I get some breathing room before they arrive.
Had to wait to see if my neighborhood bookstore opened. It did. I planned to call Hipocampo books for that copy of Amanda Gorman’s The Hill We Climb that I’ve been meaning to get and for the ooshy-gooshy Valenslime, by Joy Keller, with over-the-top illustrations by Ashley Belote. The weather tomorrow is supposed to be the same. Hmm. I called and will go over next week.
At lunchtime it was 17, with a wind-chill of 1, and light snow. I’m not even going to the mail box. TG I have enough magazines and episodes of Celtic Culture. I made tasty waffles this morning. Maybe oatmeal-raisin cookies later? As for that other cabin-fever cure besides snacking, I walked up the stairs in our O-B-G 3-story home, 44 stairs, twice today.
My latest blog post. https://rokeefehistory.com/blog
#amreading; #RochesterNY; #RACWI; #SCBWI; #WillSmith; #MarkManson; #ReginaBrooks; #AmandaGorman; #JoyKeller; #AshelyBelote; #hipocampochildrensbooks; #CelticCulture;
Winter in WNY
This is the time of year in Western New York when the landscape can be absolutely beautiful but it’s too cold to get out and enjoy it. The wind chill was below zero Saturday and I put some letters in the mailbox. That was it. I paced myself revising a play for submission on a deadline, tidied the kitchen, revised some more, prepared vegetables for roasting and watched two episodes of Celtic Culture.
After finishing You Should Really Write a Book, How to Write, Sell, and Market Your MEMOIR, by Regina Brooks and Brenda Lane Richardson (2012) I felt so excited I could have jogged around the block. Brooks and Lane Richardson’s history of memoirs was specific and well done; the categories of coming-of-age, addiction and compulsion, transformation, travel and food, religion and spirituality were also specific and well done.
Much to my surprise, the chapter on outlier subgenres hit the spot! It was one of those chapters in which I wanted to read every book they mentioned. I’d never heard of the category biblio for book lovers and that was my favorite. Canine, comedic, family saga, gardening, grief, incarceration, information-based, parenting, romance and venture were good too. This chapter 100% softened the blow of another rejection for my NF history manuscript.
From reading their book, I got it. If my writing is good, but the hook isn’t strong enough and my author platform is emerging, then I’m not a candidate for a big publisher. It’s taken me a dozen years to get comfortable with self-publishing. I’m okay with it now.
As for the excitement from deciding to self-publish several projects, not being a jogger, I decided it was another perfect night for reading in bed and started Will Smith’s WILL (2021). I thought it would be a mellow read. Ha! It was riveting. I was going to read one chapter and call it quits, and had to stop myself at chapter four.
Congratulations to me for uploading my book and eBook Animal ABCs to the SCBWI site; submitting my play and finishing the first part of my tax returns.
blog post. https://rokeefehistory.com/blog
#amreading; #RochesterNY; #WNY; #ReginaBrooks; #BrendaLaneRichardrson; #WillSmith; #RACWI; #SCBWI.
So Be It
Going to see Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. at RIT yessterday was a reality check in more than one way. The wind was harsh and the parking lots huge. Maybe I misread the time of the event, but it was underway when I got there, with a riveting performance by Mombo drumming and dance from Ghana. It was impressive that they did a drummed greeting for him that is reserved for highest dignitaries.
It was his first appearance since March 2020 and he was worried about being out in public. What an honor for him to do that at RIT! His talk about the history of Reconstruction after the Civil War was a painful topic. His message yesterday was to have the courage to tell the truth. So be it. Not sure about the size of the large audience, but from where I sat it looked like a PBS group of elders, three quarters white. Since that would include me, I congratulate all the avid life-long learners who braved the cold to hear Dr. Gates speak.
It was a case of my eyes being too big for my stomach – I kept making a vow to finish the books by my reading chair before getting any more. True confession: Abe Books printed the book covers for all of the Newbery Award winners since 1923 and of course, I had to look. The first award winner was The Voyages of Doctor Doolittle by Hugh Lofting; next in 1924 was Dark Frigate by Charles Boardman Hawes; and in 1925, Tales from Silver Lands by Charles Finger.
Like a cheater on a diet, I hoped they wouldn’t get here before I finished Regina Brooks and Brenda Lane Richardson’ excellent, You Should Really Write a Book: How to Write, Sell, and Market Your MEMOIR, (2012). Reading that was harder than the list of all the Newbery winners. There were lists, descriptions and critiques of memoirs of so many different kinds, and while I didn’t want to read every single one, I wanted to read many of them. Their book helped me understand my place as a lesser-known author and gave me confidence to self-publish.
Thank you to AARP magazine for the upbeat article in the BetweenUs section, A Little Peace, Love and Understanding by Robert Love, in Dec21/Jan22 issue. It was about a man who played Santa to two faraway girls who’d sent a letter to Santa in a balloon. The article on Michael Fox was thought-provoking as well. So many hopeful possibilities.
My latest blog post. https://rokeefehistory.com/blog
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Over the moon
Books 4 (1.14.2022)
I was over-the-moon after registering to see Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. at RIT on Jan. 27 -- can’t wait! Also, another can’t wait – I registered for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) online winter conference in February.
Like a cautious cat, I started tiptoeing through The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story by Nikole Hannah-Jones (2021). The writing was so intense that I had to take it in small doses. My brain kept popping up with questions about the strongest statements and I felt myself take a breath of relief on p.49 when she mentioned how early workers brought to the colonies were vagrants, criminals and prisoners of debtors prisons of many different cultures. Yes, this country’s beginnings were messy and complicated.
Walking to the library is usually a good way to get fresh air, but in the last week, icy sidewalks kept me home. My latest returns included: Tracey Hecht’s The Weeping Wombat (2020) a surprising way to learn about dealing with sadness. It was aimed at 2nd and 3rd graders and used a group of animal friends who helped the forlorn critter.
Our librarian had recommended The Color Monster Goes to School (2020) and The Color Monster, a story about emotions (2018) both by Anna Lennas. It took me a while to accept the odd green monster as an every-child, the universal child within. Good stuff.
I have to take out more in the Grumpy Monkey series. Jim Panzee is a hoot. As for Joanne Levy’s Crushing It (2017) she’s got the formula down and her theme of honesty always is best, worked.
One of our cats, who is mostly an indoor girl, was going nuts with boredom, attacking rugs and who knows what overnight. Those thumps in the dark were Miss Cat keeping herself entertained. With winter walking limits in full swing, I’ve felt squirrely too, and ordered a few classes from Great Courses: one on the Celtic World and the other on daily life in ancient times. They were on sale – those magic words.
Here’s my latest blog post. https://rokeefehistory.com/blog
#amreading; #RochesterNY; #16119project; #nikolehannahjones; #TraceyHecht; #AnnaLennas; #SuzanneLang;#JoanneLevy; #greatcourses; #celticculture; #HenryLGates; #RITdiversity; #SCBWI;
When I Grow Up
On my way to something else, I found this from a year ago.
Family Facts: One boy, one girl; one grandson, one granddaughter; three sisters and three brothers. My husband and I have had four dogs and about 10 cats. I have had a compost pile for 45 years.
My heroes growing up were Joan of Arc patron saint of France, Martin de Porres, a Peruvian lay brother, and a fictional Pacific Islander girl and her dog.
I used to read comic books like Archie and Veronica, Superman and others, but between 1957 and 1961, I read French Catholic comic books of the lives of the saints. That’s how Jeanne D’Arc, a shepherd girl, became my shero. For my 10th birthday I received a copy of The Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell and wept every time I read about Karana and her dog Rontu.
I read Little Women by Louisa May Alcott several summers in a row, never knowing what Alcott's life was like. And what about Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery? Neither Alcott’s Jo nor Montgomery’s Anne were well-behaved white girls.
In 7th grade when our school librarian encouraged us to keep a list of the books we read, I stopped at 50. Nancy Drew, Cherry Ames and Hardy Boys were fast reads. I never realized how much a biography of Martin de Porres touched me. He lived in 16th-century Lima, is the patron saint of interracial justice and a life-long hero.
Growing up, we had a few of the Beatrix Potter Peter Rabbit books, and I gave a few every year to my daughter for Easter. When our kids were little, I liked Amelia Bedelia and Encyclopedia Brown more than they did.
Books I’ve swapped with my sisters included the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith, and the All Creatures Great and Small books by James Herriot. I’ve devoured Gary Paulsen, and Richard Peck’s truthful fiction. The pla