Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Ivy in the Shadows and a Giveaway!

I'm interrupting my mini-series on Dear Senator since I just finished reading Ivy in the Shadows by Chris Woodworth and have another copy to give away. 

Upper elementary and middle school girl readers will enjoy this true-to-life story of a 12-year-old girl.  Ivy is learning how to deal with her mother's failed marriages, assuming more responsibility for her younger brother J.J, navigating the waters of changed school friendships, and figuring out Caleb, the boarder her mother takes in to help make ends meet. 

Like many children in families, Ivy learns about life by eavesdropping. She listens to her mother's discussions with her best friend, "Aunt" Maureen and finds out about their love lives and about her step-father. But eavesdropping only works some of the time. When she incorrectly pieces together the information she hears Caleb telling J.J., her faulty conclusions lead her down the wrong path. 

I appreciate how Chris Woodworth portrays a young girl trying to figure out who is telling the truth, who to trust, and how appearances aren't always what they seem to be. There are strong messages on the importance of honesty, facing the consequences of false assumptions, admitting when one is wrong, and the characteristics of a true friend. 

I also loved Ivy's voice, which you get to hear right from the opening paragraph:

Some say you get your best education in school. Others say it's through life. I got my best education early on eavesdropping at Mama's feet while she talked to my aunt on the telephone. (p. 1)

Thanks to Joy Peskin, Chris's editor, of Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, I am giving away an autographed copy of Ivy in the Shadows. So, for those of you who didn't win a copy back in February when I posted the backstory about this book, here's another chance!

Here are the giveaway rules:

  • Post this blog on your social media site of choice OR become a new follower of this blog. 
  • Either way, leave a comment with your email address (if you are new to my blog) with what you did.
  • I will draw a winner's name on Monday morning, June 3. 

Thanks for entering!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Multi-Racial Read #12: Dear Senator- Part III

In the previous posts in this series, I shared excerpts from Dear Senator: A Memoir of the Daughter of Strom Thurmond that covered Essie Mae's early years. This post includes some of her struggles with her racial identity. 

During her nursing training at Harlem Hospital Essie Mae attended Reverend Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.'s church, the Abyssinian Baptist Church. She admired the fact that he was "so light skinned that it was always said he could have 'passed for white.' Perhaps the most inspiring thing about him what that he didn't want to. (p. 85) She reflected,

A lot of girls, the light-skinned ones, frequently talked about passing, marrying into the white world, preferably the rich white world, and living on East Street- Park Avenue, not Lenox. Here I was, born into the rich, white world, the plantation world, and yet where was I? It could have been easy to be resentful, because I was "it" or at least half of "it," yet it was doing me no good aside from two envelopes of money. I was grateful to have a church to turn to, to count my blessings and pray for more, and to watch this great "white" preacher embrace his blackness. If he could be happy with it, so could anyone else. (p. 85)

Essie Mae decided nursing wasn't for her and discussed her options when Strom visited after the war was over. She was pleased when he suggested she attend the "state" college back home in South Carolina until she realized that he meant the "Negro college."  

He didn't have the heart to say the word. In face, he had never spoken the word in my presence He couldn't bring himself to do it, but there it was. My father saw me as a Negro. I may have been half black and half white, but the rule in the courts was a drop of blood made you black. I don't know what else I was expecting. I had lived my whole life as a Negro, but to hear it from my white father, and a judge at that, made it a brutal ruling, and one with no appeal. I could either go to a "Yankee" college or a "Negro" college, but I couldn't go to a "Southern" college, because that meant a white college, and despite my white father, I couldn't be white. p.97"

Next week I'll share Essie Mae's thoughts on her father as South Carolina's 103rd governor and its effect on her. Here are links to the previous posts:

Part I
Part II

Friday, May 17, 2013

Multi-Racial Read #11: Dear Senator Part II

Last week, in my first blog about Dear Senator: A Memoir by the Daughter of Strom Thurmond, I shared highlights of Essie Mae Washington-Williams’ early years and the revelation of her parentage.  This second  post includes some of Essie Mae’s teenage and early adult recollections.

Meeting her father for the first time changed Essie Mae. Always a good student, she tried to use her academic abilities to gain white friends. She wrote,

Knowing that I had a white father somehow emboldened me to do things I would never have done before. 

In particular, one time in high school she was caught allowing Gloria- a pretty blond cheerleader who all the boys liked—to cheat off her paper.  When the teacher reprimanded her, she “lectured me about everybody having to stand on her own feet, that if I could stand so nicely on mine, so could Gloria. The implication was that if a poor black girl could do well in math, it should be a piece of cake for the school’s white princess. The idea that Gloria needed “Negro” assistance was beneath her and the school’s dignity. I hung my head and apologized…Gloria never did speak to me one way or the other. P.47

When World War II broke out, Essie Mae learned from Carrie that her father had volunteered.  Her mother explained,

He’s an Edgefield man,” she said proudly. “They need to fight. It’s in their blood. His grandfather was right beside Robert E. Lee when he surrendered. War runs in the family.”

But is it really “our” family? I wanted to ask her. Talk about being the poor relations. We were the invisible relations.

As Coatesville hunkered down for war, I tried my hardest to put Strom Thurmond out of my mind. Yet like a moth to a flame, I couldn’t stop reading about South Carolina and the “Gone with the Wind” world that was at least half my birthright, but it was a birthright I could not claim. I wanted to find out the worst about this forbidden family, so that I could hate them and want nothing to do with them. After all, did they not formerly own slaves? …And what was my father up to? What kind of justice to blacks did he dispense? (p. 56)

These conflicts and questions would haunt Essie Mae for her entire life.

After a brief meeting in a Philadelphia hotel room while Strom was on leave, he shook her hand and saw her and Mary (her aunt) to the door.

Is he ashamed of me?” I asked Mary when were out in the street.
“Ashamed?” She opened the envelope and counted 200 dollars in twenties, just as before. “Do you call this ashamed?’

Two hundred dollars was indeed a lot of money, but spread out over three years, it wasn’t that much. Wasn’t a daughter worth more than that? “That doesn’t mean he cares about me,” I said.

“It does to me. It does indeed,” Mary said. (p. 73)

This pattern of secret meetings and money gifts continued long into Essie Mae’s adulthood. Although later in life family members would say these payments were “shush” money, Essie Mae came to believe that the money was expressions of his love for her and her mother—although it always hurt that he never publically acknowledged her as his daughter.

After high school, Essie Mae decided to pursue nursing.  She only considered black programs thinking,

It didn’t occur to me to apply to a program for one of the great university hospitals….though I might have been qualified to get in. I guess I “knew my place,” my white father notwithstanding. There were talented blacks at all these institutions, but I was too locked into the self-perception of race limitation to try to test the color lines. I was shy and self-effacing and had never been away from home…Penetrating the white universe was far too intimidating a prospect. If my own white father didn’t want me, why would anyone else? (p. 74-5)

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Multi-Racial Read #10: Dear Senator Part I

When I packed DearSenator: A Memoir by the Daughter of Strom Thurmond in my backpack for a recent trip from Charlotte to Los Angeles, I had no idea that my journey west would replicate one that Essie Mae Washington-Williams took sixty years ago.

But the replication process, although interesting and similar, was one of geography only. My trip wasn’t to find a home that would provide racial equality for my children and myself.

Essie Mae’s was.

But I am beginning in the middle of her story. Using quotes from her autobiography, I plan to share her journey over the course of the next few blog posts. As my faithful blog readers know, I am reading books with a multi-racial theme to provide authenticity to my work in progress, Half-Truths. If you are interested, previous books reviews can be found at that link.

Essie Mae grew up in Coatesville, Pennsylvania, a small steel town forty miles west of Philadelphia. As 12 she accepted Christ and remembered,

The Bible was all white, but so were the movies. I loved them both. The whiteness I just accepted, just like a lot of other things. Acceptance was our way of life, as there didn’t seem to be much point, or hope, of trying to change the system. p. 7

Soon after, her life was inalterably changed. A dark-skinned beautiful woman (Carrie) came to visit and announced that she was Essie Mae’s mother.  It turned out that Mary, the woman who had raised her, was really her aunt. Carrie left before Essie Mae could ask who her father was.

She found out several years later.

Accompanied by Mary and Carrie, Essie Mae travelled to Edgefield, South Carolina for a funeral. Days later, Mary dressed her up and took her to meet her father- a rich white lawyer named Strom Thurmond. After an hour filled with Thurmond’s history lectures and admonitions that Essie Mae “study hard,” Thurmond told Carrie:

You have a lovely daughter.” It was a kind thought, but inside it hurt me. I would have liked to have heard him say, “We have a lovely daughter.”… He never called my mother by her first name.  He didn’t verbally acknowledge that I was his child…It was like an audience with an important man, a job interview, but not a reunion with a father.” p. 39

That first meeting foreshadowed Thurmond’s sincere interest in Essie Mae as well as her unquenchable desire to be acknowledged as his daughter.  After the meeting, Essie Mae learned the story of her parents’ encounter at young Strom’s home.  He was 23, home from Clemson University and teaching high school. She was a fifteen-year-old domestic who he and his brothers flirted with. Carrie’s explanation of “How did it happen?” was short and to the point: “Love finds a way, darling.”

Although Carrie felt as if Strom loved her, the deep racism of the Jim Crow South along with his family’s prominence, dictated that they keep their relationship a secret. Essie Mae deduced that her parents continued to find time and ways to be together, but as she grew up, he chose to visit her apart from her mother.

Like other teenagers, Essie Mae’s adolescence was filled with identity issues, but hers was compounded by the ups and downs of her mixed-race parentage.

In my darkest hours I began to look at all black people as victims and white people as oppressors, and everything in America struck me as grossly unfair. In my brightest hours I began to look at myself as someone very special, an amalgam of all that was great about America. I had a brilliant white father and a beautiful black mother; was I not the golden child? Alas, the real Essie Mae fell somewhere between these two poles. I was too humble to be conceited, to meek to be a firebrand. My mantra was “accept,” and accept I did at least outwardly. Yet inside me was pure turbulence. (p.45)

Next week I'll continue to highlight Essie Mae's life journey.

BEHIND THESE HANDS: A Review and Giveaway

I am blessed with amazing writer friends whose stories inspire my writing. This week I am pleased to share  BEHIND THESE HANDS  by my writin...