“There seemed to be wagons as far as Mary could see.” from The Promise Chapter 4

“Everything from the giant piano to the tiniest box was being loaded onto the two wagons Master Holmes had purchased for the trip. They were parked at the edge of town, already lined up among 150 other wagons. There seemed to be wagons as far as Mary could see. Cattle were tied to the back of many of them, placidly chewing their cud. Dogs ran freely around their owners, including Master Holmes’ two ugly bloodhounds.

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Watch a reading of Chapter 1 by co-author, Dawn Comer Jefferson

Watch a school presentation on The Promise and Slavery

“Mary slept on a rug at the foot of Miss Dorthea’s bed” from The Promise Chapter 4

“That night, Mary slept on a rug at the foot of Miss Dorthea’s bed. It was Mary’s first time in a hotel and she marveled at how large the building was. It was bigger than the Holmes’ house, even bigger than the barn where Mary and Buddy used to visit the horses. Her mind was so full of new sights she barely slept.

Download a sample and buy The Promise today!

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Watch a reading of Chapter 1 by co-author, Dawn Comer Jefferson

Watch a school presentation on The Promise and Slavery

Reading Tim Conway’s autobiography made me smile…

Spent the first day of my summer vacation (which didn’t start until all grades everywhere were calculated and posted) in my most favorite way to spend a day – reading an entire book in my garden in a series of sittings (interrupted by tea and lunch and hanging laundry and dinner, etc).    What book you ask?  Something deep and dark like War and Peace or Dr. Zhivago?  Nope.  I opted to open my summer with the autobiography of an old friend, though we’ve never met (though why he never appeared as a guest on Touched by an Angel is a mystery to me).  Tim Conway, aka Ensign Parker on McHale’s Navy; aka Barnacleboy on Spongebob Squarepants aka a dozen crazy characters on The Carol Burnett Show

Why did I choose that to begin my summer reading?  Partly because he was raised in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, where my Mom used to take me for ice cream treats during the summer; partly because he graduated from Bowling Green State University (as Doug and I did); and partly because I knew it would be full of fun tidbits about the early days of radio and television both in Cleveland (where he worked with Ernie Anderson before he became Ghoulardi) and in Los Angeles.  Just about as funny as the book Jim Backus (Thurston Howell III) wrote with his wife, Henny, in the 1980s.

Conway’s book is full of funny stories about scrambling to fill time on early radio and television shows and honest discussions of being happy in life even if you’re always the second banana, never the star.  He talks about being raised by his immigrant parents – Dad Daniel from Ireland and Mom Sophia from Romania — and then raising his own 6 kids with their lessons in his mind all the time.  He talks about being bilingual (English and Romanian) and losing that second language as he grew up.  He talks about the joy and honor of meeting and working with the great stars of his childhood movie-viewing including Cary Grant and Ernest Borgnine and his enthusiasm for all the blessings in his life is catchy.

I smiled often until page 70 when I fell on the floor laughing (much as I did while watching all those Carol Burnett shows in elementary school) and pretty much never got back in my chair.  It was too precarious to ponder.  I found myself regaling Doug with several of the stories even as he tried to read something else.  If you’d like to spend some time in happy company I highly recommend What’s so Funny?

See all my favorite book and DVD picks in the WelchWrite Bookstore

“The Slave Auction” from The Promise Chapter 3

“When the day of the auction arrived, the plantation was filled with men inspecting the slaves who were for sale. Mary walked among them, keeping their lemonade glasses filled and listening to Bostwick describe her friends. “This boy can tote two bails at a time. And Carrie over here’s got ten good years of birthing left in her.”

Download a sample and buy The Promise today!

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Watch a reading of Chapter 1 by co-author, Dawn Comer Jefferson

Watch a school presentation on The Promise and Slavery

“The Master promised he would free us” from “The Promise” Chapter 2

“All these dresses got to be folded and packed. The master and mistress are taking a train to somewhere called Oregon and we are going with them.” Mary quickly followed her mother’s orders. Her mother stopped folding for a moment and sat down on the wooden stepstool beside the bed. “Your Pa says when we get to this Oregon, the Master promised he would free us,” her mother nearly whispered. “Free us?” Mary repeated. “How?

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Photos: Literacy Day Event at California African-American Museum

Rosanne was out of town at another event, but co-author, Dawn Comer Jefferson and her daughter, Natalie (the model from the cover of “The Promise“) attended the Literacy Day Event at the California African-American Museum on Saturday. They sold and signed copies of “The Promise” and shared the story of the book in 2 readings from the book.

These photos give an overview of their day at the event, including photos of the attendees and fellow, local authors who attended. A few photos are included below along with a complete slide show of all the photos from the event. Click for larger images. 

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(L-R) Natalie Jefferson, and local authors, Dawn Comer Jefferson, Valerie Wicks,  Yasmeen Z Christian and Valerie Woods

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See the complete album of photos on Flickr

“God ain’t no slave” from “The Promise” Chapter 1

“Then she read, “I will make man in my own im-age.” Mary wrinkled her brow and wondered. “Does that mean God looks like us?” She asked Buddy. “Naw, God ain’t no slave,” Buddy said. “Bible say he’s owner of heaven and earth.

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In The Library from “The Promise” Chapter 1

“Saturday mornings Mary’s job was to dust the books in the Holmes’ library. She began by standing in the middle of the room and staring in awe at all the books around her. It was more than the fact that Mary loved reading. It was the idea of owning that many books, that many anything, that thrilled her.

Mary wondered how it would feel to own something of her own. Everything she had ever cleaned, cooked or cared for belonged to someone else. Even her parents. Even herself. It was 1854 and Mary was a slave on the Holmes’ plantation in Louisiana. She was nine years old.”

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Photos: Doctor Who and Culture presentation by Dr. Rosanne Welch

Natalie Lopez at the CalPoly University Library invited me to do a presentation for National Libraries Week on Doctor Who and Culture so that’s why a group of Whovians from both CalPoly and CSUF gathered in the Special Events room on April 16th.  It was wonderful to look out over a sea of t-shirts and other Doctor paraphernalia present among the crowd as I pontificated about what makes Who great – mostly giving me a chance to present a case for the fact that writers make Doctor Who and therefore writers make culture.  Video of this talk will be available in a few days.

This talk was based in part on my essay, “When white writers write black” in the anthology, Doctor Who and Race.

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Surprised by the Good Read GIDGET turned out to be!

While I have much grading to do as always, I was drawn to spend the weekend reading Gidget (by Frederick Kohner) thanks to my friend Ken Lazebnik’s book Hollywood Digs which includes an interview with the real life Franzie Kohner who IS Gidget.  In fact, she kindly appeared with Ken at a book reading he did in Malibu recently.

Before actually reading the book I didn’t know gidget stood for “girl midget” since she was so small on her surfboard (and now wonder how many women were named Gidget without now that); I didn’t know her father was a refugee from Nazi Germany who came to LA to be a screenwriter; and I didn’t know the book was going to be so good (both Gidget AND Hollywood Digs! – which I  knew would be good because Ken is such a wonderfully evocative writer). I suggest them both.

Turns out when it was released  Gidget was compared favorably to Catcher in the Rye by book critics… and probably  lost its edge in readers’ minds thanks to the bubblegum reputation the films gave the story – compounded by the fact that it was a girl’s coming of age story and not a boy’s.  I learned long ago in teaching American Literature, to an all girl high school of all things, that educators believe girls will read about boy protagonists (in an effort to understand them enough to hook them) but boys will not be as enthusiastic about reading the story of a girl protagonist).  So schools adjusted and chose mostly books with male protagonists for high school students of both sexes to study, which means boys lost the chance to learn the lessons first generation immigrants surviving economic hardship from A Tree Grows in Brooklynamong other losses.

Of course, the advent of such things as The Hunger Games trilogy seems to belie that idea — but you’ll notice publishers felt that in order to engage boy readers Katniss needed to wield a weapon, not merely master a craft like surfing.  Another reason to return to reading Gidget.

And all of this mulling reminds me of a TED Talk on How Movies Teach Manhood that  I showed students the other day by Colin Stokes, director of communications for the non-profit Citizen Schools.  He compares the heroine of The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy Gale from Kansas, to Luke Skywalker of everyone’s much beloved Star Wars and finds that Dorothy triumphs by mastering the leadership skills of working with others and bringing them together toward a common goal that benefits all while Luke triumphs as an individual by mastering a violent skill that requires killing the enemy to win.

My comparison between Gidget and Catcher seems similar in that Gidget experiments in the world of romance and sex without needing to make the acquaintance of a hooker – yet high schools read Holden’s story as literature and are never exposed to Gidget’s story at all.