Quote: It’s so dangerous to give a name to a gangster (the liability of lawsuit is so great) that they use the names of employees in the Research Department over and over…”

Fun fact of the day: I’m reading It’s the Pictures That Got Small — the diaries of Charles Brackett who co-wrote “Sunset Boulevard” and “Titanic” in the 1950s and I found him noting,

“It’s so dangerous to give a name to a gangster (the liability of lawsuit is so great) that they use the names of employees in the Research Department over and over…”

Too funny! I’d love to do research comparing the MGM employee roles to the gangster characters in their films!

You can get the book at Amazon.com or perhaps from your local library.

Photos: Dr. Rosanne Welch and Dawn Comer Jefferson at Heads Are Turning, Children Are Learning – California African-American Museum Celebrates Children’s Literacy

Dr Rosanne Welch and Dawn Comer Jefferson at Heads Are Turning Children Are Learning  California African American Museum Celebrates Children s Literacy  4

One Saturday March 23rd my co-author Dawn Comer Jefferson and I were invited to the California African American Museum (CAAM) for their annual literacy day, this year titled “Heads are Turning, Children are Learning”.  We presented a workshop on African American on the Oregon Trail, based on the research we did for the story in our children’s book The Promise which involves an enslaved family taken on the Oregon Trail with the promise of freedom if they survive.  Sadly, when they all arrive in Oregon, the owner frees the parents but not the children since he had never mentioned the children in their original deal.  

About 20 children and parents attended the workshop and participated in an exercise where they wrote a letter back to family and friends about their experience on the Oregon Trail.  It was fun to hear what parts of the presentation they remembered enough to include in their letters and to see them enjoy a chance to be creative.  

See a complete slide show of all 72 photos on Flickr

Authors of “The Promise” to present workshop as part of “Heads Are Turning, Children Are Learning” Event – May 23, 2015

Please join Dr. Rosanne Welch and Dawn Comer Jefferson for Literacy Day at the California African American Museum. We will be doing a workshop for kids as well as readings from our book, The Promise. Signed copies of The Promise will also be available for purchase.

Promise cover 150

The day includes several local authors offering writing workshops and book signings, celebrities reading books, art and crafts, book giveaways and music. And there will be a lunch truck on the premises.

We hope to see you there!

Caam logo

Heads Are Turning, Children Are Learning – California African-American Museum Celebrates Children’s Literacy

Since 2004, in celebration of National Children’s Book Week, we present local Los Angelels authors and celebrity readers in CAAM’s galleries. The activities of the day also include an arts and crafts workshop, literacy workshops, face-painting, and book giveaways for families in attendance.

Caam literacy 2014

The Promise Co-Author, Dawn Comer Jefferson, presents at 2014 CAAM Literacy Day Event

Saturday, May 23, 2015
11am – 4 pm

Free and open to the public. Parking: $10.

The California African American Museum is easily accessible from the Metro Expo line using the Exposition Park/USC Station. (See map below)

RSVP preferred: 213.744.2024

California African American Museum
600 State Drive Exposition Park
Los Angeles, CA 90037

[MAP]

Scenes from 2014 CAAM Literacy Day Event

 

Book: Bossypants by Tina Fey

Tina fey bossypants book cover

Tinay Fey does not need me to write a review of her book as she is Tina Fey and I am not. And because it sat on the New York Times BestSeller List for a good long time. And because she won the Mark Twain Award for humor a few years ago. And because she spent more time writing for network television than I did. But I am compelled to write a review of Bossypants because I have never laughed so much in my life.

If you read nothing else, you have to read the chapter on her father, Don Fey, and the incident with the rug shampooer. Priceless. It’s the one time in decades that I wished I had had a dad in order to tell that kind of joke and later to relate what it was like to watch someone like Lorne Michaels meet someone like Don Fey. Priceless.

Maybe it helps that I, too, am a short-statured brunette who survived growing up in the Midwest in the reign of Reagan and I had many of the same crazy, gay-male-friends-coming-out-to-me-and-only-me during college theatre experiences as Fey has had. Maybe it helps that I, too, have often been the ‘bossiest’ or ‘pushiest’ short-statured brunette in a room full of blondes (whether they be men or women). Maybe it helps that I, too, have been a working mom in businesses where all the men have wives to handle the personal side of their lives. But I don’t think so.

What’s so great about the book — besides the fact that I laughed so hard for so long so many times that my cats came to sit with me because they thought the tears running down my face meant I was watching The Way We Were again – is that she is such a good writer that she brought me to true tears in a paragraph about working with homeless men at a YMCA in her first just-out-of-college job on Christmas Eve while Whitney Houston’s rendition of “I Will Always Love You” played on her Walkman. Heck, I just brought myself to tears summarizing her story!

Sometimes she gives you a funny metaphor followed by an asterisk and rather than having the asterisk lead to a citation (like most of my academic books do) her asterisks lead to a choice of two or three other funny lines she could have used instead, giving you the option of which laugh works best for you. Or they clarify the truth behind a sarcastic point she has made, just in case you, the reader, are not fully schooled in the realities of being a woman in improv in Chicago in the 1990s.

Clearly, I LOVED this book. I think the final cherry on top of the sundae of reading was that one of her final chapters dealt with managing a weekend that involved Oprah Winfrey guesting on 30 Rock, herself doing her Sarah Palin impression on SNL that evening, and hosting her toddler daughter’s pirate birthday party the next day. To Fey’s credit she ranked each of these events evenly, though the photo she chose to include celebrated the success of her pirate cake and not of either of the other successes of that wild and weary working mother weekend.

 

Perlasca: An Italian Holocaust Hero Nearly No One Knows

Perlasca poster

Recently Netflix offered me Perlasca, an Italian film starring Luca Zingaretti partly because I use Netflix to watch hard to find foreign films and partly because I watched an Italian detective series called Montalbano he starred in for several years. Whatever the reason, I saw that it was based on the life of Giorgio Perlasca, now known as the Italian Oskar Schindler for the many Jewish people he saved while trapped in Hungary during WWII. He did it by pretending to be Spain’s lead diplomat for nearly 2 months, the time it took for the Russians to chase the Nazi’s out of Hungary.

Giorgio was in Hungary as part of his job finding food supplies for the Italian army but when Italy joined the Allies and the Nazi’s started rounding up the Italians he went to the Spanish Embassy for help (because he had fought in the Spanish Civil War and he knew they owed him a favor). There they were writing hundreds of fake passes to Hungarian citizens of Jewish descent, pretending they were Spaniards and therefore under the safety of the Spanish embassy. Instead of using his fake passport to exit the country, he stayed behind to help hand write more passports. BUT then Spain ordered the embassy closed so that it wouldn’t look like they were accepting the Nazi takeover of Hungary. The legitimate ambassador had to leave and offered to take Giorgio safely out of the country BUT instead Giorgio stayed behind, wrote a fake letter making him the head counsel to the embassy and continued to write passes and protect several apartments full of Hungarian Jews from deportation. He even went toe to toe with Eichmann while pulling people off trains by pretending their names were on his list of Spanish citizens. Amazing.

While the book written about Girogio Perlasca is rather stilted, and the film offered a couple of over-the-top sentimental moments, the chance to learn about such an interesting man was worth taking. So while I wasn’t originally a fan of the randomness of Netflix (when you relied on them to mail you films to watch based on availability rather than the mood you were in at the time), I have come to learn the beauty of Netflix (borrowed from Amazon, its older 2nd cousin twice removed) is that is can help you stumble upon stories worth knowing. The story of Giorgio Perlasca certainly fits that bill. Check it out.

Read the Book/Watch the Movie

Perlasca via Netflix

Book | Amazon Instant Video | Netflix

Book: Rosanne’s Reasons Why “Eat, Pray, Love” Ought to be in the Parenting Section

I’m going to begin by honestly confessing that I read Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert this week on the excuse that I needed to in order to discuss adaptations in my writing classes. Then I have to confess that I loved it. Sure, the author wallows a bit much in her lousy divorce during the Italy section rather than giving me more Italy, and yes the ending is a bit fairytale princess-y for me. But it also stayed true to a theme I first read in the 1970s in a piece of teen girl lit that had been published back in 1946 – Going on Sixteen by Betty Cavanna. The theme of both pieces is: You have to be yourself before anyone else can love you. ‘Cause if you perfect the art of being someone else and then someone falls in love with that fabrication, it will end badly for both of you.

That’s a long lead in to this week’s guest posting for Dawn while she’s enjoying a couple weeks on what I like to teasingly call her ‘Family Estate’ on Martha’s Vineyard. I’m pleased to be asked to fill in for her as we so enjoy working together (though, of course, this doesn’t involve us even being in the same room, which is the only bummer).

So what does Eat, Pray, Love have to do with parenting? That question takes us right back to my love of the theme. It’s my sincere belief that this may be the greatest lesson we teach our children in their time with us – to love who they are and not try to be anything else, certainly not merely to attract someone to them. Funny how humans need to keep being told the same thing over and over again before it finally sinks in. But it is not funny to realize how many adults I’ve met over my career who were never taught this. And ya’ know what that means? Massive amounts of insecure grown-ups leading lives of not-so-quiet desperation as our trouble-making, diva-bad-behaving bosses, neighbors and friends. Who wants to raise their kid to be those people? And yet, somehow, so many people do. I imagine it’s not the kind of thing we often realize, especially if we had no self-esteem given to us in our own childhoods. But that means we have to work on our own security issues so we don’t pass that on down to our kids, which in the end is true to our entire career as parents – it’s our job not to continue negative cycles.

What is does NOT mean is that we compliment them every time they do something as basic as taking dishes to the kitchen or emptying the dishwasher. Or that we give them participation ribbons for merely being on a team or taking part in some practically mandatory event such as a school fundraising Jogathon. That kind of behavior creates the silliness we read about now where the current generation of overly-complimented kids need to be thanked for showing up to work on time in the ‘real’ world. I fervently doubt it teaches them they are special as it is clear everyone is getting the same participation ribbon, trophy or medal.

Face it folks, we’ve raised a particularly smart bunch of kids in the last generation or so and they catch on quick when an award means nothing. My favorite story on that count comes from the First Grade Science Fair my son’s school ran to give them a taste for choosing a topic, doing age-appropriate research and filling out those 3-part foam core boards. Our school even had judges come in and interview all the children about their projects. Because one of the parents before the event vociferously insisted that awarding place ribbons (first, second and third) would cause crying among the children who didn’t win, the whole class full of parents decided not to award any place ribbons. When the judges were through and the students all streamed back into the auditorium I watched my son grab the ribbon off his project and shout to the kid next to him, “I won a ribbon!” But then that other kid said, “So did I.” They proceeded to compare their ribbons and found that they were identical participation ribbons. Then they proceeded to toss the ribbons on the ground and go back to checking out each other’s displays, wondering who received the ‘real’ ribbons.

I take that lesson into the orientation classes I teach at local colleges. In the last class it is recommended that we get the students in groups and have them come up with award titles for the kids in the other groups so that everyone is acknowledged for having taken part in the class. You already know how I feel about that philosophy so what do you think I do? I explain that idea to the students, then I tell them the story about the First Grade Science Fair ribbons, and then I hand out large chocolate bars to the top 5 or 7 or 9 kids (no need to round out to an even 10 if an even 10 didn’t stand out in my mind) with silly awards written on the wrapper such as “Contributing in Class King” or “Most Attentive” or “Best Reader”. Heck, I even do “Most Likely to Succeed in College” ‘cause it’s such an American icon.

Anyway, I highly recommend Eat, Pray, Love (and Going on Sixteen) and any other reading that reminds us of this all important lesson that we must love ourselves as we are.

AND if any of you are writers out there and need my adaptation-studying excuse for reading Gilbert’s book, then I also recommend the Written By Magazine article about adapting Eat, Pray, Love into a movie which you can read online. See Page 27 for the article.

Book Review: Chasing Utopia: A Hybrid by Nikki Giovanni

Book Review: Chasing Utopia: A Hybrid by Nikki Giovanni

In a recent Facebook post I mentioned reading more poetry recently (as a preface to quoting Rudyard Kipling’s If).  I’m not sure how Kipling brought me to finally reading some of the work of Nikki Giovanni, but I’ve just finished two of her poetry books back to back and enjoyed each immensely.  First I tasted her newest, Chasing Utopia:  A Hybrid, and then went back to her earlier book, Bicycles, which ends with the poem “We Are Virginia Tech”, a poem she delivered at the memorial for the students who died during the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007 where she taught poetry.

I hated to realize that’s the event that brought her work to my attention, but it is, and if poetry is about truth then so, too, should a review of a poet be about truth. Truth is what I found in her work as well as a truly original and inclusive voice.  I say both original and inclusive because she spoke from her own reality – that of being an African American female who grew up in Ohio, studied history in college and works as a college professor and professional writer – but inclusive because if you take the “African” away from “African American” then every thing I used to describe her, describes me, and her work reminded me so much more of our similarities than of our perceived-by-society differences.  True, her frequent references to African American leaders and culture would catch me off – I knew to whom she referenced (I spent my college years wrapped up in Prince mania) but kept realizing she is one of the few poets I’ve read who uses such references primarily and I knew that some people would find that exclusive.  Yet all her poems about love and loss were universal, especially “Love (And the Meaning of Love)” from Bicycles, which called up memories of teenage angst over the one great question we all had:

I wanted to
But you couldn’t

I hoped 
But you wouldn’t

I understood 
Why we shouldn’t

So you declined
And we didn’t 

But it would
Have been fun

If we would’ve.

What I most like about this poem is her ability to sketch out such deep emotion through the efficient use of such simple wording.  She does that again and again.  I a poem also in Bicycles called “I Provide” she lists all the things one lover provides to the other and ends with:

Everything you need
I provide 

Now tell me
Why
You’re not happy

Giovanni uses word layout similarly to one of my favorite poets – e.e. cummings – without employing his love for radical spelling and grammar.  Her poem “Everything Good is Simple” seems to sum up her writing right there in the title.

In Utopia I found more evidence of her earlier, more political writings, the ones that brought her originally to the public’s attention.   Poems like “Note to the South:  You Lost” (which I intend to send to all my Civil War historian friends as a fun thing to let their students ponder:  why if they lost – and after fighting for such a horrendous cause — do we still admire them so?  

Giovanni also considers her poetry – and by extension all writing – political in her piece “The Significance of Poetry”.  In Utopia she writes about jazz as political fodder and about the blues and even the act of loving as a political choice (who, when, how).  I found her work wonderful to ponder and her words wonderful to wander, probably due to the truth behind the lines in “Werewolf Avoidance”:  

Poets should be strong
In our emotions
And our words that might make us 
difficult to live with but I do believe
easier to love
Poet it garlic
Not for everyone
But those who take it
Never get caught
By werewolves
 

Hear more on Nikki Giovanni in her NPRinterview on Tell Me More (from Tuesday July 29, 1014)

More books by Nikki Giovanni

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** These books might also be available from your local library, Check it out!

Summer Reading: My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor

Sonia Sotomayor My Beloved World

Summer is my reading time, always has been. Whole books get swallowed in a day or two only to be followed by other whole books. Sometimes they are classics I’ve always meant to get to but most often they are books that I find mentioned in articles I read and the mention makes me realize I missed the book the first go round. So I trot on over to my library’s website and put the book on hold. The most current literary gem I’ve discovered is My Beloved World by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. She says she wrote it with the help of a poet friend and the lushness of the language attests to that truth. But what I liked best about the book was her relentless positivity in the face of some sad things that happened to her. Rather than wallow in the sadness, as some memoirs do (Frank McCourt in Angela’s Ashes comes to mind here) Sotomayor uses every sad experience to highlight a lesson she learned and almost immediately put into practice with positive results. The poet’s assistance also shines through on the narrative structure of the individual chapters – they often start with the most interesting piece of dialogue en media res – and then backtrack to explain how she found herself in that moment, making us active participants in the teachable moment.

“What I liked best about the book was her relentless positivity in the face of some sad things that happened to her.”

The other thing I loved about the book is the fact that she vividly recalls the moment she discovered the career she ultimately created – and she credits television for bringing it to her. I’ve often cringed when people told me that old saw about how TV rots our brains. Yeah, sure, I usually say. If you watch a dizzying dose of reality nonsense from capitalistic Kardashians to racist roommates on Big Brother, it rots your brain and wastes hours of your life better spent loving other people (in all ways that word can be understood). But if you actively watch decent stuff studies show you can learn empathy for others as you worry about your favorite characters and wonder how you would behave in similarly difficult situations. But in Sotomayor’s case TV did the other thing it deserves credit for doing. It introduced an impoverished child to the larger world that existed and gave her the goal of achieving entrance into that world through the only doorway offered her – education. Sotomayor discusses watching Perry Mason and realizing that, though the brilliant lawyer was the star of the show, the real power in the courtroom was held in the hands of the judge who told that brilliant lawyer whether or not he won.

The other things Sotomayor does that are refreshing and eye-opening is she frankly discusses the fact that being a single, career-minded, successful woman in the world today can be enough if you nurture a set of deep friends supporting them in their endeavors. Her discussion of how much fun it is to be an aunt brought a smile to my face for all the single women I know. Secondly, she mentioned an assignment given to her in one of her early history classes at Princeton – to do a family history – and how finally asking her mother how she and her father met taught her to see that everyone has difficulties and those should not define a person. Rather, one should be defined by the way they face those difficulties.

Finally, Sotomayor’s memoir puts a face on an experience I read more deeply about in another book I always recommend to my first year college students – Limbo: Blue Collar Roots, White Collar World – the experience of being the first in your family to attend college. The idea that she didn’t know the Ivy League was any more difficult to get into than other colleges so she submitted applications to Harvard and Yale and Princeton, was accepted by all and finally settled on Princeton. Then that her first generation naivete made her originally toss out an invite into Phi Beta Kappa because it sounded like an excuse to sell her a pin for precious money she wasn’t in the habit of wasting. Those are still real experiences for many first generation students and worth seeing come to life in her life.

In many ways her look at the childhood of a Puerto Rican immigrant family in the 1960s was eerily familiar with the Irish immigrant stories from the 1900s from one of my favorite childhood classics – A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I can’t say when I’ve enjoyed a memoir more.

“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.

Download a sample and buy The Promise today!

Promise med

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!

Promise med

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

Watch a school presentation on The Promise and Slavery