Here we go. I want indies to survive this pandemic so they are still here, creating community and a literate society, for us and with us, as they’ve always done, when we emerge from our sheltering in place. Please consider opening a book buying account at bookshop.org if you have the means to do so in these uncertain times. . You’ll see when you swipe thru this post [go here, for this post and photos], that my books, as an example (all book shots are from bookshop.org) are not only competitive w Amazon prices (within a dollar or even less in most cases), they are available, and they come to you from business owners in your local communities who will employ your neighbors and serve you personally, culturally, specifically, and joyfully. And again, one day, face-to-face.
. Now is the time to help them help you through this pandemic. We need stories like we need each other, because we *are* stories. We need puzzles and games and laughter and stuffed animals, and togetherness, even as we need to shelter at home and stay informed. Indie bookstores stand ready with all these things. . Follow your bookselling friends on IG, FB, etc, and let them hand sell you visually in their feeds… they are so good at this — and then order directly from them or use bookshop.org. . Every dollar you spend at bookshop is divvied up to help your chosen bookstore as well as all bookstores under the bookshop umbrella (swipe to see snippets about how this works, from the Forbes article about bookshop that I linked to here on Feb 15). . The bottom line is, we all benefit. We all keep reading and telling stories and puzzling with one another and squeezing our chosen comfort softies through hard times. We can do this, together. Love and light and reading, xo Debbie . — click on my IG bio to go to bookshop.org, and thank you. I’m going to tag some of my bookstore friends in the comments [on IG], locally and including those I’d been scheduled to tour with this month, so you can follow them, too, along with some folks who partner w indie bookstores in a myriad of ways. Please add your favorites to this list – you, too, Indies — so I can follow them, too. Here we go.
Hello, friends. What a time. I’ve made some posts on IG and want to put them here, where I will end up posting in more depth about Kent State and other books, and, well, life in the time of corona, I guess. Without belaboring anything, here is post one, which I’ll follow immediately with post 2, and then you’ll be caught up. Stay safe and stay well. There is so much to say, and at some point, there will be a time to say it. Keep reading. Keep telling stories. We’re living quite an amazing story right now. xoxoxo Debbie
Kent State publishes 3 weeks from today, into a very different world than the one we had prepared it for. No in-person anything, including a national bookstore tour, speaking at Kent State, school visits, and book festivals. . Like so many of us who are creating new normals while sheltering in place, flattening the curve, and caring for one another through this pandemic, work matters. Stories matter. And our history matters, too, especially as it echoes, in its heart, what is happening in our country right now. . So I want to talk about Kent State as it comes into being on the 50th anniversary of the May 4, 1970 shootings that killed 4 college students and wounded 9 others as our country was being torn apart by a war that killed over 58,000 U.S. soldiers and millions of Vietnamese, Laotians, and Cambodians; a war waged within and without in our country, when our government’s response was on the line, just as it is today. . Kent State is a chronicle of those days in May while also a call to action… a call we are witnessing right now, as it happens. I hope you’ll not mind me sharing several posts about the book here over the next weeks as my publisher and I change up our labor in order to midwife and deliver this important book into your hands. It has had quite the intense gestation and is ready to be born. . Thanks so much for coming along. You can read more about Kent State at my website and you can pre-order the book at bookshop.org — the link to that page is in my IG bio. Stay home if you can, stay safe, love one another, and work for peace, peace, peace. xoxoxo Debbie
[Note: this is a February (sneaking into March) series on the diverse themes and characters in Deborah Wiles’s books. I’m publishing the series during Black History Month, with the full knowledge that my books are written from a white person’s point of view (as I am white), and that every month is Black History Month. For more on that, see this essay by Michael Harriot at The Root. To read about the need for diversity in children’s literature, explore We Need Diverse Books online, whose mission statement is “Putting More Books With Diverse Characters Into the Hands of More Children.” You can buy the books I mention below at your local independent bookstore, at Amazon or B&N, or check them out at your local library. More about each one (including a buy option) is at the links I provide below. Part 1 of this series, Freedom Summer, is here. Part two, about the Aurora County books, is here. Part 3 about the Sixties Trilogy is here. Thanks to all of you for reading and commenting and following along. The essays in this series will become anchor posts on my website blog, Field Notes.]
[[below is a spread of primary sources from the last scrapbook in Anthem, describing the buildup to the Kent State murders on May 4, 1970.]]
“I can’t believe they shot those white kids.”
This is a line spoken by a black man on May 4, 1970, in Kent, Ohio, after the Kent State shootings, when the Ohio National Guard opened fire on college students — teenagers — who were protesting, on their campus, Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia during the Vietnam War.
“You see a man in a uniform holding a rifle — you know there are bullets in that rifle. We were taught that from the cradle. You go the other way.”
These lines are taken from oral histories with black students who were at Kent State University on May 4, 1970.
“We didn’t think they had real bullets. We thought they had blanks.”
Spoken by many, many white students at Kent State on May 4, 1970.
I could see the juxtaposition and inequities in these statements right away, as I researched this story, and I could see the parallels they held to today.
[[below: Kent State full jacket.]]
67 shots fired in 13 seconds by the Ohio National Guard into a crowd of unarmed students in their schoolyard: That’s Kent State in a nutshell, but it was about so much more, of course.
I came to write this book because I was a teenager myself on May 4, 1970, in high school in Charleston, South Carolina, 3 days shy of my 17th birthday, and stunned that such a thing could happen in this country. We all were. What happened to freedom of speech, assembly, petition, and press? All of these rights were violated on this day when 9 students were wounded, and 4 were killed.
While researching Kent State, I visited the campus and the May 4 Visitors Center, as well as the Special Collections May 4 Archive, where I first encountered the role of BUS — Black United Students — at Kent State. I write about this in the Author’s Note in the back of the book, so I won’t belabor it here, but it was impossible to tell the long arc of the story of the Kent State killings without including BUS and the killings 11 days later of two black students at Jackson State College in Mississippi.
[[below: racial profiling by the local police, of Kent State students in the sixties and seventies. “Very intelligent; can speak to groups.” And “Parents are well-behaved people.”]]
That long arc became apparent to me when Kent State Professor Emeritus (and a student witness to the shootings) Laura Davis shared with me the 108-page National Historic Landmark nomination for Kent State’s May 4 history — the site, the buildings, and the arc of history that Kent State found itself part of, when the State begins to kill its citizens: The Boston Massacre and Wounded Knee before May 4, to name just two, then stretching forward, beyond May 4, 1970, to the connections to police brutality, mass incarceration, and school-and-public shootings today.
It all came together in a diverse way when the pieces began to fall into place for this story. Whereas I had used so many primary source documents and photos in every Sixties Trilogy book — Countdown, Revolution, and Anthem — I knew that this new story needed a different treatment. Even though I would use many, many primary sources to help me tell this story, I wouldn’t burden the narrative with them. I wanted the story to come to the reader clean, clear, elegant, and eloquent, about such a violent act.
[[below, from the Kent State May 4 Special Collections archive]]
In talking with my editor about how to structure the story, I mentioned how much I had admired his use of the Greek Chorus in Two Boys Kissing, and we both waxed enthusiastic about George Saunders’s book Lincoln in the Bardo, with its many disembodied voices and so much diversity — of class, race, culture, generations, background… it was a masterpiece, I said, and as I did, the lightbulb went off.
[[below: A letter to the editor of the local paper from a Kent Citizen (townie) on the 20th anniversary of the killings [sics left as-is]: “I saw in the paper that you wanted people to write in about the May 4th tradgedy at Kent State. I think that it was the most disgraceful thing since the crucifiction of Jesus Christ. That the kids took over and the law was not respected. I say goody goody for the ones that were killed, or wounded, these should of been more. A disgrace put on to a pieceful town.”]]
Kent State is edited by David Levithan and published by Scholastic Press. It will be released on April 21, 2020. It is written as a form of lineated prose, with no named narrators, from various points of view, all telling the story of those four days in May when America turned on its unarmed children in their schoolyard and shot them. The different voices are distinguished by their typefaces and tight, specific characterizations, each a stand-in for a differing point of view.
You hear from townies and faculty, students black and white and National Guardsmen, from everyone who had an opinion on what happened, gathered as a collective memory of that time-and-place — for that’s how all history is remembered, isn’t it? In a form of collective memory that is embellished, incorrect, truthful, strident, opinionated, formed and unformed, and left for future generations to parse. Who is right? Who is wrong? What is true? What is fake? It is a question for our time.
I use a fictional story in the each of the Sixties Trilogy books to highlight that collective way of storytelling, but in Kent State, I was much more spare, while packing in a lot more memory and opinion. I also draw a straight line from the Kent State killings to today’s culture of violence in this country, and I ask young people to “insert your name here.” To stand up, to get involved, and to be agents of change.
Black and white. Latinx and of Asian descent. Muslims, Christians, Jews, and all faiths, and the faithless. Gay and straight — all identities, all colors, all experiences, Americans all, who have the right to assemble, protest, petition, and write, call, march, vote — especially vote, but also to create sustained protest for a broken system.
Those four deaths, Allison, Jeff, Sandy, and Bill, do not have to be forgotten or in vain. What is happening today in our country in terms of state violence and mass incarceration — particularly of people of color and the poor — and indiscriminate shootings does not have to be our future.
Let’s hit the streets, says Kent State, let’s vote, let’s change the world.
I said in my last post that I would talk about diversity in my future work as well as Kent State, but I think I’ll save it for another post. For now, I’ll say that I’ve waded back into picture books — it has been 17 years since I had a published picture book — those Sixties Trilogy books required All Hands On Deck for 12 years — and 19 years since Freedom Summer’s publication. The three picture books that are coming are all long years in the making, close to my heart, and close to the diversity of the world in one way or another… but more about that later. Thank you for coming along with me on this topic. It was useful to me to think about it, and write about it, and reach for clarity in my own mind and heart and writing — which is what I’m always doing, with any story I write. xoxo Deborah Wiles
MFA in Writing, Vermont College, I have taught teachers at Towson University (“Writing Techniques for Teachers,” ECED 422), and have taught in the MFA programs at Lesley University and Vermont College.
Pioneer of the Documentary Novel containing scrapbooks with primary source documents — photographs, song lyrics, newspaper clippings, etc., and opinionated biographies alongside the story/narrative, mixing fiction, non-fiction, and biography in one book/story in a trilogy about the 1960s. COUNTDOWN 1962; REVOLUTION 1964; and ANTHEM 1969 (to be published fall 2019)
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I’m a Southerner born in Mobile, Alabama, where I lived until I was five years old. My parents were Mississippi born and bred, and I spent most of my childhood summers there and grew up in Mississippi and all around the world as an Air Force dependent.
I’ve lived in:
Mobile, Alabama Jasper County, Mississippi Honolulu, Hawaii Washington, D.C. Prince Georges County, Maryland Charleston, South Carolina Clark Air Base, Philippines Northern Virginia Cherry Point, North Carolina Millington, Tennessee Frederick, Maryland Atlanta, Georgia
After living in the Washington, D.C. area (Frederick, MD) for 25 years, where I raised a family, I moved to Atlanta 14 years ago, and now live in a little house with a purple door in a little woods. I married musician/composer Jim Pearce 12 years ago. You can hear Jim profiled by Susan Stamberg at NPR right here.
Where to find me online:
I use Pinterest as a visual resource for my books. You’ll find primary source material for my books archived here, including playlists for COUNTDOWN and REVOLUTION.