Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Meet Irene Latham, Guest Teaching Author! (and Enter our Book Giveaway Drawing)

How swell to introduce another Guest Teaching Author to our TeachingAuthors readers: Birmingham, Alabama poet and debut novelist Irene Latham.

Putnam recently published Irene’s middle grade, Leaving Gee’s Bend. Set in 1932, the novel tells the tale of an extraordinary young girl, Ludelphia Bennett, who must leave her known world of the Gee’s Bend quilters to bravely travel the dangerous 40 miles to Camden and back in order to deliver her Mama's badly-needed medicine.  Booklist described the story as “authentic and memorable.”
Irene appropriately titled her website “Heart-Touching Tales of Unexpected Adventure.”
Leaving Gee’s Bend is just such a tale.

Come meet Irene in the Q & A interview she recently granted me.

1. How did you become a TeachingAuthor?
It started with parenthood: I am the proud mom of three sons, now ages10, 13, and 15. As soon as my second son hit Kindergarten, I knew public school was not the best fit for him… so I brought him home. Home-schooling him has been one of the greatest joys of my life. Currently, all three of my sons are in successful non-home-school situations, so I can get in the classroom with my poetry workshops and school visits related to Leaving Gee's Bend.

2. What’s a common problem/question that your students have and how do you address it?
Interestingly, one of the problems I’ve encountered in my poetry workshops is writer’s block, which seems to be more a “brain freeze” related to performance anxiety. I’ve always found coming up with ideas to be the easy part. So for me to discover this is often the hard part for students…. Well, I’ve learned to be very specific in my prompts. That seems to help. Also, reminding them that the only absolute in poetry is that there is no absolute.

3. Would you share a favorite writing exercise for our readers?
Oh my goodness, I could go on for days! Here’s one I was just reminded of in a workshop with author Kerry Madden. It’s deceptively simple, but guaranteed for good results: Think of your favorite secret hiding place. What do you see? What do you hear? What do you smell? What do you taste? What do you feel against your skin?

4. What one piece of advice do you have for teachers?
Remember: writing involves trust. For kids to open up on paper, they need to feel safe. Which means, don’t worry so much about form as substance. Praise kids for their effort, their creative thought… overlook poor grammar and punctuation errors. As soon as you start focusing on the nitpicky stuff, they will disengage emotionally. And the whole point is for them to dig deep, to discover something about themselves and their world as they put words on the page.

5. Can you share the Moment you knew you were a writer?
For many years writing was my secret life. Even my husband of twenty years says he didn’t know he married a writer. That’s because I didn’t pursue writing as a career in college, and I was very furtive about my writing efforts. Yet I was always writing. In fact, when that moment came ( sometime when I was pregnant with my third child), and I looked around and thought, wow, this motherhood gig is great, but I really need something just for myself, the answer was all around me: in stacks of paper on my desk, in drawers overflowing with notebooks and journals and folded slips of paper. I was a writer. And the time had come for me to take it to the next level – to be brave enough to show my work to other people and begin to pursue publication.

I offer Irene my sincere thanks for sharing her story with our TeachingAuthors readers.

Esther Hershenhorn

Win an autographed copy of Irene's Leaving Gee’s Bend!
Post your name and email address to this April 27 post only + share the Moment YOU knew you were a Writer. If you're not a writer, you can still enter for a chance to win--simply share why you'd like a copy of Irene's book. Deadline is 11 pm (CST) May 4, 2010. (U.S. residents only, please.)

There’s still time to help TeachingAuthors celebrate their very first Blogiversary – and -win a critique of your work!
And please note: Your first entry must say how you follow us—via Google, Networked blogs, or email. You must post a SEPARATE comment to get a second entry. This makes tracking entries much easier. Entry deadline is 11 pm (CST) Tuesday, May 4, 2010.


Carmela Martino said...

Thanks for the great interview, Irene. And Esther, your last question is very interesting. Even after I'd been published in a newspapers and magazines, I didn't really feel like a WRITER--real writers wrote fiction (at least in my mind). I don't think I felt like a REAL writer until my first short story was published in a children's magazine.

Wendy Wax said...

I liked reading Irene's interview. I've written many children's book and often go to schools to read them and do activities. I like the "favorite hiding place" exercise. I look forward to reading your future posts.

Sheila said...

I enjoyed the interview and will read the book soon.

When I was growing up, my older sister was "the writer" and I was "the artist." Fortunately, my sister decided to do other things for many years, so I didn't worry about competing with her when I started writing. (She now writes poetry that gets published.)I felt as if I'd become a real writer the day a short story I'd written was accepted for publication. I remember dashing all over the house, waving the letter that promised I'd get a check for $22!

MoziEsmé said...

Love the answer about "writing involves trust." So true, and something I need to remember for my daughter.

janemaritz at yahoo dot com

We posted about this giveaway at Winning Readings:

Judylynn said...

I am a Google follower!


Judylynn said...

I think the moment I really felt like a writer for the first time is when I published an article in a magazine and saw my name in print!


Katie said...

I've known I was a writer since I was in 4th grade when I wrote an essay and won the "Hugs are Better than Drugs" essay contest!

I'd love to win a copy of this... my library doesn't have it yet, and it's not available from inter-library loan because of the new circulation date!

Irene Latham said...

Thank YOU, Esther! You gals are wonderful hostesses. And I love reading about everyone's I'm a writer moments. Fun! :)

Mary Ann Dames - Reading, Writing, and Recipes said...

I knew I was a writer when I changed the way I thought of myself: I am a children's writer and a dietitian instead of my old way of I'm a dietitian and a children's writer.

Linda Kish said...

I barely write checks or even lists. Not much of a writer but I do like to find and read new authors' books.

lkish77123 at gmail dot com

Solvang Sherrie said...

Great interview! I found it through your email to kidlitosphere. I've been hearing so much about this book. I'm looking forward to reading it.

I knew I was a writer when I finally got a check for something I had written. That was very validating, especially since my parents didn't think I could make a living as a writer :)

solvangsherrie at gmail dot com

Sandra Stiles said...

As a teacher I have always had my students write stories. I have always loved the creative process. I had a teacher in high school writing class tell me it was a good thing I wanted to be a teacher because I would never make it as a writer, and I believed her. After 9/11 I kept telling my husband that I had a book idea and repeated that for two years on the anniversary of 9/11. One year he went inside, got a yellow pad and pen and said, "Write It". I did in one month and that is when I knew I was a writer. I am still unpublished but have continued on working on two other books.

Esther Hershenhorn said...

I often remind my students, both young and young-at-heart,about that all-important suffix "er."
A writer is - simply, technically -a person who writes!
Checks, grocery lists and Thank You notes.
Picture books, novels, short stories, poems.
Thanks to all who shared their Writer-Recognition Moments. Special thanks to Irene for sharing her Writer's Story.
Despite a journalism background that placed my name in bylines since junior high school, the first time I truly - felt - like a children's book writer was the first time a school invited me to speak to their students. Ebony Junior Magazine (no longer in print)had just published a poem I'd written. said...

Well, although a reviewer of children's books, my writing ambitions are for the older crowd and more academic! I recall living in Denver at the start of my career, and tagging along with a friend to visit an author of Dog Fancy who lived in the Foothills. I thought, what a life...that's what I want! Then put that thought aside 20 years, when suddenly book ideas starting popping into my brain frequently. I'll get them written one of these days!

Debra Black

O Fair One said...

I really enjoyed Irene Latham's Q&A, and I think it's great that Teaching Authors interviews other writers.

My 5 yr old daughter came in the back door, and, referring to her 6 yr old brother, said, "Mom, he's ruining my life!" The moment I knew I was a writer was when I heard her comment and started longing for my intimate moments with my Synonym Finder.


April Halprin Wayland said...

What a fabulous question! I knew I was a writer when I wanted to write more than I wanted whipped cream. Really. I knew it when instead of needing sustenance I needed to write for hours in that zone we all know--that addicted writing state as if in a dream...

(Okay, that sounds airy-fairy even to me!)

cindyja said...

I enjoyed reading Irene's interview and will be adding "Leaving Gee's Bend" to my reading list as soon as I leave this computer. As a homeschooling mother, I know the wonderful feeling of spending this special learning/sharing time with a child. I also understand the need to have something for just me. That's why I'm here with you!
Cindy Antene

Ashley said...

Not a writer, but sounds like a great book that I would love!

reynoldsmommy at gmail dot com

Bridget said...


I knew I was a writer early on--I remember writing 1 page stories in 3rd grade, but the pivotal moment in my writing life was in my high school freshman English class. We had a new & innovative teacher. He made us WRITE poetry. Finally, I'd found my medium & voice. The teacher left after that 1 year year, but I still remember him fondly.

Brimful Curiosities said...

I've always struggled with writing and finding the right words. I guess I still don't truly consider myself a writer even though I blog nearly every day. After reading a review on Hope is the Word, Leaving Gee's Bend is a book I know I truly want to read.

debbie said...

I am not a writer, but I would love to have the book. I think kids enjoy reading about what happens to others, and how they overcome obsticles.

Looking for the Write Words said...

After many years of dabbling in writing, this year I have taken the plunge and am actually writing on a regular basis. I have "met" so many wonderful authors like the "Teaching Authors." I am not a "real" writer, but some day hope to publish something fabulous for children. Until then, my adventures as a writer in training put me in the shoes of my students. I can better appreciate their struggles and as a result am hoping to be a better writing teacher. said...

I recall many times when I felt I was a writer, although I never spoke this out loud. Some of those moments when I labored and played with words and felt happy were: the time my 6th grade teacher had me read my poem that got published in our itty bitty local newsletter; when my college English teacher was entertained by my essay; when I wrote an apology letter for my boss to give his boss explaining his expensive purchase of a bottle of wine on a business trip (I wish I could remember what I said because it got him off the hook!); when I self-published my dad’s story and I sold 1000+ copies and then I did "speak out loud" about being a writer. And now, in this moment of recalling those times, I feel I am a writer. Thank you Esther for asking this question. I look forward to reading Irene’s book even If I don’t win a copy!

Shiela Bishop Irwin, formerly of Bloomington, IL, now of Middletown, DE

Esther Hershenhorn said...

My fellow TA MaryAnn Rodman is in - my - neck of the woods this week - i.e. the Chicago northern suburbs.
And, I can't help but notice how the External - i.e. publication, community affirmation, shades our perception, indeed validation, of ourselves as Writers.
Maybe we need to remember the deliciousness of the physicality of actually WRITING - touching a keyboard, placing pen to paper, arranging and rearranging our words to build those sentences that tell our stories?!
Thanks to all who shared their WRiter Recognition Moments!

Sarah E said...

Please enter me in this giveaway! I would love to win this book, as I've read several great reviews about it. I also love books set in the south.

I am not a writer.

familyhistree at yahoo dot com

Sarah E

Anonymous said...

Please enter me. I'd like to win this so I can share it with my niece.

ebeandebe at gmail dot com

Scotti Cohn said...

What a great interview and awesome-sounding book! I love the idea of "unexpected adventure."

mary ann rodman said...

I have always thought of myself as a writer...but not an author until I sold a book. I always cringed when I told people I was a writer because 90 per cent of the time the next words would be, "Really? What have you published? Have I read your books?" And guess that I'm a published writer...I am still getting the same reaction (blank stare) when I tell them I write children's books.
I'm with Esther. A writer is someone WRITES. Even at my lowest points when I would get so disgusted with all the rejections that I would promise myself I would quit...after I finished what I was writing now. A writer can't help writing...even in the face of constant discouragment

Julie said...

What a fun interview. I'm looking forward to reading the book.
I knew I was a writer in 6th grade when I wrote a mystery that took place at our school. Every week I wrote a chapter and brought it in to school to read to the other kids. They couldn't wait to see the next chapter, and I was totally hooked!