Monday, January 11, 2016

Ode to Virginia

Everyone knows of my high admiration for grand friend and Master Guru Eric Kimmel. Eric and I have been friends for a long time. In fact, you can read our interview here. He inspired me to study folklore and taught me the importance of my voice.

Likewise, my longtime friend and mentor Marion Dane Bauer taught me the emotional power of story. You can read our interview here.

But another inspired my writing, one whom I wish I had met and hope we might have been friends. Publishing over forty books, Virginia Hamilton (1936 – 2002) won every national and international honor in children’s literature. By the end of the life, she was “the most highly honored American author of children’s books.”

Reading biographies are a means by which we can become “mentored” by writers and other innovators of culture. We can gain insight into life’s challenges, learn from other perspectives, and become inspired by their victories.

Reading “Virginia Hamilton: Speeches, Essays & Conversations” (edited by Arnold Adoff & Kacy Cook, Blue Sky Press 2010), is like having an afternoon tea – or a barbecue! – with Virginia. And wow! What a conversation we are having!

“Every fiction has its own basic reality…through which the life of characters and their illusions are revealed, and from which past meaning often creeps into the setting. The task for any writer is to discover the “reality tone” of each work – the basis of truth upon which all variations on the whole language system is set. For reality may be the greatest of all illusions.” (Illusions and Reality, 1980).

Of course, Hamilton’s body of work are central to the canon of African American literature, and much has been written about her determination to tell the “black people’s journey across the American hopescape.” As Hamilton states, “I see my writings and the language of them as a way to illuminate a human condition.”

I offer that her work, and her wisdom, goes beyond the singular “a”, or one, to encompass “the” human condition as a whole. She coined the phrase “parallel culture” to extinguish the hierarchy reflected in the terms minority and majority, and “their connection to less and more.”

“I write books of strong plots and opinions. They are books for survival. They teach youngsters how best to live in their worlds of limits. Always in writing I must test those limits through the story lines. I believe that the wall of limits moves back when the reader reads something, she is changed by what she reads. I know I am changed by what I write.” (A Storyteller’s Story, 1993).

Every writer always faces the unknown, says Hamilton. It begins with the blank page and goes from there.

“Every pause, every exclamation point in the writing of a book has to be imagined. It’s not easy because one can’t see what’s coming; one has no idea how it sounds and what it will do…That’s the writer’s hope, at least, to create something new and original.” (Frances Clarke Sayers Lecture, 1999).

Virginia Hamilton taught me that writing serves a very important purpose, one that goes beyond the individual. Sometimes it is so easy to get caught up in the corporate side of the writing business and the blockbuster mindset that tends to run it. We succumb to the downheartedness of constant rejection, and all our insecurities are magnified. We forget the higher calling. Why we write our stories in the first place. Having this conversation with Virginia Hamilton reminded me of the importance of Story in our lives.

Virgina Hamilton’s legacy resonates through the cosmos.

If you could share tea -- or attend a barbecue -- with anyone, past or present, who would it be?

Bobbi Miller


Marion Dane Bauer said...

What an intelligent and perceptive peon to Virginia Hamilton and her important work, Bobbi. You, yourself, have grown into the kind of writer you most admire!

The Pen and Ink Blogspot said...

Sounds like someone I would like to know. Thank you. __Susan

Yvonne Ventresca said...

I love biographies, too. Nice post!

April Halprin Wayland said...

Bobbi ~ I love your writing: always impassioned and always full of facts to make ME impassioned.

I heard Virginia Hamilton speak several times at SCBWI conferences. I read M.C. Higgins the great and was in awe of how she let M.C. sit on a pole high above the world. Dangerous! And here I was, told by publishers that my story about a little boy who loves the elevator in his building could encourage dangerous behavior...

I went up to Virginia and spoke to her about danger in children's literature. I don't remember what she said but I do remember feeling heard by her.

Clare Helen Welsh said...

Thank you for sharing your hommage to Virginia - her quotes made a great deal of sense to me too as a writer of picture books. I can see why you love her!

Rebecca C said...

Thanks for introducing me to Virginia Hamilton! Great quotes and what a legacy!

Anonymous said...

Great post! I'd love to have tea with Louisa May Alcott or Lucy Maud Montgomery, or maybe both. Virginia Hamilton is awesome; she can come, too. What a tea party it would be!

Bobbi Miller said...

Marion: Thank you so much for your kind words. Your encouragement and friendship through these many years have meant the world to me!

Bobbi Miller said...

Susan and Yvonne: Thank you for stopping by! I am so pleased you enjoyed my writing. You'd love this book, too!

Bobbi Miller said...

April: What a treasured memory, to have talked with Virginia IN PERSON! I'd be so star struck!

Bobbi Miller said...

Clare and Rebecca: Thank you for stopping by!

Marcia: O I would love to meet L.M. Montgomery. I always hoped to go to Prince Edward Island. I have visited the Alcott house, however. I love seeing their living spaces. Another one that I particularly enjoyed is the Mark Twain House in Hartford! Thank you for stopping by!

Carmela Martino said...

Great post, Bobbi. I second the wish for tea with Louisa May Alcott. I'd also invite Katherine Paterson. I've heard her speak several times but have never had an actual conversation with her.