Friday, February 18, 2022

3 Things You Probably Don't Know About Me


I believe in the power of story, which is why I’m a storyteller. First as a journalist, then as a theater director, photographer, and visual artist (not illustrator) and now as a children’s book author.  

The body of my artistic work represents my desire to create art that provokes the audience/viewer/reader into discourse. Challenging the viewer/audience/reader to see their reality a little differently through those avenues of discourse and creating connections where they may or may not have expected or imagined is my goal. 

My creative projects are informed by my life as a kindergarten teacher, author/artist, and activist/ community organizer.  My work has always been steeped in race, class, and gender inequity. In fact, I would say that I bring race, class, and gender analysis to everything I do.  It’s unavoidable for me.

For much of my career as a public-school educator, I have declared that teaching is an act of social justice for me.  As I reflect on all my broad life experiences, I realize that all along all roads have led to social justice.

Over 30 years of activism and community organizing has shaped me and lead me to stories of resistance and resilience and stories of the human experience(some in metaphor.) All strands of my life eventually  lead to my desire to do my part to leave the world a little bit better (I’m long past the illusion that I will change the world.)  And so, my journey has brought me here.

I write children’s books hoping to provoke young people to engage in discourse. It is my hope that through that discourse we can build the conditions for social justice and equity to occur. It is my wish that we can find ourselves connected to each other so that we might make our way to a more humane existence using the power of story.

In previous posts, I’ve talked about both my teaching process and my writing and artistic process.  Not much has been shared about my life as an activist.  Often in allyship,  I find myself standing for rights of others whether their identities reflect my own directly or indirectly.  Here are three things you probably don’t know about me.

1) During the civil war in El Salvador, the US government spent over a billion dollars.  I was interested in understanding how my tax dollars were being spent, so I volunteered on a delegation that flew to El Salvador to monitor the elections during the war.   At the heart of the congressionally sanctioned delegation, run by a small Los Angeles non-profit organization, was the expectation that we would observe and monitor the first set of Salvadoran municipal elections that allowed multiple groups to participate.  It was a tricky and dangerous time. I brought back stories for my congressman and learned to protect the right of others to vote in a struggling democracy.

2) During the Democratic National Convention in 2000, protesters filled the streets of Los Angeles to make their voices heard.  The protests lasted the entire week.  It was an intense time between the LAPD and those who participated in street actions, the majority of which were robust yet peaceful.  I volunteered with the National Lawyers Guild to observe and monitor clashes with protesters and police. I learned to protect the voices of citizens who spoke truth to power challenging the status quo to strengthen the democratic process.

3) After my daughter was born, standing for rights in dangerous situations was no longer possible. So, I softened my approach and took her instead to lobby in Washington D.C. for education justice with other activist teachers know as the BATs (Bad Ass Teachers). I learned and I hope she learned that it’s not enough to vote or speak out in the streets, you must participate in meetings and policymaking and hold leaders accountable to keep a democracy.

By Zeena M. Pliska

Friday, February 4, 2022

3 Things You May Not Know About Me

Howdy, Campers, and happy Poetry Friday! (My poem, the links to PF and to my upcoming classes are below).

We in the TeachingAuthors treehouse 

decided to get personal this 'round, so hold onto your hats as we blog about the 3 Things You May Not Know About...

Carmela started our 13th(!)-year with a bang: 3 Things You May Not Know About TeachingAuthors and a Trimeric Poem which details our new posting schedule, new calendar, and her terrific trimeric poem; Mary Ann reveals the famous children's author/illustrator she kissed, a shocking newspaper interview, and the book series she--a former children's librarian--has never read. 

And here are 3 Things You May Not Know About Me:

1) About 700 years ago at a conference far away, Nikki Grimes and two of her friends I'd had dinner with, knocked on my hotel room door past midnight. 

I was in my pajamas. 

They plopped down on my bed. 

I did my best to wake up. (I felt as if I were thirteen again, this time with the "in" girls who wanted to talk to my pjs...on my bed!) 

Three older white men had had dinner with us--possibly publishers or book sales reps--I don't remember now. Nikki asked if I was aware of the racial slurs they had flung across the table at dinner. 

Now I was wide awake. Whaaa...? 

Those remarks had flown invisibly past me. 

These women were sitting on my bed, in the middle of the night, to open my eyes.

Maybe those remarks were dog whistles, meant only for the ears of the three black women at the table. 

Or maybe I was focused on the salmon, maybe I was dying for another roll but didn't want to look like a glutton, or maybe my monkey mind was buzzing from the conference.

They did their best to help me see that night, but I don't think I really understood. Though my family--grandparents, uncles, aunts, mother, father, sister and I--had been activists first and foremost in our lives, I'd never endured what Nikki and her friends had.

I look back with embarrassment. But also with gratitude. 

Thank you, Nikki, for trying that night, though I didn't understand. 

I am just beginning to understand, 700 years later.

[Addendum posted 2/9/22: I appreciate Heidi Mordhorst's comment below (and our subsequent correspondence): The stories that we white people can tell each other of our ignorance, our safety, our privilege are really important, April. Thank you. I'm so interested in how you characterized the "dog whistles" as meant for Black ears, when usually they're meant from white mouths for other white ears. Some of the ignorance of us "good white people" is that we don't suspect others of being racist; we don't hear what they're really saying. Let us be owls in all seasons, listening for what's underneath the surface.  

I now realize that it may be hardest for those of us from activist families to shift from believing that not being blatantly racist is enough. It's up to me to become anti-racist, an upstander and an ally.]

2) My picture book, MORE THAN ENOUGH ~ a Passover Story, illustrated by the wonderful Katie Kath (Dial Books), is coming out as a paperback and an audiobook on 2/22/22 ๐ŸŒžWhat a happy date๐ŸŒž (You can pre-order it from an indie bookstore now!)

(For those of you with an iron stomach, here's the whole, bloody creation story behind More Than Enough...which you can wash down with these delicious reviews.)

3) I recorded the author's notes for the audiobook in a fancy Santa Monica studio(The author's notes are just seven sentences long.)

Moi, after reading the author's notes
from More Than Enough...stoked with coffee

4) A bonus fact you may not know about me: my intention this year is to be present. So my word for 2022 is presence. When we're truly present, our  presence is a present ๐ŸŽ

About a year ago I learned something (which you'll read in the backstory) that made me appreciate how focused owls present they are, which inspired today's poem:

by April Halprin Wayland

They are a special breed,

those focused listeners

who block out all


as if they're owls,

who hear

a mouse's heart





poem © 2022 April Halprin Wayland

I heard on the radio that "Owls can hear a mouse's heartbeat under a foot of snow"!  Isn't that MARVELOUS?

I did a virtual cartwheel when I heard that.
Thank you for stopping by today! One final note:

I'll be teaching Introduction to Writing Children's Poetry on Saturday, March 26, 2022 12 noon-3pm PST, and Introduction to Writing a Children's Picture Book on Saturday, April 9, 2022 12 noon-3pm PST. Both are virtual classes; enrollment is limited to 20 students.

Thank you, Elisabeth, for hosting Poetry Friday at Unexpected Intersections

posted by April Halprin Wayland, with love