G1 - Gratitude
Oklahoma Writers' Hall of Fame
GRATITUDE: A crone feels gratitude. I’ve always been quick to list my many blessings. However, for some reason lately I’ve begun to feel intense gratitude. Really feeling the gratitude has made a huge difference in my outlook. Sometimes while I am out on my walk, I lift my arms and say, “Eternal Spirit, Mother, Father, God, Thank you.” Then I call out those things that fill my soul with thanksgiving. I mostly do this when there is no one about to hear, but if I am overheard, it won’t matter. It is hard to embarrass a crone.
With my son, Ben Myers
With good friends Judge Mark Barcus and Teresa MillerOn November 7th, I was inducted into the Oklahoma Writers’ Hall of Fame. It was a fantastic evening. Woody Guthrie was also honored that night, pretty neat to share a program with such a legendary figure. If you don’t know much about Woody Guthrie, a man who wrote 3,000 songs and fought fearlessly for the downtrodden, you should go to the Woody Guthrie Center in Tulsa.
Nora Guthrie was there to accept her father’s honor. It was a joy to meet her and to hear Will Kaufman, who is a Guthrie scholar and who performs Woody’s songs between telling the audience about the amazing Oklahoman. Another pleasure was listening to renowned author Michael Wallis, known as Oklahoma’s ambassador to the world, speak about Woody and about a Tulsa landmark, Steve’s Sundry, Books and Magazines, about to close.
With Nora Guthrie
My son, Dr. Benjamin Myers, introduced me and gave me the pin, making me an official member of the hall of fame. Ben’s introduction was much more eloquent and moving than my speech, but I don’t have a copy of that. For lack of having something better, I am sharing my words of acceptance below.
Thank you, Ben. As a mother, I have to tell the group that Ben got in this afternoon from Wheaton College near Chicago. They flew him there to speak to faculty and students about his poetry, mostly those poems in his second book, Lapse Americana.
And thank you to the Center for Poets and Writers for this wonderful honor. I hope all of you in the audience know how lucky Oklahoma is to have Teresa Miller and her organization, creating a culture for book lovers that is not common in other states. My sister, who lives in Memphis and who is also a writer, says Tennessee has nothing to compare with our center.
I write for children, so, of course, I am going to talk about children’s literature. If you don’t like children or if you never were a child, you might want to take a restroom break now. Perhaps I should also explain now that, as a category, children’s books include those written for teenagers, as are many of mine.
First, I’d like to clear up two common misconceptions about children’s literature. Right after my first book, Red-Dirt Jessie, came out, more than twenty years ago, someone said to me, “I don’t know much about writing, but I might know enough to write for children.” WRONG, WRONG, WRONG. It is harder to write for children. Have you seen how quickly a kid will close a book and pick up a video game?
Some people think children’s books are written to teach lessons. It strikes me as odd that no one ever says, “I want to write a novel to teach adults about divorce, or wasted lives.” Why then do people say they want to write to teach children to share or teenagers to stand up to bullies? If you want to teach morals, volunteer to teach Sunday school. Often lessons can be discovered in a children’s book, but if the lesson is the purpose, the book will be terrible. Children’s books, like those for adults, are written to share the power of story. People who write for children, like those who write for adults, need to write the story demanded by that power, the story that already exists in the universe and that wells up inside the writer
Story is one of the two most powerful forces in the world, second only to love.
We write for children because children understand the power and magic of story, know it better than anyone. When my youngest child was small, she became very attached to her Bert doll. Her affection may have begun partly because the doll was given to her by her adored older cousin and partly because she recognized Bert from Sesame Street. Very quickly, though, Bert himself became an authentic person to her. He could not be put in an uncomfortable position, could never be left home alone. Bert had to be treated like a real person.
Finally, I decided I needed to talk to her about the doll. “Anna-Maria,” I said when she was about five, “you know Bert is not real, don’t you?”
“Yes,” she said quickly, “I know he isn’t real, but he is going to pretend to be real all his life.”
It was not long after that conversation that Anna-Maria told me one evening when I was tucking her into bed, “At night I tell stories in my head, and no one can hear them except Bert.”
Children understand the power and magic of story.
A few years ago, shortly after my book, Assassin, told in part from the viewpoint of John Wilkes Booth, came out, I met a girl at a book signing. She was a pretty child with long red hair, and she told me she was in the 8th Grade. When she gave me her book for an autograph, she leaned in and whispered, “I knew Lincoln had to die, but I kept hoping for a way out.”
I knew Lincoln had to die, but I kept hoping for a way out! Such, my friends, is the power of story.
Children know the power of story! And it has been my privilege to share that power with older kids through nineteen novels, and I will share it with little ones for the first time next fall when my picture book, Tumbleweed Baby, is published by Abrams Books. I was born in west Texas, and my oldest brother told me always that he pulled me from a tumbleweed. My family left west Texas when I was six months old. Growing up in central Oklahoma, I had no idea what a tumbleweed looked like, but that same brother, fifteen years older than I, had a record called “Tumbling Tumbleweed.” I would sit outside his bedroom door and listen to that song. I suppose I knew I had not really been found in a tumbleweed, but I was a child who lived under story’s power. As I listened I would think, “Those are my people.” There are two or three true things about me in Tumbleweed Baby , so I lightly refer to the story as my autobiography.
I am grateful to the family that pulled me from that tumbleweed and taught me about love. I am grateful too that I learned early about the power of story.
The writer of the Biblical book of Joel was not talking about the power of story when he penned these words, but he could have been.
“Tell your children of it, and let your children tell their children and their children another generation.”
The Center for Poets and Writers is all about the power of story, and we who write for children are all about telling the children.
With Michael Wallis, Teresa Miller, and Nora Guthrie
With long-time friend Marilyn Hoover