The Myth of Sculpted Whiteness

There’s a color correction going on in archeological circles. I’ve been following it ever since I read a Smithsonian article about computer simulations revealing how the ancient Greeks might have painted their statues–in brilliant color! I’ve been heartened to see that this scholarship has not gone away. A New Yorker article brings polychromy into the present time. Snippet:

Mark Abbe was ambushed by color in 2000, while working on an archeological dig in the ancient Greek city of Aphrodisias, in present-day Turkey. At the time, he was a graduate student at New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts, and, like most people, he thought of Greek and Roman statues as objects of pure white marble.

Like most people. Not me. Maybe that comes from being brown. I can still remember how intuitively right it felt to me back in 2008 when I first heard of the possibility that those pure white marbles–weren’t. Greek stories after all were filled with color, brimming over with it, grapes and pomegranates and wine-dark seas and whatnot. What was with all those pearl-white statues?

The Smithsonian article quotes Helen of Troy’s words from the eponymous play by Euripides:

My life and fortunes are a monstrosity,
Partly because of Hera, partly because of my beauty.
If only I could shed my beauty and assume an uglier aspect
The way you would wipe color off a statue.

So wiping color off a statue is a destructive thing to do, right? And now it turns out it was also an act of colonization. The purity of Greek marbles was extolled (and shined up, during cleaning and preservation) around the very time they were stolen from the Parthenon by Lord Elgin.

34697157What’s even more telling is how the notion of color on ancient statues raises hackles even today. When University of Iowa classics professor, Sarah Bond, published essays arguing that it was time to accept that ancient sculpture was not pure white, and neither were the people of the ancient world, she received hate mail. White supremacists, it turns out, get huffy when they’re told that their vision of the ancient world is lacking in color.

Polychromy is a word with power. It goes back to 1859, when it was first used, according to my reliable OED, “to define the art of painting or decorating in several colours, especially as anciently used in pottery, architecture, etc.”  Happily, the polychromy theory has plenty of evidence to back it. And Brinkmann et al, cited in that 2008 Smithsonian article, have published a book packed with pictures. 

It all makes sense. But get this (cited in the New Yorker article):

For Abbe, who is now a professor of ancient art at the University of Georgia, the idea that the ancients disdained bright color “is the most common misconception about Western aesthetics in the history of Western art.” It is, he said, “a lie we all hold dear.”

And that, to my mind, speaks volumes.

Mustafa by Marie-Louise Gay

Mustafa.jpgMustafa, a child refugee from an unnamed country in crisis, finds a friend in his new home. That’s the storyline in this simple, elegant picture book by Marie-Louise Gay of Stella and Sam fame.

The setting in Mustafa is urban, offering the relief of a green park safe enough for a child to venture into on his own. The delight of this book lies in its close adherence to its small hero’s perspective, both in the choice of words and in the finely rendered multi-media illustrations.

Marie-Louise Gay is the gifted author-illustrator of numerous fine books. She shines a loving light on many facets of a new immigrant’s experience—the hugging hijabi mother, the lively younger sibling, the trail of leaf-cutter ants in the park that parallel the family’s own difficult journey, the feeling of being a stranger and invisible.

At a time when more and more countries are resisting immigration and there are forces pushing against the acceptance of refugees in Western countries, this is an important book. It shows not only how children cope with the traumas of displacement but also where the ingredients of comfort might be found.

 

Jewish Fairy Tale Feasts: A Literary Cookbook

Gabriola Island, BC is twenty minutes by ferry from Vancouver Island and 22 square miles in area. It’s not on the way to anywhere.

Related fun fact: Sima Elizabeth Shefrin, the illustrator of Jewish Fairy Tale Feasts by Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple, lives on Gabriola Island!

JewishFairyTaleFeasts.jpgShefrin’s collages brighten every corner of this book, including the flour-sacks and vegetables and loaded platters scattered colorfully across the endpapers, the charming collage portraits of the storyteller (Yolen) and cook (Stemple), and the textured assortments of single page and spot illustrations throughout.

Divided into sections that contain recipes and stories for Brunch, Soup, Main Courses, and Desserts, each chapter is prefaced by an epigraph. I have a hard time deciding which of them is the quirkiest and most charming but here are a few:

The eggs are wiser than the hens. (Old Jewish saying)

Nothing is certain but death and blintzes (Old Jewish comedy routine)

No human hand touches these matzos (B. Manischewitz Co. Slogan, 1880s)

Yolen’s deft storytelling pairs up with Stemple’s recipes for tables loaded with delights. IMG_2442.JPGThe pomegranate couscous recipe is accompanied by “The Pomegranate Seed,” in which a sultan recognizes the commonness of human frailty and pardons a hungry man for stealing a loaf of bread. “The Flour Barrel and the Water Jug,” in which charity comes back to the giver, pairs up with matzo balls.

Oddness and eccentricity abound in the stories, from the man whose dying whisper forbids his son to cross the River Danube to the potboy, studying to be a rabbi, who matches wits with a cheating customer.

There is not a more natural combination than food and story, and the delights of both brim over in this generous volume, complete with a ribbon to mark your story (or recipe) page. From Crocodile Books/Interlink. Review copy received from the publisher.

Dancing into New Tomorrows

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Photo: S. Shrikhande

Recently, I attended the dance performance of a young niece, the kind of debut performance termed an arangetram. It was a delicately crafted performance, flawless and beautiful. Mostly devotional in content, as most such performances are, but brought to life by the sparkle of youthful dancers who take their craft seriously, and by parents and a wider community who take pride in their achievements.

The dance style was Bharatanatyam, the dance form that Padma Venkatraman placed at the heart of her beautiful YA novel about ability, yearning and hope, A Time to Dance.

Bharatanatyam itself is a kind of phoenix art form revived from its temple dancer origins and made respectable by the formidable and vastly talented Rukmini Devi Arundale. As to why the art form previously known as “sadir” was dying out, that’s a more complicated story, related in part to colonialism and the imposition of Victorian morals on a society the colonizers failed to understand; in part to the collapse of a sacred tradition and to twentieth-century embarrassment about its devolution.

Viveka Chauhan‘s eloquent film explores this history but it also shows how an ancient form not only can be owned and shaped and changed by successive generations but must be. Art must always remain a commentary on life and its changing times, raising questions about who we are and why we behave as we do.

Witness this bending of Bharatanatyam to a more recent history–in part a history of Rukmini Devi’s own time:

This past November, Bay Area artists Rupy Tut and Nadhi Thekkek produced a mixed media bharatanatyam performance entitled Broken Seeds (Still Grow). Presented at The Flight Deck in Oakland, CA, Broken Seeds featured live spoken word and music, along with projections of Tut’s calligraphy and miniature paintings as a backdrop to Thekkek’s choreography. The dynamic performance captured the violent and complex history of Partition—the splitting of India into the independent nations of India and Pakistan at the close of the British Empire—and connected the questions around displacement and discrimination that characterized that event with the South Asian immigrant experience in America. (Excerpt courtesy of SAADA).

There you go. Another dance through time and history. Another way to think about it all.

To the amazing young dancers who gave us so much joy that evening, I hope you continue to dance. But I also hope you raise questions through your dance that are important to your generation and to the country in which you live. I hope you change the form to suit the new decades through which your life will take you, decades beyond my reach but not beyond my imagining.

Grace Lin on the Kidlitwomen Podcast

Grace Lin‘s books are gems, every one. Over the years, she has mined her own childhood for funny, upbeat stories that shed light on what it means to grow up Asian American.

   Artwork for Essay by Ellen WittlingerAnd now, with impeccably  rendered introductions charmingly bookended in kid voice, Grace has launched the Kidlitwomen Podcast. Here, via essays and interviews, she takes on ageism with Louise Hawes, librarian adoration of male writers with Kate Messner, intersectionality with Tracey Baptiste, editor gender bias with Ellen Wittlinger, women writers’ financial fears with Nancy Werlin, determining your own value with Emma Dryden, and more.

I’m looking forward to more. I am so grateful for these women who are speaking up about issues that matter in our field. Refusing invisibility–how much do I love that?

Thank you, Grace Lin!

“Look at me when I’m talking to you!”

“Look at me when I’m talking to you!”

Those were the words that led to Senator Jeff Flake’s spine suddenly kicking into gear, which in turn led to this week’s FBI investigation of the allegation by a decorous, professional, polite, restrained accuser, against an angry, outraged, arrogant, self-righteous candidate for the highest court in the land. Whatever might transpire, those spoken words remain. Look at me.

Important words. If you don’t look at me you are telling me that I don’t matter. If you don’t look at me, you are telling me you don’t care. But also, look at me and acknowledge that I have power. My words have power. They count. I count.

LookatmeIt’s no coincidence, I think, that the command, “Look at me,” so commonly used when an adult is speaking to an unruly child (so ludicrously appropriate when spoken to national leaders who have lost their collective way) is only a word and a punctuation mark removed from June Jordan‘s glorious poem, “Who Look at Me?”

Excerpt:

Who look at me?

Who see the children
on their street the torn down door the wall
complete an early losing
games of ball
the search to find
a fatherhood a mothering of mind
a multimillion multicolored mirror
of an honest humankind?

Say it out loud. Humankind–a word with depths of meaning from which we have strayed. The world could use a mothering of mind.

On Mentors and Mentoring, Part 3

Traci Sorell and Kathi Appelt responded to my inquiry about the role that mentoring played in their own lives and how they hope to pass the love along:

Traci Sorrell:

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Photo by Kelly Downs Photography

I wouldn’t be a published author without mentoring. Fellow picture book authors, Ann Ingalls and Sue Lowell Gallion, both members of the SCBWI KS-MO region have been extremely supportive of my development. I met Cynthia Leitich Smith through social media and her guidance on navigating writing as a career has been equally invaluable.

I haven’t served as a writing mentor before, but I have mentored others in previous careers. Serving as a mentor gave me the opportunity to give back for all help I’ve received throughout my life. It reinforced an early lesson I learned about helping others coming behind you (in whatever field you are in) to navigate that journey. Also, it taught me to listen to what the mentee needed (which might not be what I needed as a mentee) and to connect them to the resources that would best help their growth and development.

I hope that by working with my WNDB mentee I’ll learn more about the person and their writing style and interests. I’m also interested in the human or personal connection with other creative folks in this business, so I look forward to how my knowledge base will continue to expand based on the mentee’s background, what they write and what they need most from me as a mentor.

And this from Kathi Appelt, whose exuberant energy and love of children’s books have kindled fires in many writers:

kathi-225x300.jpegWhen I was in the first grade, my teacher Mrs. Beall, looked me squarely in the eyes and said this wonderful thing:  “Kathi, when you grow up, I think you’re going to be a writer.”

She probably said that to every one of the first graders, that’s the kind of teacher she was. But when she said it to me, I had this overwhelming feeling of YES. It wasn’t so much that I intended to become a writer in the first grade. In fact, what I really dreamed of being back then was a cowgirl. But what Mrs. Beall did was plant a seed of possibility. First grade is all about possibilities, about the shape of what can be.

And I think that’s what a good teacher does—shows you the glimmers of what can be.

I’ve had many wonderful teachers, and each one of them has taken my hand and in their own distinctive styles, shown me what is possible.  This is what I aim for in my own work as a mentor, too. And who knows, maybe some day I’ll even become a cowgirl.  It could happen.

Are those not truths to carry in our hearts? The human connection. The glimmer of what can be. Thank you, Traci and Kathi!

See earlier posts on the WNDB mentoring program with contributions from Robin Stevenson, Alex GinoFrancisco X. Stork, Swati Avasthi, and JaNay Brown-Wood.

Note: This is not an official WNDB promotion but a reflection of my personal/professional interest in the program and in diversity in our field.

 

On Mentors and Mentoring, Part 2

More on the relationship of mentoring and writing from a couple more of the 2019 WNDB mentors, writers of distinction who care about books for young people.

Swati Avasthi:

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Photo credit: Anne Marsden

As a teacher at Hamline’s MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults, I’ve had the honor to mentor many writers.  Each time, I’ve gotten unexpected gifts:  the first look at an amazing manuscript, the knowledge my students have offered from expertise in their day jobs, a connection that outlives graduation, and most importantly, a sense that I am part of a larger community. I’m constantly rewarded, even though I can never anticipate in what form that reward will come.

I’m specifically excited about mentoring at WNDB because I’ve gotten to work with very few mentors of color as a writer over the years and none in my early years. But whenever, I get that chance, something powerful and honest stirs in my work, simply because I’m in a space free from the white gaze. By mentoring in WNDB, I hope to find more and more ways to create a safe and supportive spaces for a writer of color and continue to grow as a mentor. And who knows what other gifts and lessons mentoring will bring?

JaNay Brown-Wood:

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Photos by Tatsu

Something I’ve learned during my time in the children’s literature industry is that there are always more opportunities to learn from individuals at every level of the industry, no matter how seasoned of a writer you are. I think by serving as a mentor, it allows for me to reflect back and think about things I wish I would have known as I started writing, as well as think about tips that helped me along the way. Additionally, looking over someone’s work, critiquing it, providing feedback, catching things that the writer might have overlooked, and pushing them to improve their skills help me as a writer, too. Scrutinizing someone else’s work helps to remind me of best practices in the craft of writing. For example, am I taking my own critique advice in my work? Am I making sure my work includes scenes as opposed to telling? Do my characters sound like children, or adults in children’s bodies? Am I being particular in the words I choose? Is there a true narrative arc including a pressing conflict? These are each things I’ve mentored others with before, so they stay at the forefront of my mind as I write and revise my own work. Lastly, I hope to continue to fine-tune my own teaching and mentor skills so that I can mentor others in the future, leading them to feel excited and proud of the work they produce.

Thanks, Swati and JaNay!

See earlier post on the WNDB mentoring program, with contributions from Robin Stevenson, Alex Gino, and Francisco X. Stork.

Note: This is not an official WNDB promotion but a reflection of my personal/professional interest in the program and in diversity in our field.

On Mentors and Mentoring

Thoughts on the relationship of mentoring and writing from some of the 2019 WNDB mentors, all writers of distinction in the field of writing for young people.

Robin Stevenson:

20180606-20180606-_M8A1392.jpgWhen I started writing, I was on maternity leave and in my mid-thirties. I knew nothing about writing or publishing, so I reached out to the only author I knew- my friend Pat Schmatz. Pat gave me gentle, insightful feedback on manuscript after manuscript, asking perceptive questions about my characters and being curious about my stories-and in the process, helping me become a much better writer. I will always be so grateful for this generosity.

The WNDB mentorship program will be the first time I have served as a mentor in a formal arrangement, but I have been teaching and freelance editing for years. I love supporting other writers as they develop their manuscripts, and I always learn from it myself. I think that reading and responding to other people’s work helps me to view my own writing more critically— and having to articulate my ideas helps to further develop and clarify them. Working with writers as they take a first draft and transform it into a much stronger completed manuscript is inspiring: so much can be achieved in revision. It is always a good reminder to me not to give up on my own uncooperative first drafts! Best of all, I have made many wonderful friends, and have enjoyed watching former students become colleagues. I am very much looking forward to being a mentor for We Need Diverse Books in 2019.

Alex Gino:

alexpenbooklaunch-225x300.jpgHaving a mentor was critical for me as a writer. I don’t think my first book, George, would have been published without it. I had pushed myself through writing a first draft, which was a new accomplishment for me, and I had even gone through and looked for typos and better word choices. But I had no idea how to turn this pile of words into a cohesive story with a full arc divided into satisfying, chapter-size chunks. It was my dear friend, Jean Marie Stine, an amazing sci-fi editor and writer, who sat down with me page by page, looked at the structure of my story, and showed me where to push for me when I didn’t know where to go. I was (and am) extremely lucky to have Jean Marie in my life, but not every writer just happens to know a professional editor. I am delighted to now be able to mentor others through that mysterious process from completed draft to marketable manuscript.

Francisco X. Stork:

francisco_stork.jpgI didn’t have any writing mentors but I was fortunate in my life to have teachers who were willing to be friends with me outside of the classroom. These were individuals who were living with purpose and dedication to their work and their “mentorship” was really the life-example that they provided to me.

I have learned that the role of a writing mentor is not only  about providing feedback to the manuscript or in providing practical advice for publication.  The important part of being a mentor is to share with the mentee what it means to be a writer and the attitudes toward our work and the writing life that are harmful and helpful.

Each mentor-mentee relationship is different. Each is a dialogue and not a monologue,  so there will be growth on both sides.

More to come. Applications accepted in October 2018 for the WNDB 2019 mentorships.

Note: This is not an official WNDB promotion but a reflection of my personal/professional interest in the program and in diversity in our field.

WNDB 2019 Mentorships Announced

a1a3d5c0-e214-46fb-8a60-6b52c89d4cccBeginning in October, the We Need Diverse Books™ (WNDB™) Mentorship Program will accept applications for the program’s fourth consecutive year. The mission of the program is to support writers early in their career by pairing them with an experienced children’s author or illustrator.

A total of 11 applicants will be matched with mentors, in picture book text, middle grade fiction, young adult fiction, MG/YA nonfiction and illustration. Read more about the mentorship and application process on the WNDB™ website. For further information, contact co-chairs Miranda Paul and Meg Cannistra at mentor@diversebooks.org.
The 2019 WNDB™ mentors are an award-winning group of children’s book creators including Alex Gino, Swati Avasthi, Coe Booth, Traci Sorell, Francisco X. Stork, Robin Stevenson, JaNay Brown-Wood, Samantha Berger, Kathi Appelt, Marina Budhos, and Joyce Wan.
I invited the 2019 mentors to share some thoughts about their experiences with mentoring. Look for their responses here in the next few days.