See yourself, Be yourself.

 

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Shannon Gibney Speaking  about Her new Young Adult Novel  See No Color.

 

For the last week I have been doing everything I can to avoid writing answers to  what should be a couple of easy questions: Who am I? and  What is my book about?

Instead I wrote about Kmart, (!) washed five loads of laundry,  folded  AND put them away, graded all my papers, searched in vain for cheap last minute tickets to NYC to see my daughter perform, had tea with two students, made and ate two from-scratch soups, raked leaves, walked, checked Facebook and  turtleroad.org,  Facebook and turtleroad.org, Facebook and turtleroad.org.

I also attended two talks. Historian Peniel Joseph  addressed students at Macalester, putting Black Lives Matter in the context of civil rights and Black Liberation History. Shannon Gibney read from her new  YA  novel See No Color.

Joseph said we make a mistake when we put too much emphasis on legal changes, like the Voting Rights Act, or Brown V Board, or focus on the rise of an individuals like MLK andBarack Obama.  When we do that we see these events and people as some sort of resting spot, instead of staying in the struggle.

Black Lives Matter youth are the progenitors of SNCC (Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee)- young people aiming to transform the system, Joseph argued. “For Black people, History is sustenance.Without it we die. With knowledge of those who struggled before us we know who we are, and what we need to do. If we read and write our truths everyday we don’t need drugs and alcohol. The knowledge will keep us healthy.”

Shannon Gibney, whose book gives voice to young transracial adoptees — said essentially the same thing at the Loft Literary Center.  “Something happens when you don’t see yourself in literature.”

She was told by editors to focus her narrative – to which she replied “my life is multilayered.” It was exactly that complexity that she needed to write about.

One of Gibney’s strengths as a writer is that she is a truth teller – something she said does not always work for her in life, but is essential to writing.  Part of telling truth in See No Color was to create Alex, a 16 year old  biracial girl adopted by a white couple — who tells lies as she struggles to create a face for the world.

Her goal as the story progressed was for her character and her readers to learn to be comfortable with themselves and with the diversity they encounter as they proceed toward adulthood.

When I was 17 trying to maneuver my first semester at Oberlin College (a few weeks before dropping out) I came home from a world history class and wrote in my notebook:

“I am a product of history.”

Now, 40 years later, I wish that instead of paragraphing who am I and what is your book about — I could just repeat those six words … I am a product of history…  and the reader (and publisher) would say,

“Interesting. I’ll come along for the ride.”

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