Thursday, August 24, 2006

Updates and downloads

Josephine Bridges for The Asian Reporter on Uma's new picture book from Lee & Low, Bringing Asha Home.

More of illustrator Jamel Akib's artwork.

A downloadable teaching guide for Naming Maya (pdf format).

A downloadable flyer on my school and conference presentations, so I don't have to keep clogging my slow-as-slow connection trying to send this to those who ask for the info.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

10 days in Montpelier, Vermont

Imagine 100 people packed into close quarters in a charming yet definitely aging building. Imagine a schedule that began at 7:30 am with breakfast and often didn't end until past 9:30 pm with readings by incredibly talented and energetic people, most of them a little crazed from lack of sleep. Imagine a cafeteria menu that ran from inventive to–um, inventive. And conversations, endlessly circling around books, work in progress, viewpoint, genre, movies, plot, stories, more books.

Do not imagine (because I am trying to forget) a couple of nightmare travel days courtesy Delta Airlines.

Food and travel notwithstanding, I feel honored to have been invited to be a part of the July 2006 residency of the Vermont College MFA Program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. From students as well as faculty, I learned more than my brain felt it could possibly hold.

I wondered at first why Kellye Carter Crocker, from the fabulous MFA graduating class, wanted to quiz me about the correct pronunciation of the Tamil goodbye, "poyittu varain," from Naming Maya. I tried protesting that it didn't matter. I'd meant the language to be like background music in the story and it was much more important to me that she had enjoyed the book. She insisted. Fine, I said. The words mean goodbye but not goodbye–literally, "I'll go and return." The proper response being in the affirmative, "Go and return."

It turned out Kellye loved the expression so much she used it in the invocation for the graduation ceremony. I knew it was coming, and still, when we got to that point in her talk, it made me cry. Words can be like that, leaving us and yet coming back repeatedly.

Is it August Already?

Before the Vermont College residency (about which more shortly) I got to spend a couple of wonderful days with Jamila Gavin, with whom I've corresponded for a little over four years now. Jamila was in the US last month to lead a residency at Hollins University's MFA program in Roanoke VA.

We had many conversations about reading, writing, life, the universe, and everything. Among other things, Jamila asked if I'd ever read Rumer Godden. Indeed I had. Rumer Godden's The River was the first book I ever read that was set in India and written in a way that did not patronize me. It was an astonishing reading experience. I read it all the way through once, and then again. Even though the viewpoint wasn't close to my own, I was surprised that the story didn't feel "long ago and faraway." Having been put in my "native" place a little while before by The Secret Garden, I had no idea anyone was even allowed to write in this way, very honestly and without a message of power belonging to one group rather than another. I was 13 years old, and The River unlocked a place in me I hadn't known existed.

In a way Rumer Godden gave me permission to write.