Blooming

Bloom where you are planted, the saying goes.

But, what if we’re not blooming where we’ve taken root? Do we just stay put, confined to whatever or whoever is stifling our growth? Or, do we pick up stakes, literally or figuratively, and try to blossom elsewhere?

My garden provides lessons in this theory all the time. Most of the time I get lucky and place plants and flowers where they thrive under the right amount of sun, shade, and moisture. But, sometimes, despite my best efforts, it doesn’t quite work out. So, I dig the plant up and move it to a different spot. Sometimes it takes a little more work.

The most recent lesson came from a little sweet potato vine. I love the vibrant chartreuse, heart-shaped leaves of the plant. The vines make great accents in flower pots, as they grow and flow around the planter.

Except in the case of this one little sweet potato vine I had in a planter on my deck.

It simply refused to grow.

I watered it, trimmed it, and turned the planter.

But, it refused to grow.

I even filled its little pores with music from the speaker on my deck.

Still, it refused to grow.

So, I gave in, capitulating to forces beyond my control. I considered throwing the plant out, but those of you who know me well, are aware that along with refusing to kill any living thing, I’m also pretty stubborn.

Instead, I dug a hole by the base of my steps, beside a dwarf butterfly bush, and tucked the little shy vine into the ground. I lovingly patted the dirt on top of the newly transferred Ipomoea batatas, sprinkled some water on it, and hoped for the best.

Virginia Hamilton, the most honored author of children’s literature did just that. As a young writer, she was encouraged by one of her professors to leave Antioch College in Yellow Springs, to learn from another instructor at The Ohio State University. The professor there encouraged her to spread her wings and head to New York City. It’s what a writer did back in the 1950s. While there, Virginia’s writing not only flourished, but she also met the love of her life, poet and teacher Arnold Adoff. The couple eventually moved back to Yellow Springs, but the roots of Virginia’s writing deepened after transplanting herself to a new environment.

My little sweet potato vine is also a reflection of my personal journey. For a time, I found myself committing to opportunities that although they were very fulfilling, didn’t seem to reflect my purpose. Eventually, I felt as though I was living a life that was taking me in a direction other than what I felt entirely comfortable with. I was beginning to feel stuck and going through the paces based on others’ expectations.

As life came to a crossroads, a dear friend of mine offered great advice. “Jules, look in a mirror, and ask yourself, what brings you the most joy,” Susan said. Before the conversation was over, I knew the answer to the question. Writing, researching, and sharing inspiring true stories with children is my jam. And, I can do this anywhere.

So, I transplanted myself. Always longing to live along the banks of the Maumee River, my husband and I found the perfect home for us. While I work in my office, I’m inspired by the sights and sounds of nature, from fox stalking the banks, to the screeches and squawks of six juvenile eagles who soar above. New writing opportunities continue to develop and present themselves, and my soul feels at peace. I’m thriving.

Maybe if you’re feeling stuck, if people or circumstances in your life are holding you back, you might want to consider uprooting, physically or emotionally. Try and find the conditions that are just right for you to grow and flourish.

It doesn’t have to be a huge effort, sometimes even the smallest measures make a difference. Take a walk in the sun, dance in the rain. Nurture your soul by calling a friend you haven’t talked to in a while.

Just like my little sweet potato vine, sometimes a little change is good.

 

She was a gift to All

I had a wonderful time recently sharing the life of Virginia Hamilton, sponsored by Ohio Humanities and hosted by the National Afro American Museum and Cultural Center.

We had over 100 participants who joined me as I walked them through Virginia’s life journey, from her adventures as a little girl growing up in Yellow Springs, Ohio to her college years at Antioch College and The Ohio State University, to her beautiful love story with Arnold Adoff, which began in New York City.

The city proved to be an inspiring start for both Virginia’s writing career as well as Virginia and Arnold’s family life. Virginia’s first novel, Zeely, was written while living in New York, and their two children, Leigh and Jaime were born there.

But the call of home, of extended family, was strong and Virginia and Arnold eventually resettled back in Yellow Springs, on a plot of land carved from her family’s original farm. Virginia and Arnold built their dream home, where they raised their children, all the while creating stories and poetry from their respective workspaces. Virginia’s study was on the main floor, and as she looked out her windows beyond her desk, the 100-year-old hedgerow served as a daily reminder of her history.

Virginia was a natural-born storyteller, influenced by the yarns that swirled around her, spun from the hearts and minds of her elders. Virginia drew upon these stories, to craft her own. Virginia referred to these recollections as her “Rememory” which she defined as “an exquisitely-textured recollection, real or imagined, which is otherwise indescribable.”

Virginia wrote forty-one books in her short lifetime. She won EVERY major award extended to writers of children’s literature. Sadly, she left this world all too soon, after quietly and bravely battling breast cancer for ten years.

Virginia is still revered in the world of children’s literature, and her legacy continues through the annual Virginia Hamilton Conference on Multicultural Literature for Youth held at Kent State University. Virginia’s works live on, in libraries, schools, and private collections around the world.

Now, five of Virginia’s novels for young readers are being re-presented by the Library of America. Virginia Hamilton: Five Novels is to be released on September 14, 2021. You may preorder your copy here.

As a final note, I’d like to thank all of those who subscribed to this blog as a result of my presentation. And, the winner of a copy of Virginia Hamilton: Five Novels is Susie Loik.

Ms. Loik offered these kind words upon being informed of her prize, “Your work to bring Virginia Hamilton’s contributions to light are commended. I am learning so much that I wish had been deemed relevant during my years of formal education. She was a gift to All.”

Virginia was indeed a gift to All.

Anonymous

“For most of history, Anonymous was a woman.” -Virginia Woolf

I discovered this quote while doing research for my latest proposed biography for young readers. My subject, even though she has a significant place in history, is unknown. This woman was the first to serve in her role. This woman stood toe-to-toe with men and held her own. This woman dared to buck the system to accomplish what she believed is right. This woman’s story has never been told.

I hope to change that.

I recently took to Twitter to begin an ongoing campaign to promote women in history. I searched through various online portals, such as “this day in history” and “this day in women’s history.” My campaign ended after three days. The ratio of noted accomplishments by men outranked women’s significantly. It is as if we’ve taken the root word of history literally. HIS story.

I hope to change that.

I’ve been blessed to share the life journeys of three amazing women, who have made their own mark in the world.

For years, no one knew that Carolyn Keene was not the actual writer of the Nancy Drew Mystery Stories. There is no Carolyn Keene. The original author of the teenage sleuth stories was none other than Mildred Wirt Benson. As the very first ghostwriter for the series, Millie was indeed anonymous until her role was made public through a lawsuit. The legal action was filed by the former publisher of the series, Grosset & Dunlap, when the creators of the series, the Stratemeyer Syndicate, made a business decision to contract with Simon & Schuster to publish future Nancy Drew stories. When Millie showed up at the trial in New York City in 1980, Harriet Stratemeyer greeted Millie with a curt, “I thought you were dead.” Nope, very much alive, and no longer anonymous.

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Virginia Hamilton was the most honored author of children’s literature ever. EVER! Virginia was the first African American, male, or female, to receive the Newbery Medal, in 1975 for her groundbreaking novel, M.C. Higgins, The Great. Virginia’s 41 books for younger readers garnered every major award established for authors. Virginia was the first children’s book author to receive the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, otherwise known as the “Genius Grant.” Her body of work was recognized through the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award and the Hans Christian Andersen Award for Writing. Yet, her books have been buried among the stacks in libraries, her stories rarely shared with today’s young readers.

As a 22-year-old intern with the Miami Herald, sports journalist Christine Brennan made her way through the doors of the locker room of the Minnesota Vikings. It was previously all-male territory, even though a federal judge had ordered TWO years before that female journalists should have equal access to locker rooms. Christine continues to make her mark in the world of sports journalism, often the “go-to” whenever there is controversy or significant news with athletes. Yet, for all the doors that Christine has opened during her years as a sports reporter, a columnist with USA Today, and commentator on ABC News, her story was buried as a lead.

We are on the brink of Women’s History Month. Why just a month when we collectively try and create awareness of amazing female scientists, writers, artists, civil rights activists, educators, and business leaders? Why is there only a month to pull back the curtain on these anonymous makers of history?

Why not make every day a chance to share HER story?

I hope to change that.

Virginia Hamilton…Before Her Time

I’m honored to be sharing the incredible life journey of Virginia Hamilton, the most honored author of children’s literature, ever. EVER! The virtual presentation is Thursday, February 11 at 11 a.m.

I’ll walk listeners through Virginia’s childhood in Yellow Springs, Ohio, to becoming the Newbery Medal winner, and beyond. And, I’ll be sharing an exciting announcement about a collection of Virginia’s works!

I hope to “see” you during this virtual presentation, sponsored by Ohio Humanities and hosted by the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center.

Here’s a link to sign up…https://ohiohistory.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_aAGJo1lSQ2WaiVMLOZIAJg