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.

\

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.

Home

Home.

This simple word carries such complexity.

Especially now, as our homes have become our workplaces, our refuge, and our sometimes-too-close quarantine quarters all rolled into one.

Home means so much more than that, as I discovered while being on the road for a month, living out of a suitcase, far away.

I felt much like Dorothy, as I couldn’t wait to enjoy a respite from the patterns that the pandemic has forced upon us. Life was beginning to feel like a wash, rinse, spin, repeat cycle. Outside of a new, exciting project in the world of children’s book publishing, I had little desire to write, to journal, to create.

I was ready for an adventure.

Our travels took us from our home in Ohio to warmer temperatures of the south, from the Carolinas to Georgia and through to Louisiana. We loved spending time with our grown children, catching up with family and friends, and ultimately, bearing witness to my niece’s beautiful wedding.

We drove over 3,000 miles, listening to true-crime podcasts, talk radio, and sang to classic rock and Motown. I succumbed to eating gluten-free fast food, something I haven’t done in over 4 years. I’m now in rehab from french fries.

We raised our glasses to various life events, from celebrating a new baby within extended family ranks, to the bride and groom, to being reunited with children, siblings, and friends. We raised our glasses a lot. I’m now in rehab from wine too.

We hiked and walked nearly every day, enjoying the change of seasons and mother nature at her best. And worst. Zeta came in with a vengeance during our time in North Carolina. Heavy winds and rain brought down trees and power lines, putting our travels on pause.

We lugged our stuff into five different homes and one hotel, grateful to our hosts for such comfortable sleeping spaces. We adjusted to different night sounds, from coyotes calling and gathering, to city street sounds.

We fished, we golfed, walked our Labrador retriever, Luna, we swam, and we danced. We helped our daughter with home projects, inside and out. Then when we needed a break, we read, relaxed, did yoga.

After about three weeks, I really felt like Dorothy. After all the fun, the French fries, the toasts, the different beds, the coyotes, and the late-night horns honking, I wanted nothing more than to click my heels and to be back home.

I was ready for my quiet oasis, my writing space. I was ready for our kitchen, our bed. I was ready for home.

Yet, I tried to be mindful of the experiences that were behind me on the travels, and those still in store. All along the way, I tried to appreciate that home is less a place than a feeling.

It’s the first hug you’ve had from your grown son and daughter after being away from each other for months. It’s the stories shared from your childhood with your siblings, laughing until you almost pee. It’s the giggling, in person, with your nieces. It’s the walk on the beach with your sister-in-law, the making of communal meals with friends, and yes, the tears shed over those who are no longer physically with us.

Yes, Dorothy, there is no place like home, but home is truly wherever our hearts are.

 

 

 

 

 

Mysteries revealed!

I had a blast participating in a discussion as the Toledo Lucas County Public Library celebrates the 90th anniversary of the release of the first Nancy Drew Mystery Stories.

Tune in to discover the secret behind the first ghostwriter for the series! (Hint: I wrote a biography about her, found here: https://bookshop.org/books/missing-millie-benson-the-secret-case-of-the-nancy-drew-ghostwriter-and-journalist/9780821421840

Ode to Nancy Drew and Millie Benson…90 years later

We are destined to be forgotten within three generations, so the experts say. Our oral histories, our stories will no longer be told and will be lost over time, according to Aaron Holt of the National Archives and Records Administration.

So, all the more fascinating it is that a young, independent, and brave fictional female character remains as relevant 90 years after she dashed off in her little roadster to solve the first of many mysteries.

Yep, Nancy Drew is alive and well all these years later, and still ranks as one of the top fictional female sleuths in surveys.

But who wrote the Nancy Drew Mystery Stories?

The answer is much like one of the mysteries, filled with plot twists and turns.

Most young readers grew up believing that Carolyn Keene wrote the mysteries.

There was no Carolyn Keene.

Carolyn Keene was a pseudonym that was created by Edward Stratemeyer. Stratemeyer created the Nancy Drew Mystery Stories series, and hired ghostwriters to flesh out the characters and the outlines he provided.

There is only one woman who could rightfully proclaim that she was the original ghostwriter.

Her name was Mildred Augustine Wirt Benson, known simply as Millie Benson later in life.

Toledo Times photo of Mildred Wirt, at her desk surrounded by her works on August 10, 1949. (Nancy Drew). BLADE ARCHIVE FILE PHOTO/

Millie began writing for Edward Stratemeyer in 1926, right on the heels of becoming the first person to receive a Master of Arts degree from the University of Iowa School of Journalism. Stratemeyer appreciated her work on Ruth Fielding and Her Great Scenario, which he had hired Millie to write. In October of 1929, Stratemeyer sent Millie the outline for a new series, featuring a young female sleuth. The first book in the series was titled The Secret of the Old Clock.

Stratemeyer’s response to Millie’s work was typical of how an editor would respond to a new writer, offering both what he liked, and what he didn’t care for. He wrote, “I thought the first half of the story was a bit slow and that the characters were not sufficiently introduced.” He also offered, “but as soon as Nancy gets to New Moon Lake the story picks up very well indeed and the last eight chapters are particularly strong.”

The biggest issue though, was the vision that Stratemeyer had of the main character. “He didn’t think that I created the character of Nancy in the way that he anticipated,” Millie said.

The publisher however was more than enthused with Millie’s presentation of the character, the strong, smart, independent, and irreverent Nancy Drew. And so it was that Millie’s version of Nancy Drew remained, and continues to inspire young readers still, 90 years later.

Millie went on to write 23 of the first 30 Nancy Drew Mystery Stories. Millie wrote over one hundred novels for children, most under short deadlines. And, Millie wrote many of them while nursing her first husband, Asa Wirt, who suffered a series of strokes, and caring for their young daughter, Peggy.

Millie’s story reads much like a Nancy Drew Mystery Story, fraught with challenges, conflict, loss, and shady characters trying to undermine her efforts. Millie was as plucky as her character, independent to a fault, and strong in her convictions.

Here is hoping that Millie’s light will shine just as long as Nancy Drew’s does.

To purchase your copy of Missing Millie Benson: The Secret Case of the Ghostwriter and Journalist, click here:

https://bookshop.org/books/missing-millie-benson-the-secret-case-of-the-nancy-drew-ghostwriter-and-journalist/9780821421840

For further information, visit www.julierubini.com

Psychology

Why Do We Do the Things We Do?

Why do we do the things we do? Why do we respond to situations or events in our lives the way that we do? How is it that the smallest things can make us angry as heck, but the really big issues don’t even phase us? Or why does something we do not have any control over bring out our controlling tendencies?

Human behavior is a fascinating topic. It’s even more fascinating when one examines why teenagers do what they do. And even better yet when one gets to research and write about why teens do what they do for teens.

I got that chance when Nomad Press, an educational publisher, chose me to explore and share this topic through their Inquire and Investigate series for young adults.
Here’s how it happened and what I learned through the process.

Andi Diehn, the editor extraordinaire of Nomad, reached out to me to contribute to their series on cool career avenues for girls. Man, I wish I could have written one of those books, as I’m all about girl power. Unfortunately, the deadline for that work directly conflicted with that of another of my books, so I had to turn down the offer. But I told Andi to keep me in mind for other opportunities. In the interim, Andi came to know a bit about my personal journey.

When Andi called to offer the chance to write Psychology: Why We Smile, Strive and Sing, she suggested that she thought I would be perfect based on my experiences. Andi thought that my positive choices through what most consider the worst tragedy, the death of a child, served as a great foundation to draw upon in researching and writing the book.

I’m grateful for the vote of confidence.

The truth of the matter is that I’ve often wondered how it is possible that I made the choices I did then, and now. How is it that I managed to literally pick myself up from off the floor on that horrible day and chose to not only survive but to truly live? What physical, emotional and genetic factors came into play? How did my environment and upbringing factor into my choices? (And for this I must thank my five siblings for helping to shape my survivalist nature!)

If you wonder the same, why you do the things you do, Psychology: Why We Smile, Strive and Sing breaks down the science behind our choices. Whether you are a teen, or parent one, my book offers insights into why this is such an amazing time in emotional and physical development, lending to choices.

So what did I learn through the process?

I learned that we as human beings all carry our experiences, our triumphs and our tragedies with us every day. We make decisions and judgements based on the influence of how we were raised, our current environment, and our support system, or lack thereof.

I learned that we as human beings have the capacity to either bury ourselves in our grief and sorrows, or to apply our energies in positive ways to experience post-traumatic growth.

I learned that for such a complicated topic it is great to have experts to lean on, such as Dr. Patrick McCormick, Neurosurgeon, Toledo, Rae Yenderusiak, LPCC-S, Toledo, Dr. Katie McLaughlin, Clinical Psychologist and Professor at Harvard University, and Dr. Nancy Segal, Psychologist and Director of the Twin Studies Center.

And, I learned that if you always have wondered about something, read about it.

Psychology: Why We Smile, Strive, and Sing

Psychology: Why We Smile, Strive and Sing releases on August 15, 2020. To pre-order a copy, visit https://bookshop.org/books/psychology-why-we-smile-strive-and-sing/9781619309111

Chosen

It was an honor and pleasure to be interviewed by Debbie Gonzalez for her podcast. Debbie inspired me through her inciting questions about love, loss, and celebrating life. More so, she suggests that I was chosen for my path, an incredible thought. Here’s to all who have guided and supported me on my journey. You were chosen as well.

Check out her debcast here: http://www.debbiegonzales.com/the-debcast-epsiodes/2019/12/29/ep34-never-deny-an-opportunity-at-first-glance-with-julie-rubini

Connecting at Christmas

I’m supposed to be tending to my work in progress…my newest writing project about a group of incredible, strong women who overcame challenges and adversity.

My kind of story.

But I’ve just finished setting up the special little tree that we’ve created in honor of our little reader gone too soon, and my heart is still hurting, and between flashes of memories of Claire, my brain is thinking about watching the movie about Mr. Rogers yesterday with two friends who have also buried their children, and I just can’t write about anything else at the moment.

The movie was profound, and I teared up a number of times, as the journey between Fred Rogers and Tom Junod, the investigative journalist who was sent to do just a 400-word piece for a story on heroes in Esquire magazine back in 1998, struck multiple chords. There was a scene from a dream sequence where Tom was bedside with his dying mother. She told him that she knew he hung onto anger toward his father who abandoned them when his mother became ill. His mother told Tom to let it go. She didn’t need his anger. There was a scene where Mr. Rogers asked Tom to close his eyes and remain silent for a moment, just thinking about the people in his life who had loved him into being the person he was. Tears rolled down both Tom’s cheeks and mine, as I did the same in the theater.

After the movie finished, the credits rolled, the theater emptied, the lights went up, and a young employee waited patiently to sweep up the remnants of our popcorn, my friends and I reflected on the movie, and checked in with each other to make sure we were okay, given our shared experience of loss.

Mr. Rogers I knew that the movie was based on a story, so as I do after watching a film based on real-life, I researched and found the original article that Mr. Junod penned. What started as a small article became 10,000 words and served as the cover story for the magazine. As honoring and humbling as that would be for any writer, I can only imagine what a transformative experience it was for the journalist. The movie did a great job in sharing Mr. Junod’s growth through the process of coming to know Mr. Rogers. Despite the investigative journalist’s misgivings, believing that there was the public persona of Mr. Rogers, and then there was the man off-camera, Mr. Junod ultimately discovered they were one in the same.

Mr. Rogers was a faith-filled man. He read the bible, attended church, and he prayed for many people by name every day. Mr. Rogers prayed for people he met, he read about, complete strangers. The simplest prayer that Mr. Rogers would share was, “Thank you God.” When he prayed with someone, he created an unforgettable connection with that individual.

Mr. Junod wrote of Mr. Roger’s desire and ability to connect with people in the article. “Once upon a time, a man named Fred Rogers decided that he wanted to live in heaven. Heaven is the place where good people go when they die, but this man, Fred Rogers, didn’t want to go to heaven; he wanted to live in heaven, here, now, in this world, and so one day, when he was talking about all the people he had loved in this life, he looked at me and said, “The connections we make in the course of a life—maybe that’s what heaven is, Tom. We make so many connections here on earth. Look at us—I’ve just met you, but I’m investing in who you are and who you will be, and I can’t help it.”

So, that brings me back to where this all started. I was blessed to have a child we named Claire who brought light into my world and continues to shine it down on me. Through my loss I’ve connected with others as we make our way through our own grief journeys. I have incredibly deep ties with my husband and two children, extended family and dear friends.

Like Mr. Junod, I’ve struggled with anger and tend to run away or blow up when I become overwhelmed. And also like the journalist, I’ve been transformed by the connections I’ve made in life, by those who have loved me into being who I am.

I’m my own work in progress. I’m strong, I’ve faced adversity and challenges.

We all do. And we are all changed by those experiences and those who come into our lives to help us through them. Maybe we are living in heaven, here and now. I feel that way.

And for that, in the immortal words of Mr. Rogers, I pray, “Thank you God.”

Wishes

This radio interview with my friend Denise Brennan-Nelson came up in my Facebook feed as a memory from four years ago. In case you missed it the first time, it’s a great reflection of my journey as a bereaved mom, founder of Claire’s Day and children’s book author. We talk about wishes and what gets in the way. Enjoy! https://soundcloud.com/podcastdetroit/the-nooner-show-episode-2?fbclid=IwAR1t8JxlapTBbcEwdzk67hLJoKMQ64TQIG0MvugWARx_pYw3KZvHl7-wnTw