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Tag Archives | slavery

Putting Emotion into Nonfiction Books

Many peo­ple think writ­ing non­fic­tion is just string­ing togeth­er a bunch of ran­dom facts. Noth­ing could be fur­ther from the truth. While writ­ing non­fic­tion, I use every sin­gle fic­tion tech­nique a nov­el­ist uses.

I feel strong­ly that I need to write my text in a way that will lead my read­ers to invest emo­tion­al­ly with my non­fic­tion text. Real. Raw. Emo­tion. But I don’t tell read­ers what to feel. I trust they will sup­ply their own emo­tions as they read my book.

Let me give you some exam­ples.

Buried LivesMy newest book Buried Lives: The Enslaved Peo­ple of George Washington’s Mount Ver­non is about six, spe­cif­ic enslaved indi­vid­u­als. This book was chal­leng­ing to write because no writ­ten record exists from these indi­vid­u­als. There­fore as the author I had to be very care­ful not to put words, thoughts or feel­ings into their mouths, so to speak. I had to fig­ure out how to write the text that is full of emo­tion while main­tain­ing his­tor­i­cal accu­ra­cy.

To begin Buried Lives, I want­ed to pull in my read­ers emo­tion­al­ly from the start. So, the first sen­tence of the first chap­ter is:

William Lee, a six­teen-year-old African Amer­i­can boy, was for sale.”

It is straight­for­ward and his­tor­i­cal­ly accu­rate. But at the same time, I hope my words car­ry a lot of emo­tion­al weight.

Lat­er in the book, I give read­ers a peek into the dai­ly life of Car­o­line, the house­maid at Mount Ver­non. I wrote a sec­tion about the work she did each day. I explained how she swept, turned the feath­er beds, and dust­ed. While our mod­ern day sen­si­bil­i­ties under­stand basic house clean­ing, I inten­tion­al­ly left one detail of her clean­ing rou­tine to the end of the sen­tence. To mod­ern read­ers, this should pack an emo­tion­al punch:

She emp­tied and cleaned the cham­ber pots that had been used dur­ing the night. Then Car­o­line poured a lit­tle bit of water into the pots to cut down on the smell and mess for the next time she emp­tied them.”

Something Out of NothingIn my book Some­thing Out of Noth­ing: Marie Curie and Radi­um, I wrote about the death of Marie’s hus­band, Pierre, and his funer­al. Then I want­ed to pull the read­ers emo­tion­al­ly into the way Marie han­dled the loss of her beloved hus­band:

 “Marie could not bear to talk about Pierre, not even to men­tion his name. In the years fol­low­ing his death, she would nev­er talk to her daugh­ters about their father.

Around this time, Marie began rub­bing togeth­er her fin­ger­tips and thumbs (which had become hard from work­ing with vials of radi­um) in a ner­vous habit. Uncon­scious­ly, she would rub and rub and rub. The habit stayed with her for the rest of her life.”

In Defiance of HitlerAnoth­er of my books, In Defi­ance of Hitler: The Secret Mis­sion of Var­i­an Fry, relates how an Amer­i­can jour­nal­ist saved thou­sands of refugees from falling into the hands of the Nazis by secret­ly help­ing them escape. Fry stayed in Mar­seilles for thir­teen months, and then was forced to leave France. In this pas­sage, I want read­ers to feel the emo­tions of Fry’s sad­ness and uncer­tain­ty on the day he said good­bye to the peo­ple who were part of the team who worked with him to save lives:

Rain poured from the sky on Sep­tem­ber 6, 1941, the day Var­i­an left France. The gray, drea­ry weath­er matched their mood as Var­i­an and his staff ate their last lunch togeth­er. Around the table, long moments of silence took the place of heir usu­al meal­time chat­ter. None of them knew what hard­ships lay ahead. None knew what the out­come of World War 11 would be. Would Hitler ulti­mate­ly be vic­to­ri­ous and take over all of Europe and the rest of the world? Would they ever see each oth­er again? Would the Vichy police or the Gestapo come for them in the mid­dle of the night? Would they have enough food to sur­vive the win­ter?”

In each of these exam­ples, I don’t tell the read­er how they should feel, yet I hope each read­er makes these emo­tion­al jumps with me.

I’ve always said, “I don’t cre­ate the facts, but I use the facts cre­ative­ly.” It is pos­si­ble to fill the pages of a non­fic­tion book with pow­er­ful emo­tions. I believe this is what read­ers will remem­ber long after they close the cov­er.

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Bookstorm™: Chasing Freedom

Bookstorm Chasing FreedomIn this Bookstorm™:

Chasing FreedomChasing Freedom

The Life Jour­neys of Har­ri­et Tub­man and Susan B. Antho­ny, Inspired by His­tor­i­cal Facts
writ­ten by Nik­ki Grimes
illus­trat­ed by Michele Wood
Orchard Books, 2015

As Nik­ki Grimes writes in her author’s note for this book, “His­to­ry is often taught in bits and pieces, and stu­dents rarely get the notion that these bits and pieces are con­nect­ed.” Bookol­o­gy want­ed to look at this book for a num­ber of rea­sons. We hope that you will con­sid­er the remark­able sto­ries of free­dom fight­ers Har­ri­et Tub­man and Susan B. Antho­ny and the moments in his­to­ry that the author reveals. We hope that you will study the illus­tra­tions by Michele Wood and dis­cuss how each spread in the book makes you feel, how African motifs and quilt pat­terns are made an inte­gral part of the book’s design, and how the col­or palette brings strength to the con­ver­sa­tion between these two women. 

This con­ver­sa­tion between these two women nev­er took place. The sub­ti­tle reads “inspired by his­tor­i­cal facts.” Nik­ki Grimes imag­ines a con­ver­sa­tion that could have tak­en place between these two women, solid­ly drawn from the facts of their lives. Is this a new form of fic­tion? Non­fic­tion? You’ll have a mean­ing­ful dis­cus­sion about the dif­fer­ences between fact, fic­tion, infor­ma­tion text, non­fic­tion, and sto­ry­telling when you dis­cuss this with your class­room or book club.

In each Book­storm™, we offer a bib­li­og­ra­phy of books that have close ties to the the fea­tured book. For Chas­ing Free­dom, you’ll find books for a vari­ety of tastes, inter­ests, and read­ing abil­i­ties. The book will be com­fort­ably read by ages 7 through 12. We’ve includ­ed pic­ture books, non­fic­tion, videos, web­sites, and des­ti­na­tions for the pletho­ra of pur­pos­es you might have. There are many fine books that fall out­side of these para­me­ters, but we chose to nar­row the selec­tion of books this time to those that fol­lowed the fight for women’s right to vote from the 1840s to 1920 and those that fol­lowed slav­ery in Amer­i­ca until the Eman­ci­pa­tion Procla­ma­tion and a few years beyond. These are the major con­cerns behind the work of Har­ri­et Tub­man and Susan B. Antho­ny.

AFRICAN AMERICANSRIGHT TO BE FREE

Cel­e­brat­ing Free­dom. Two recent books are includ­ed, one deal­ing with the Eman­ci­pa­tion Procla­ma­tion and the oth­er with how freed peo­ple lived in New York City in Seneca Vil­lage, which would even­tu­al­ly become Cen­tral Park.

Har­ri­et Tub­man. We’ve cho­sen a few of the many good books about this free­dom fight­er, trail blaz­er, and spir­i­tu­al­ly moti­vat­ed woman.

His­to­ry. From Book­er T. Washington’s auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal Up from Slav­ery to Julius Lester’s To Be a Slave through to Kadir Nelson’s Heart and Soul: the Sto­ry of Amer­i­ca and African Amer­i­cans, you’ll find a num­ber of books that will fas­ci­nate your stu­dents and make fine choic­es for book club dis­cus­sions.

Under­ground Rail­road. One of our tru­ly hero­ic move­ments in Amer­i­can his­to­ry, we’ve select­ed books that chron­i­cle the work, the dan­ger, and the vic­to­ries of these free­dom fight­ers, of which Har­ri­et Tub­man was a strong, ded­i­cat­ed mem­ber. 

WOMEN’S RIGHT TO VOTE

Susan B. Antho­ny. Often writ­ten about, we’ve select­ed just a few of the many books about this woman who under­stood the hard­ships women faced and the neces­si­ty for them to be able to vote, to have a voice in gov­ern­ment.

More Suf­frag­ists. Many women around the globe fought for their right to vote and the fight con­tin­ues in many coun­tries. We’ve select­ed sev­er­al books that fall with­in our time frame.

Let us know how you are mak­ing use of this Book­storm™. Share your dis­cus­sions, class­room inclu­sion, or send us a pho­to of your library dis­play.

(Thanks to Mar­sha Qua­ley and Claire Rudolf Mur­phy for shar­ing their con­sid­er­able knowl­edge and insight about books for this Book­storm™.)

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Keystones of the Stone Arch Bridge

Keystones of the Stone Arch Bridge

In down­town Min­neapo­lis, Min­neso­ta, span­ning the Mis­sis­sip­pi Riv­er, there is a “Stone Arch Bridge” that resem­bles a roman viaduct with its 23 arch­es. Built at a time when Min­neapo­lis was a pri­ma­ry grain-milling and wood-pro­­duc­ing cen­ter for the Unit­ed States, Empire Builder James J. Hill want­ed the bridge built to help his rail­road reach the […]

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All Different Now

All Different Now

Do you know how some­times your hands hov­er over a book, want­i­ng to open it, sens­ing that this will be an impor­tant book, and you hes­i­tate, want­i­ng to pro­long your inter­ac­tion? I did that, turn­ing All Dif­fer­ent Now this way and that, then exam­in­ing the title page, the jack­et flaps … and final­ly allow­ing myself […]

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