I'm proud to call Deborah Wiles a friend and thrilled that her second book in the '60s trilogy is finally out. It's already getting amazing press and reviews. This one isn't to be missed! Debbie stopped by to talk to us about it...
The summer I turned eleven, I went to Mississippi with my family, to visit the relatives and spend time soaking up that particular, beloved landscape and those particular, beloved people who adored me and couldn't wait for my return each summer: a grandmother, a great-grandmother; maiden aunts and widows; cousins, aunts, uncles; and the folks who lived in Jasper County and knew me as "T.P.'s daughter."
There wasn't much to do in a town of a few hundred people. You could watch the socks spin at the "washerteria." You could take a picnic to the cemetery. I spent countless hours plunking on the old piano in the unlocked Methodist church. But the most fun we had all summer was roller skating and swimming at a place out in the countryside called Pine View. There was a lake there for fishing, a restaurant with blue plate specials, and a magnificent, cavernous roller skating rink next to a 200-foot, Olympic sized swimming pool. Or so it seemed to me at the time.
In 1964, the pool, the roller skating rink, and the cafe closed. They never reopened. So did the Cool Dip in Bay Springs, the county seat, along with the movie theater there, the library, and many other places I looked forward to haunting all summer. No one could explain to me why.
It would be years before I understood that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 declared that all public places would be open to all American citizens, regardless of color, and that many white-owned businesses, especially in the South, had just shut their doors. All I knew when I was eleven was that I could no longer swim in the town pool or go roller skating or to the movies, and I wanted to know why.
This story haunted me for 35 years, until I wrote my first book, Freedom Summer (2001, Simon & Schuster). Now, with book two of the '60s trilogy, I have revisited the summer of 1964 with Revolution. In Revolution, 12-year-old Sunny Fairchild, who lives in Greenwood, Mississippi, wants to do the things I did in my Mississippi summers, but finds she can't, when the new law is passed and businesses close, and when invaders -- one thousand college students, most of them white -- come to Mississippi from the North and West to register black voters in a state that has disenfranchised its African-American citizens. It was an exhilarating and dangerous summer.
I knew so little about Freedom Summer, even though I'd written a picture book with that title. It took four years of research which included trips to Greenwood, interviews with citizens there, and voluminous reading and searching, to try to tell Sunny's story with as much honesty and courage as I could. I wanted to tell the outside story of our civil rights history for book two of the '60s trilogy, while creating characters who young readers could identify with today.
So Sunny wants a mother, loves the Beatles (yeah-yeah-yeah!), is devoted to her friends and her father and uncles, and doesn't want change to come to her town. Raymond, a boy who lives across the tracks in Baptist Town, wants to do everything Sunny can do. He can't swim in the town pool. He can't go to the movies at the Leflore Theater. He can't play baseball, like Sunny's step-brother can, because he is black, and these pursuits are reserved for the white citizens of Greenwood.
As I worked, I created Pinterest boards to house my research and a playlist for Revolution. www.pinterest.com/debbiewiles. I gathered newspaper clippings and song lyrics, photographs and advertisements, pamphlets and propaganda, to use in the seven scrapbook sections that make up important pieces of this documentary novel. I wrote four "opinionated biographies" -- Bob Moses (the architect of Freedom Summer), LBJ, Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali, and Wednesday's Women, Dorothy Height and Polly Cowan.
I write like this because I want to show the outer trajectory of a time and place, juxtaposed against an inner story of characters who are struggling within that history. I want young readers to know that they are living in just the same way, making choices that create their individual history as well as the history of their families, their schools, their friends, their world. I want them to know that their choices matter, and so do they. Our stories are our common threads, whether it's 1964 or 2014.
2014 marks the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer. Revolution marks that anniversary as well, as does my first book, Freedom Summer, which is being reissued on June 2 in an anniversary edition with a new cover and forward. I wonder if I am done being haunted by the summer I turned eleven in Mississippi. I wonder if I will continue to write about it. And I wonder what stories young readers are living today that they will eventually write about for future readers to be captivated by.
It's all about the stories, isn't it? We are stories. Every moment we live is a part of that story. That's what I try to capture when I write.
Thank you, e., for this opportunity to think out loud and share what Revolution means to me.
Wowsa - thanks for sharing Debbie!
Scholastic is kindly giving away a free copy of REVOLUTION to one of my lucky followers. Must live in the US/Canada to win. Enter below!