By Abby Davis
“Once upon a time…happily ever after” fairytale romances rarely occur in real life. There are always complications; life is not perfect. She’s Gone seems to be driving these points home. This novel starts out seeming like perhaps the main characters, Kofi and Keisha, will fall in love and everything will go perfectly. After delving a bit farther into the book, however, the audience realizes that this will not at all be the case. Their romance, which seems to be a parallel for life as a whole, is tumultuous and wrought with deceit, heartache, miscommunication, and tragedy.
This absurd love story is far from typical, and so is the writing style. The author, Kwame Dawes, tells this cross-cultural romance beautifully. His words leap from the page to form images of both South Carolina and Jamaica, the two main settings of the novel. His sentences mesh together rhythmically and some passages read like song lyrics. It is no surprise that Dawes also writes poetry and was Distinguished Poet in Residence at the University of South Carolina where he taught from 1992-2012.
Dawes lived in Ghana, Jamaica, and South Carolina and all three of these places are featured in his novel. The story includes some background in Ghana, but primarily takes place in Jamaica and South Carolina. Kofi and Keisha meet in Columbia, South Carolina where Keisha was working for the University of South Carolina. Their romance later takes them to Jamaica where Dawes brilliantly captures the Jamaican dialect in his writing as well as the nation’s vibrant culture.
Differences between cultures, skin colors, and countries are a central topic in the novel and South Carolina and Jamaica are often compared and contrasted. Some of these differences prove to be part of the many problems with Kofi and Keisha’s relationship. Their romance is far from perfect; Dawes presents many harsh truths of the world and the story can be very heavy, intense, and vulgar. His magical writing and the incredible insight he provides into different cultures, however, make it well worth the read.
Please join the Center in welcoming Abby Davis as a guest blogger! Abby is a freshman at USC and is majoring in comparative literature and philosophy. Abby is from Kinston, North Carolina.
Her favorite books are Anna Karenina and A Thousand Splendid Suns, but she thoroughly enjoys all genres. In addition to reading, she enjoys sailing and playing with her dog, Chloe. Abby will be reviewing and blogging about South Carolina books and authors in the coming months.
Application Deadline: February 5, 2013
The Big Read is accepting applications from non-profit organizations to develop community-wide reading programs between September 2013 and June 2014. The Big Read is a national program designed to revitalize the role of literature in American culture and to encourage reading for pleasure and enlightenment.
Organizations selected to participate in The Big Read receive a grant, educational and promotional materials, and access to online training resources and opportunities. Approximately 75 organizations from across the country will be selected.
We are proud to announce three new titles to The Big Read:
The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
True Grit by Charles Portis
Into the Beautiful North by Luís Alberto Urrea
Visit http://www.NEABigRead.org/application_process.php for more information.
Questions? Call Arts Midwest at 612.238.8010 or email TheBigRead@artsmidwest.org
by Taylor Cheney
The age-old idiom “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover” could not be more true for Tom Feelings’ I Saw Your Face. This cliche reasoning is not because the book’s binding is misleading, or unpleasant to the eye in any way. It is because that while the story may look like it belongs in a library’s young adult section or stacked upon a little boy or girl’s bookshelf, the pages reveal a mature subject and a poetic depth that does not often characterize children’s literature.
The short story goes beyond the text to possess a narration all its own. While the story is about Feelings’ African heritage and his journeys and the faces he came across around the world, the text itself was written by his friend and colleague, Kwame Dawes. The Jamaican native has been an influential writer, poet and musician, including a cherished former English professor at the University of South Carolina. In the introduction to I Saw Your Face, Dawes explains the birth of the story and how the text was an emotional response to Feelings’ illustrations, who was also a former art professor at the University of South Carolina. Their sensational bond is unavoidable and is a “lasting testament to Tom’s kindness and visionary force.”
Each page carries a different face and expression following a story of survival, identity, and the quest for familiarity. Dawes writes that in all his travels, he always has this “peculiar sense of seeing faces that look so familiar” even though there is no way he could have before. From Suriname, to New Orleans, Mombasa, Savannah – these faces follow the writer that look the same but have their own defining characteristics about them. These are the faces of Dawes’ and Feelings’ culture, “full of ancient stories and dreams,” that do not haunt them, but instead exist as reminders that no matter where we go, our origins never leave us.
As part of the South Carolina State Library’s remodeling efforts, our web server will be periodically unavailable until Friday, December 14. The websites affected include our main website, DISCUS, WorkSC, StudySC, ReadSC, and DayByDaySC.
Outages are not planned to last longer than a few minutes at a time. If you find any of our sites offline, please try visiting again in a few minutes. We apologize for any inconvenience this will cause. Thank you for your patience.
With only 26 letters in the English alphabet, it is difficult to highlight all of South Carolina’s symbolic staples. However, author Carol Crane manages to pinpoint the state’s flora, fauna, and fascinating culture in these short boundaries in P is for Palmetto: A South Carolina Alphabet.
Crane cleverly presents a new identity that relates to the history of the Palmetto State with each letter. In doing so, Crane travels all over the state, ranging from Myrtle Beach’s Grand Strand (for G) to the Upcountry (for U) while also providing a brief insight to its significance. As if the intricate watercolor illustrations don’t do enough (done by Mary Whyte) the book’s pages read like postcards – something you would want to share with a friend to show South Carolina’s lush history and landscape. “P is for Palmetto, our official state tree,” she writes, “It’s also a symbol on our flag, respected by you and me.”
In addition to P is for Palmetto, Crane is also the author of 21 other children’s stories, including P is for Peach: A Georgia Alphabet and S is for Sunshine: A Florida Alphabet. The book is contagiously fun to read, especially for young readers who will be anxious to learn what the next letter will represent (if they are not too distracted by the beautiful artwork). In addition, the story also leaves the reader with ‘A Path Full of Facts’ with questions and answers about South Carolina that you can learn throughout the book.
Crane’s work has the ability to function as both a favorite bedtime story and a descriptive (and more entertaining) history book. In fact, it may even teach a thing or two to a parent or teacher reading this!
by Taylor Cheney
Growing up, young girls are programmed to desire any type of hair they don’t already possess – literally, any. No matter how straight, free from frizz, or glossy a girl’s hair is, she will always convince herself that the curly, wavier, more voluminous roots would look better atop her little head. Nonetheless, there are numerous ways to surrender to this childish appetite, but Dinah Johnson suggests otherwise.
In her children’s book, Hair Dance!, Johnson writes passages teaching young girls, specifically African American, to embrace their beauty and their hair. Her book flawlessly includes brief and encouraging messages to growing women, complete with actual photographs taken by the illustrator, Kelly Johnson (no relation), of young girls and their different approaches to their favorite hair style. The short narration perfectly describes how deeply hair is interwoven within a girl’s personality,which at a young age, is one of the most important things to learn.
Johnson, an English professor at the University of South Carolina, gives descriptions of the various hair styles which have become so innately enveloped into their society. Johnson writes “strong hair growing into dreadlocks (caring hands make them love locks)” or to let one’s roots take their own form in their “nature hair, real hair, flower power strong hair.”
At the end of the book, Johnson leaves a powerful writer’s note explaining that “our culture values beauty and improvisation in every realm of life, and hair is no exception.” She encourages everyone to “work with it, play with it, style it, and treasure it as the Art that it is.”
Hair Dance! is one of the rare stories that teaches women of any race, ethnicity, age, to know who you are and revel in it – there’s more to life than just lather, rinse, repeat.
River of Words (ROW), the world’s largest youth poetry and art competition, is accepting submissions to its 18th annual environmental poetry and art contest, sponsored in affiliation with The Library of Congress Center for the Book. Young people in kindergarten through twelfth grade, from anywhere in the world, are invited to explore and interpret their own home grounds by creating poetry and/or art about the places they live. Students may enter on their own or under the tutelage of a teacher or youth leader, as part of a group. The contest is free to enter and entry forms may be downloaded from the organization’s website at http://www.stmarys-ca.edu/center-for-environmental-literacy/art-poetry-contest.
Grand Prize winners (eight in all), plus the ROW/KSOE Teacher of the Year will win a trip to the 2013 River of Words Youth Creativity Awards in San Francisco. The ceremony, emceed by ROW co-founders Robert Hass and Pamela Michael, will be held on April 21 at the San Francisco Public Library. Winners and finalists will have their work published in a widely-distributed anthology, River of Words: The Natural World as Viewed by Young People. In addition, an East Coast award ceremony, also emceed by Hass and Michael, will be held at The Library of Congress on May 7th .
The contest accepts poetry in English, Spanish and American Sign Language (ASL). Entries in other languages will be considered if they are submitted with an English translation. Students may enter as many times as they wish. Entries from the US must be postmarked by December 1, 2012. Foreign entries must be received by February 1, 2013. Winners will be announced in March.
WHAT: River of Words Youth Poetry & Art Contest
WHO: Children and youth in kindergarten through 12th grade (5-19)
WHEN: US entries must be postmarked by Dec. 1, 2012, Foreign entries must be received by Feb. 1, 2013
WHERE: Mail to River of Words, PO Box 5060, Moraga, CA 94575 USA
Winners and finalists will be selected by the following judges:
Poetry: Robert Hass & Pamela Michael
Spanish Language Poetry: Dr. Raina Léon
ASL Poetry: Ella Lenz & Susan Rutherford
Art: John Muir Laws
Students in some areas may also win recognition at the state or regional level. River of Words has coordinators in almost thirty states, many of which provide additional instructional materials and teacher training. Some states also mount state ceremonies and publish state River of Words anthologies.
River of Words is a project of the Center for Environmental Literacy in the Kalmanovitz School of Education at Saint Mary’s College of California. The Center promotes education initiatives that integrate nature and the arts into K-12 classrooms. The ROW Project inspires children and youth to translate their observations about their local watersheds and environment into creative expressions in poems and paintings. It also trains educators around the world in how to incorporate nature exploration, science and the arts into their work with young people.
by Taylor Cheney
Mary Alice Monroe, a New York Times bestselling author, is known for using the picturesque Lowcountry landscape as the backdrop to many of her adult novels, such as The Beach House and The Butterfly’s Daughter. In Turtle Summer, Monroe broadens her audience in this non-fiction children’s narrative about her findings along the seashore and the work she puts in to conserve the life of baby sea turtles.
Addressed to her daughter, her story is comprised in a “home-y” scrapbook format with a series of actual photographs taken by the illustrator of marine life and of the author, her family, and fellow conservationists doing what they can to preserve the native species. The book combines an instructing narrative, reporting their progress in protecting turtle nests – “marking it with an orange sign saying that it is protected by federal law” – and a maternal voice that she affectionately directs to her daughter – “You said the turtle tracks look like tire tracks!”. Turtle Summer is reminiscent of Turtle Tracks by Sally Harman Plowden in that they both blend an informative tone about the habitat of our coastline while still maintaining a fluid and humble story line.
In addition, Monroe provides a plethora of facts regarding loggerhead turtles, ways to identify nests, and how to make your own nature scrapbook. I think this book would be a perfect companion to an avid summer camp-er, or a way to educate your daughter, son, niece, nephew, student, brother, or sister if you’re fortunate enough to get out to any seaside.
For those looking to get in a “bind”, the book festival held annually at Francis Marion University is the place to be. Four nationally known and bestselling authors and poets, and their avid readers, will descend upon the university Nov. 8 and 9 at the Pee Dee Fiction and Poetry Festival, which is free and open to the public.
The two-day festival will celebrate and promote literature and reading with renowned authors Larry Watson, Nikky Finney, Danielle Evans, and Todd Boss. There will be readings, lectures, and panel discussions. A number of fiction topics will be covered and there will be opportunities for book signings. For more information, visit http://peedeefiction.org/.
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