Lois Leveen

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August 30, 2012

The Unconventional Librarian

One of the pleasures of authorship is getting to know so many fantastic librarians across the country.

One of the pleasures of life in our era is that you can get to know someone in so many new and wonderful ways.

This morning I woke up to a message telling me that Pam Brown Margolis, alias The Unconventional Librarian (a Philadelphia reader, librarian, and reviewer), just compared The Secrets of Mary Bowser to Alex Haley's Roots. Although I was too young to read Roots when it was first published, the television series had a profound effect on me, as it did on millions of people. So Pam's review pretty much rocked my universe.


One more reason to feel ever indebted to librarians. As if I needed another!
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August 26, 2012

Everyone’s a Critic

A few weeks ago, a friend sent me an email regarding her 11-year-old son William, who was reading The Secrets of Mary Bowser during a family car trip. His comments during the ride included:

Mom, what does mellifluous mean?
Have you guys ever had or heard of pepperpot? It's a kind of soup.
Mom, what's a humidor?
This is a really good book.


Although it is usually considered inappropriate for a book reviewer to review a book by a friend, William made an exception and reviewed my novel. This video reflects his honest, unbiased comments. WARNING: Contains spoilers. And a cute little sister.
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August 23, 2012

LA Woman

Lois on Graduation Day

I'll never forget the day I received my Ph.D. from UCLA.

I never would have imagined that buried in my 400+ page dissertation was a footnote I'd turn into a novel.

Why do we ever worry about the future, when it's full of wonderful things we can never imagine? Way better to spend the energy being grateful for folks who helped us in the past. So here's a shout out to the Center for the Study of Women at UCLA, which provided a grant that supported my dissertation research, which grew up to be my novel. Read more on their website.
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August 21, 2012

Black and White and Read All Over

Ever have that feeling that someone was thinking something about you but was too polite to say it out loud?

I do. All the time.

It's about why a white woman like me has dedicated so much time to connecting people to the story of a black woman like Mary Bowser.

Many years ago, a Latina woman I was friendly with asked me, "How come you can talk about race, while most white people can't?" I knew what she meant. Many white people are uncomfortable talking about race. I'm not saying they're racists -- actually racists are often pretty comfortable talking about race; the problem is that what they're saying is generally untrue and hurtful. I'm talking about people who feel like there's something that makes them uneasy with raising the topic of race. Maybe they think they'll say the wrong thing, and sound racist without meaning to.

So I appreciated the compliment buried in my friend's question. And, more recently, I've appreciated when people who are wondering about what it's like to be a white person who writes and teaches about race actually ask me about that. I've been at this work for a long time, decades before THE SECRETS OF MARY BOWSER was published. During my recent talk at AAMLO, the African American Museum and Library in Oakland, the audience was not shy about asking me about race. Here are a few clips from that conversation.





For the record, I don't think I've always said the perfect thing when it comes to talking about race. And what I have gotten right is probably due to how much I've learned from other people. Listening, after all, is an important part of being in a conversation. And these are definitely important and energizing conversations to have.
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August 19, 2012

How Much Fact Goes Into Historical Fiction?

I've been quiet on the blog of late . . . mostly because I'm working on an essay about historical fiction and feminist history for the Los Angeles Review of Books. LARB is a great place for smart reflection on literature, the kind of venue that one could only dream of back when I was in graduated school (in LA).

But I've finally got some clips edited from the program at the wonderful Museum of the African Diaspora (MOAD) in San Francisco, and also from the African American Museum and Library of Oakland (AAMLO). I'll share them in little snippets, starting with this one, which focuses on the balance between history and invention in my novel.

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