Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Guest author Janis F. Kearney: On Seeing a Real Writer in the Mirror

Janis F. Kearney
Author & Book Publisher
I’ve been a published writer for ten years now. Still, I find that I want to pinch myself when I hear others describe me as an author and writer. After a lifetime of writing, and a decade of publishing books, it is still not an easy thing to take for granted…that title of published author; a real writer.

Why?  I often think back to my childhood in the Arkansas Delta.  I knew nothing of writers who looked like me. And, because of that, I decided early on that I must be different, or just plain strange to dream of becoming something that no one like me had ever been…or, at least that is what I, in my narrow experience, believed. Yet, dreaming was synonymous to breathing for me. I dreamed of becoming a writer or a missionary - two divergent dreams that filled my nights and days.  Albert Schweitzer was someone I sought as I read about his devout goodness, and his obvious courage, as he traveled the continent of Africa. Even as a child I hoped that a life of doing good wouldn’t have to be the same as a life of drudgery.  If not a missionary, I found myself praying; then a writer, an author, like the women and men who spent their lives creating worlds that girls like me could travel without ever leaving my small world of cotton fields, and graveled roads.

So, these days, when I find myself speaking to youth about overcoming the handicap of growing up wanting to be something that no one believes you can be; their responses are more often than not, disbelieving smirks. The beauty and tragedy of youth is the belief that the world begins and ends the moment they arrive within its orbit. To say that anything was ever better or worse…or, different before they arrived, is almost always met with cynicism…or, at the least, fodder for close investigation. `Were there really no black writers in existence during your childhood?’ They ask.  The answer, of course, is… no.  But, for a little black girl growing up during the pre-civil rights era in the Deep South, no black writers existed, just as there were no black engineers or doctors, or firefighters or policemen.

Real writers of my childhood were people like Betty Smith, author of my favorite childhood novel,  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn; or Kate Douglas Wiggins, who wrote the American classic Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm; or, a bit later…the iconic Ernest Hemingway, author of  For Whom the Bell Tolls.  Great writers all…but, there was no Go Tell it on the Mountain, by James Baldwin; or The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, or Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison, in either my parents’ threadbare bookcases or the bookcases at Fields Elementary School.

Yet, miracles do happen. I left southeast Arkansas at 17, and learned that real writers come in all colors, cultures and hues. I also realized that I could one day become a real writer if I worked hard enough for it. I had no desire to become a real seamstress, cook or homemaker…but, writing; that was something that gave me reason to dream. A real writer whose name aligned the spines of books, and whose face smiled out at each reader.  A real writer who was once that little black girl from Arkansas’ cotton fields and gravel roads, who believed her dream of writing made her both different and strange.

Janis F. Kearney, publisher, author and presidential diarist, grew up in the Deep South; the daughter of Arkansas sharecroppers and the twelfth of 19 children.  In her first memoir, Cotton Field of Dreams, the author wrote with unvarnished truth of her early years of poverty and struggle, and the invaluable lessons learned from two amazing parents.  In her second memoir, Something to Write Home About: Memories from a Presidential Diarist, Kearney relives a most unlikely chapter in her life – her days as President William Jefferson Clinton’s Personal Diarist.  In her most recent book, Daisy: Between a Rock and a Hard Place, Kearney chronicles the amazing journey of one of America’s most unforgettable Civil Rights heroines – Daisy Lee Gatson Bates, the face and voice behind the 1957 Central High Integration Crisis.  For more information about the author or her books, you may go to www.writingourworldpress.com, or visit her Facebook Page, https://www.facebook.com/writingtolearn 


Charles Gramlich said...

I too am from Arkansas, further North, at the foothills of the Ozark Mountains.

Liane Spicer said...

Welcome to Novel Spaces, Janis! It's great having dreams come true, isn't it?

Joanne said...

So beautiful...and relatable (as a small island girl)