Episode 35! Conversation with Katie Kennedy
Welcome to episode 35 of our kidlitwomen* podcast! Usually, this podcast features an essay about an issue in the children's literature community (Monday) and a discussion about the essay (Wednesday).
In this episode, author Katie Kennedy and Grace Lin discuss Katie’s essay, “SOME OF US WRITE WORDS; SOME OF US CREAM BUTTER,” which can be heard in episode 34.
On today's podcast you will hear:
Katie Kennedy is the author of the YA books Learning to Swear in America and What Goes Up. She is also a college history instructor. She and her husband have a daughter, son, cat, and dog. She also has a cornfield in her backyard, You can learn more about Katie at: www.katiekennedybooks.com.
Grace Lin, a NY Times bestselling author/ illustrator, won the Newbery Honor for Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and the Theodor Geisel Honor for Ling and Ting: Not Exactly the Same. Her most recent novel When the Sea Turned to Silver was a National Book Award Finalist. Grace is an occasional commentator for New England Public Radio and video essayist for PBS NewsHour (here & here), as well as the speaker of the popular TEDx talk, The Windows and Mirrors of Your Child’s Bookshelf. Grace's new picture book, A Big Mooncake for Little Star is now available.
GRACE: Hi, everyone, it's Grace Lin, and I'm here talking with Katie Kennedy. Hi, Katie.
KATIE: Hi, Grace.
GRACE: We're here to talk about your lovely essay "Some of us write with words, some of us with cream and butter." Tell me a little bit about your essay.
KATIE: Well, I was thinking about Women's History Month and about my mother's own experiences, and certainly there's a variety of experiences based on people's race and ethnicity and income level and where they live and so on, but I was thinking about my mom's experience in particular. And she is not a real assertive person, she's a lovely, lovely woman, best person I know, but I was just thinking about what it's like to be a quieter person. And she worked I the civil rights movement, my dad went down South and got shot at and marched with Dr. King and things like that, and mom stayed home and raised the kids and held civil rights teas to try to persuade the women in the neighborhood, all of them were white, to vote for some better things, and I was thinking about how that's service too.
GRACE: Talk a little bit more about the civil rights teas. I thought was such an interesting and fascinating things that she did.
KATIE: Yeah. This was the 60s so people still used tablecloths and they ironed, and it was more work but she would invite ... She started on our block and she invited the ladies on the block over for tea, and they didn't know what they were getting into. And she ironed all these little embroidered tablecloths and had little tea tables set up and made beautiful fancy cookies with two tiny little girls underfoot. And when they got there they talked about civil rights, and she gave them a chance to talk about what they were afraid of and to put things into words. And then once they had actually articulated their fears to be able to see how ridiculous some of them were and kind of come to some of their own conclusions. And she guided them forward a little bit and everybody had a chance to talk, and she I think kind of helped to lift that conversation up a little bit and move it forward into a better place. And the women left with at least a different perspective, if not hearts change, and then she went on to the block and she just kept going.
GRACE: Well, I think that's pretty brave, because I know one of the, I guess, the rules of socializing and politeness is you don't talk about politics and you always just talk about the weather.
KATIE: Absolutely, yeah.
GRACE: I think that's amazing that she was willing to do that.
KATIE: Yeah, she was a very brave person. Remarkably courageous.
GRACE: And brave in a quiet way, which is very fascinating. Why do you think this memory of your mother stayed with you so much?
KATIE: I think it's because ... I don't really even remember these, my dad told me about them sometime when I was a teenager and I was saying something about the things he found that I had heard about and heard other people talk about. He got shot at a couple of times and came back with bullet holes in the car at one point, and it was a borrowed car, so he had to return this car to someone with bullet holes sprayed down the side. And his car wasn't good enough to get to Mississippi and so he borrowed one from what was then a woman doctor, and today would be a doctor, and she thought that her car had been improved, that it was worth more now than it had been before. She had a good attitude about it. I heard those stories. And I didn't even know what mom did because mom didn't really think it worth talking about, you know? And my dad told me about the civil rights teas and mom just nodded and then said, "If you want justice you have to cream a lot of butter and sugar." And that was her only comment on it.
KATIE: But it made me [inaudible 00:04:57] the contributions people make that they don't really consider contributions and they don't highlight.
GRACE: Well, that actually brings me a little bit to your essay. Before we posted your essay ... I know you sent it to me to read a couple times, and you seemed a little bit hesitant to post it. What were you concerned about? What were some of your concerns about sharing your essay?
KATIE: Well, one was that my mom might see it, but also, it's one person's experience and ... She's white, she was active in the ways that she could be and with a good heart, it's not everybody's experience and I didn't want people to think I was trying to frame the civil rights movement in terms of white people's experiences because that wasn't it and I didn't mean it that way. But I did want a chance to talk about my own mom because I was thinking about Women's History Month. I was afraid it might potentially be hurtful to someone if they felt that the movement was being framed in that way, and I didn't want to do that or mean it that way, but I did want a chance to talk about the contributions of women and especially of quiet women.
GRACE: Yeah, I think that it was a lovely essay that really showed how even if you're not comfortable being the louder type of activist, you can still do things to help advocate change. And I thought was what really struck a cord with a lot of our readers. And so, why do you think that this was so important for you to write and share then? What finally pushed you to say, "Okay, let's share it"?
KATIE: Well, maybe you gave me courage. There are a variety of experiences and I think it's worthwhile hearing from some white people. And that's why my second book, "What Goes UP", I made Rosa, main character, small to give her some physical problems because not everybody is large. So she has to fight a big guy at one point and that's reality for some people, they're not the biggest one in the room, they don't know how to fight 30 people with only the knife in their boot or something like that going into sort of [inaudible 00:07:26]. Sometimes you are the smaller person or the quieter person or the less aggressive person, but you still fight. I thought that was worth putting that forward, one for the quiet people.
GRACE: Yeah. And what I love about your essay is I've been talking to many people who have contributed to women that write a lot of essays, and we talk about how there's a strong woman character, the strong girl character, and how what we've made a strong girl character is a girl that has kind of masculine attributes. And what is lovely about your essay is that it kind of shows these attributes that we consider female, the gentle, the quiet, it shows that there's a lot of strength in that as well. And I think that's what I found so lovely about your essay and why I really tried to push you to share it, and I'm glad you did.
KATIE: Well, I appreciate that.
GRACE: What do you want people to take away from your essay?
KATIE: I hope a sense of courage that wherever you are, whatever it is that ... Either your own personality or where you live, your age, we can all do something, we can all contribute within our own sphere, it doesn't always have to be ... things don't all have to be done a certain way and there's work to be done whoever you are and wherever you are.
GRACE: Do you feel that this story of your mom has affected you at all?
KATIE: Yeah, I mean, certainly when I first heard it I was kind of amazed. My parents are 80 and they're still full of surprises. And every once in a while somebody will mention some story that just puts everything in a whole new perspective and I'll think, "You did what? You knew who?" And so, it was interesting to me to hear both that mom had ... This was a fairly long campaign, this wasn't one day or one week, she was working hard for quite a while baking cookies, serving team ironing tablecloths, inviting people she didn't know, which was kind of scary just in itself. Once you're three blocks over, you don't know those people. And she did this for so long, but I had never heard anything about it at all. And that was interesting to me too, that she didn't really se that as much of a contribution or worth talking about.
GRACE: And that's also something that we talk about a lot in [inaudible 00:10:13] women about how many of us don't give ourselves credit or we don't think the things that we do are valuable, which is something that a lot of people have talked about and shared.
KATIE: Yeah, I think that's a common problem for a lot of women, not seeing the value in your own worth and apologizing for talking when you know what you're talking about, apologizing for taking up space.
GRACE: But that's how we change things.
GRACE: It just shows that you can do it quietly too. Thanks so much, Katie, for writing your essay and sharing it. And I think to end my conversation with you I'd like to end it with two questions, which are the questions that I ask all of my guests. The first question is just a very simple question, what are you working on or what's your latest bok or what kind of writing would you like to share with our listeners that you want them to know about?
KATIE: Well, right now I'm revising a YA. It's science-y, but it's not spacey. But my working title is "Doctor Camp", and I guess my elevator pitch would be 17 year old Collin Pelko has to pick a college level anatomy and physiology class for the summer science camp, he has two problems. One is that he faints at the sight of blood, the other is that the camp has a serial killer.
KATIE: Yeah. Collin is going to see a lot of body parts that summer. They may not all be in the text book.
GRACE: Wow. That is a good pitch. I'm sorry, what was the title again?
KATIE: "Doctor Camp."
GRACE: "Doctor Camp." And when is it slated to come out?
KATIE: We're not sure yet.
GRACE: Okay, we will keep our eyes and ears open for that. All right, and now my last question, which is also so hard for so many of my guests but I still ask it anyway. And that is what is your biggest, deepest publishing dream? And when I say your deepest, biggest publishing dream I want something completely selfish, completely shallow, not just "I want to share my books with children", which we all do. But something that would be completely for yourself that you would be so proud and just be thrilled to see accomplished. The kind of dream that you're a little bit embarrassed, or maybe even a lot embarrassed, to say out loud?
KATIE: Oh, I'm definitely a lot embarrassed about this. I have a medieval middle grade that we haven't subbed yet. I wrote in 2010, I think we'll probably sub it this year, but it's the first thing I write to kids, and I love that book so much. I would love to see it come out, I would love to see it be a series so I get to write one every year because it's just so much fun. But what I would really like is to see somebody make a video game out of it. And I don't even play video games, I mean hardly ever, but so I could take the characters through their various adventures and try to get them over the river or whatever as a video game. I just think that would be fun. I don't know why, but I would like to see my unpublished, un-subbed middle grade turned into a video game.
GRACE: I think that's great. I love that. That's a wonderful dream. And I'm going to believe that it's going to come true for you. Just loop in the [inaudible 00:13:54] first. Well, thanks so much, Katie, I really enjoyed talking to you and I loved your essay so much. Thanks so much for coming on the podcast with me.
KATIE: Thank you for inviting me, Grace, I appreciate it.