Episode 93! "Thank you, Sheila Minor Huff," conversation with Tricia Springstubb
Welcome to episode 93 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, Tricia Springstubb discusses her essay, “Thank You, Sheila Minor Huff.” You can hear this essay on episode 92.
On today's podcast you will hear:
Tricia Springstubb is the author of many books for children, including the award winning middle grade novels "What Happened on Fox Street", its well-loved sequel, "Mo Wren Lost and Found", and "Moonpenny Island". She is also the author of the Cody chapter book series and novels such, "Every Single Second", which was a Junior Library Guild selection. Tricia has worked as a Head Start teacher and a children's librarian. Besides writing and, of course, reading, she loves doing school and library visits. Mother of three grown daughters, Tricia lives in Cleveland Heights, Ohio.
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 and her most recent picture book, A Big Mooncake for Little Star, was awarded the Caldecott Honor. 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. She can also be heard on the Book Friends Forever Podcast, with her longtime friend and editor Alvina Ling.
grace: So, I'm here with Tricia Springstubb. And we're here to talk about her essay, We See You Sheila Minor Huff. Hi, Tricia.
tricia: Hi Grace. So good to talk to you.
grace: So great to talk to you too. Your essay, We See You Sheila Minor Huff, tell us about it. Who Sheila Minor Huff is, and why you felt like you needed to write about her.
tricia: Yeah. Okay. Well, I was closely following and reading all the other essays and opinion pieces that Kidlit Women published last month in March. They were really arousing me a wild jumble of emotions. I was a second wave feminist back in the 70s when we were talking about the right to work, and reproductive rights, and equality in wages, and support for families. And some of my old fury came back. Along with a very rueful realization of how very few things had changed since then.
tricia: So I was very impressed by the other writers, and I have to admit, I was also somewhat taken aback by the directness of what so many of them wrote, especially as they called out the pervasive systemic inequality in children's publishing industry.
grace: Yeah, I think it was a very emotional time for all of us reading all of the essays. Let's just back up a little to your discovery of Sheila Minor Huff just a little. Just for those who might not have heard your essay.
tricia: Okay. Sheila Minor Huff, I came across her by chance. I was reading the New York Times, as I do, and I saw an article about the search for the identity of the lone women in a 1971 photograph of marine biologists. This woman was African American, mostly obscured by the man standing in front of her. And she was the only one in the photo that was not named in the caption.
grace: Of course.
tricia: Yeah, so, and it's probably unlikely that she would have ever been named except that another woman, a picture book writer named Candace Jean Andersen, she was researching a picture book about marine mammal protection. And she came across the photo, and she was struck by this unnamed woman, and really wondered who she was. So, she went on Twitter, and all the professional and the amateur researchers joined the hunt. And they finally identified and located Sheila Minor Huff.
tricia: She lives in DC now. She's 71. She's a grandmother. She's a belly dancer. She has a master's degree from American University. And she had a long, successful government career working with wildlife and environmental projects. So that was fascinating. But the thing that really drew me up when I read it was that she ... I have the quote right here actually. Everybody was celebrating that they found her, and they wanted to just congratulate her for all she had done. And she, her reply was, and this is a quote, “It's kind of like no big deal. When I try to do good, when I try and add back to this wonderful earth that we have. When I try to protect it, does it matter than anybody knows my name?"
grace: See, and that really affected you, didn't it?
tricia: Yeah. Up until that point, when I was reading along I was just kind of outraged on her behalf, and then I got to that point, and I thought, “Whoa. I know just what she's talking about. I know that feeling.” That having good work, being lucky enough to have good work, that should be enough. And it's kind of how, she and I obviously have very different backgrounds. She is an African American woman, I can only guess what she must have, the challenges she must have had to face that I as a white person did not. Yet, we of the same generation. So I felt like I could venture to think that I knew something of how she felt, and how she was brought up to have that kind of feeling, just of luck, as being how she got where she was, and gratitude of where she was.
grace: That being humble idea. And yet, you said while you read all the articles from Kidlitwomen*, it kind of changed your feelings about this idea of being humble. Or maybe it was more about showing you the difference between maybe confidence and arrogance, or something like that.
tricia: Yeah. Yeah. It made me, it set me off on thinking about what is true humility. And I often write about humble heroes, I love, in my fiction. And I really do feel as if we all play integral parts in the world. And yet I felt, it made me start thinking about how I could've used humility in a more of a self, a way that hurt myself. As feeling that I didn't ... that feeling as if I deserved something was a matter of pride or greed. And something unattractive, and something that I didn't want to have as one off my own traits.
tricia: I think reading all the essays, and thinking more deeply and more consistently about these issues, I just started to see humility as ... being told to be humble, as being told to be satisfied.
grace: And it's something that might be holding you back even in a weird way.
tricia: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
grace: Was there anything that you worried about when you wrote your essay that people would misunderstand?
tricia: I learned, in hindsight, that maybe it was too quiet of an essay, and not challenging enough. Maybe not offensive enough, that maybe I didn't put myself out there far enough. It was a big thing for me to write, it took a lot of self reflection to do it actually. So, I'm grateful-
grace: What was the hardest thing for you to do to write this, do you think?
tricia: I think it's always really difficult to examine the things that we hold, that we maybe don't know are buried deep inside of us. I have three daughters. I speak frequently to kids. I'm always telling everybody that the sky's the limit, that they're stars shine. And yet, to turn that and look at myself, and realize that I didn't believe it for myself as much as I wanted to. And also that by not believing that, it made it harder for me to deliver that message with the kind of sincerity and conviction that could make me some sort of an agent for change for other people. So that was not, that was difficult to realize about myself.
grace: Well, I love how you end your essay, where you say these women, Sheila Minor Huff, they've called out to me, and I'm going to try to answer. How do you feel that you've answered that call since you've written this essay?
tricia: I do feel as if I'm going to be more outspoken, I'm going to be less timid. I feel like I'm just so much more conscious of the kinds of slights that women and others receive. Intersectionality is something that's become way way part of my vocabulary than it was before this. And I think, I consider myself someone who's woke in a lot of ways, but mostly in cerebral ways, and not in ways that I act upon nearly enough. So, I hope that that's going to become much more part of who I am, in the future.
grace: And so what kind of advice would you give to people reading your essay who feel the same way as you?
tricia: Oh, god. I'm not really, I don't know. I can't really speak for other people.
grace: I know, it's tough.
tricia: Yeah. Yeah. I do know that I just, I've been thinking a lot more about ... I mean, I think one of the lines that when I wrote it, meant the most to me was about how humility really springs from embracing our commonality. And I think that, that I think is almost at the heart of the essay.
tricia: The idea that we're all born into this world with the same needs and desires. We all need to be loved and have someone to love. Have a place where we feel we belong and are secure. And we all need to have good work. Work that we feel, we feel matters and that is going to make a difference in the world. And I think that, also, we all have our own strengths and our own flaws. We're part of a whole. We're all in this together, and what I really want to feel more, and I hope to convey more to others is that the success of each one of us is the success of all of us. And the failure, or the hurt, or the loss of each one of us belongs to everyone. That we are all, we're all part of a greater whole.
grace: That's a hard one to remember most of the time.
tricia: It's a hard one to remember, but I want to have it up in my, I want to engrave it in my mind. And I feel like, and so I had that ... yeah, that's what's going to guide me.
grace: If anything, just having that quote on your desk by Sheila Minor Huff, is a really nice way to remind yourself. And a really nice way to keep all of these thoughts that you had in mind. It's like that visual reminder.
tricia: Yeah. Yeah. And I have to say, I don't, I very much admire Sheila Minor Huff, and I envy her a little bit. Her contentment. She really seems to have found where she wants to be in the world, and feel good about what's she's contributed. I have a restlessness that I don't think is ever going to be, I'm ever going to be able to share that contentment with her.
grace: I think that might be something that all authors have.
grace: That restless spirit.
grace: Maybe you need to be a marine biologist to find that contentment.
tricia: Yeah. Yeah. My garden, in my garden I find it, yeah.
grace: Well, thank you very much, Tricia. I just have two last questions that I'd like to ask you.
grace: The first question is what are you working on now, or is there a project that you'd like to tell us about?
tricia: Well, I just had my, the fourth book in my Cody series published. It's a series, a chapter book series for somewhat, the young range of no grade readers. And it's a series about those things that seem small but that loom large in children's lives. You know having a big brother who suddenly doesn't want to spend any time with you, or a teacher that you're sure hates you. Or, a crisis of conscience, knowing what's right and what's wrong but how much harder it is to do what's right.
grace: Those are really big deals, though.
tricia: And Cody is just a, she's a wonderful character for me to inhabit, because as you might guess, I have been always a sort of a shy and timid person, and she's the exact opposite of me. She just rushes in and ceases the day, for better, and sometimes, for worse. So, it's a fourth book in that series. And that's just out.
tricia: I also have a picture book that Candlewick will bring out, and it's inspired by my Irish grandfather, and by an Iraqi family that we've become good friends with here in Cleveland.
grace: Oh wow. Does it have a title?
tricia: The title ... titles are my downfall, but right now it's called [Khaleel 00:13:29] and Mr. [Haggerty 00:13:30].
grace: Oh, great!
tricia: So, yeah. Yeah. And of course I have another book in progress. Of which I must not speak.
grace: We don't want to curse it.
grace: All right. And then I have my very last question which actually ties in very well with your essay. And my question is, what is your biggest publishing dream? And remember, this is a question that I'm asking everyone with the idea that I want all of my guest, or all of the guest to name their biggest dream. The dream that they're almost ashamed of having. Not, I want to sell my next book. Not, I want to make a living. Something huge.
grace: So, Tricia Springstubb, what is you're biggest publishing dream?
tricia: Well, of course, that was a very, very hard question for me. And, I thought I would ask some of my other writer friends first, and I was so surprised and impressed by how quickly they all had answers. Like, I want my book made into a Broadway musical. Or, a theme park. Or a Netflix series.
tricia: And so, I was like, “Whoa, the sky really is the limit.” But, in my way, and for me this is an enormous, enormous admission, I would love so much for one of my books to win a Newbery award or a Caldecott award. Because, I think when I work, I work always with the hope that what I'm doing is something that's going to last, and when you win one of those awards, that's really a guarantee that your book is going to be around and that future generations of kids will also get to read it. So, that's a big one for me.
grace: Oh, that's just a nice dream. But I think you can go bigger. Wish for three Newbery's.
tricia: [crosstalk 00:15:34] I know, Grace, thank you. I need this [inaudible 00:15:34] every day, okay?
grace: Well thank you very much. And thanks for your wonderful essay. And thanks for talking to me today.
tricia: Oh, my pleasure. And thanks so very much for doing this. I just can't tell you how much I appreciate this. Thank you.