SOL Tuesday: Mentor Texting

My mind is awash with so many ideas and connections from things I’ve read and talked about.

I’ve been reading, devouring actually, books by Kwame Alexander. Over the weekend I read The Crossover once for myself then a second time aloud with my 11 y-o. I quickly went on to finish Rebound and on Monday picked up another title, Booked, which instead of basketball-focused, has soccer and futsal as its athletic backdrop. If you’re not yet familiar with Alexander’s work, he is credited with motivating young people across North America and in Asia to take up the writing habit with enthusiasm. His read-in-a-day novels in verse offer even reluctant readers compelling stories that come to life on the page.

While I was reading Rebound in particular I was struck by his portrayal of the main character’s grandparents. They are practical, down to earth folks who provide their struggling grandson just the right mix of firm expectations and gentle care. They are not mythical creatures. For me their characters rang so very true and real, like some of the Black elders I knew when I was growing up. This led me on a further tangent: Thinking about reading Black elders in current fiction and non-fiction and how I take these messages in as a middle aged woman on her way to becoming a Black elder. I have Brown Girl Dreaming by Jackie Woodson, Heavy by Kiese Laymon and Thick by Tressie McMillan Cottom on my mind.

I’m pretty sure there’s an essay that wants to surface from that line of thinking: “Reading Black Elders” or “Finding mentor elders in unlikely places.”

Another thing that reading Alexander’s dynamic narratives has done for me: it has made me want to work on my own memoir in a similar format. Showing without telling all; Details revealed in simple lines rather than complex shading and texture. For my process that means shaking words out of my keyboard quickly rather than worrying too much about crafting the total image. It’s easy to get bogged down in what feels awkward or out of place. For now my aim is to just write past those reservations and produce as much as possible. The paring down, smoothing edges and blowing away dust, that will come later.

I can do this. Doing it is worthwhile. How the product turns out is a different story.

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8 thoughts on “SOL Tuesday: Mentor Texting

  1. Like you, I’ve found both Kwame Alexander’s and Jackie Woodson’s poetry accessible and inspiring. I’ve had similar thoughts about writing in verse. I love sharing their books w/ my students, most of whom are white. The stories offer an important window into the lives of black people for white folk who live in homogenous communities.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. YOU CAN DO THIS!!! Already I love your writing style. Favorite lines:
    Details revealed in simple lines rather than complex shading and texture.
    shaking words out of my keyboard quickly
    read-in-a-day novels in verse offer even reluctant readers compelling stories
    just the right mix of firm expectations and gentle care.

    And I do think you have an essay to write because you already have a title (or two) for it: “Reading Black Elders” or “Finding mentor elders in unlikely places.”

    I love everything by Kwame. Can’t wait to see what he inspires you to write!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I would love to read both the essay you envision and the memoir you propose. What I love about the diversity of voices – and the publishing & publicizing of Black voices in literature for youth is that my children are gaining a rich diversity of images of Black people. I cannot thank Alexander, Reynolds, Woodson and others (they are springing to mind almost faster than I can write- Pinkney, Thomas…) enough for telling their stories. They help me avoid the danger of a single story for my children. I am grinning at the thought of one day reading bits of your story, too.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I can’t wait to read your memoir!

    Kwame Alexander and Jacqueline Woodson are some of my favorite authors. I currently have a student who hadn’t really read a book in over four years. The Crossover got her back into reading and in two months she is reading her fourth book!

    Have you read Michelle Obama’s Becoming yet? I recently starting reading it, and she talks about elder relatives who shaped who she was.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I love the writing insights you share. I, too, have loved reading Kwame Alexander’s writing, but your articulation of how you might use his writing as a model is helpful for me. I’ll be thinking of that idea of “Details revealed in simple lines rather than complex shading and texture” for a long time. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

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