Saying Good-bye to Harper Lee

As I write this, a week has passed since Harper Lee died. I’ve spent those days thinking about what the famed author of To Kill a Mockingbird meant to me.

Like J.D. Salinger, another favorite of mine, Lee was almost as famous for being reclusive as for her work. What is it about famous people who hide from the spotlight that appeals to us?

It’s not just authors. People have been obsessed with other recluses as well. Howard Hughes and Greta Garbo come to mind. I never held the same fascination for millionaires or actresses though. Because I’m a writer, have always wanted to be a writer, then I am most interested in the lives of other writers.

My guess is that the writing profession has a higher ratio of introverts than other occupations. Feature and profile writers may spend a lot of time interviewing others. Television writing is largely a collaborative effort. But as a rule, writing is a solitary occupation.

So, it’s understandable that you might see more writers who are introverts. Myers-Briggs says that I’m about as introverted as you can get.

Was Harper Lee’s fame why people were quick to label her a recluse? Did she become more famous because she spent time away from the limelight?

To answer, you only have to pick up a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird. Her imagery brings the town of Macomb alive. We know Scout, Jem, and Dill. The tension around the Radley house and the courthouse is palpable. Our fear of Boo turns to the joy of knowing Boo. And who could ignore gems like:

  • You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.
  • Mockingbirds don’t do one thing except make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corn cribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.
  • (Real courage) It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.

Until this past year, Harper Lee didn’t publish another book. There have been many rumors about Go Set a Watchman that indicate that it wasn’t her idea to publish it. I’ll admit that the idea that someone may have taken advantage of her has kept me from reading it. But I also know that someday I will read it. Because Harper Lee wrote it.

Perhaps, Harper Lee didn’t publish any more books because the fear of matching what she had already done was just too much. Maybe she disliked all the attention. Or maybe she had already said it all.

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The Oceans? Our Final Frontier?

Recently, I completed a manuscript on marine biology. The target audience is girls, therefore part of the book shares highlights of women in marine biology. From publishing books about women in aviation (Women Aviators) and women astronauts (Women in Space), I knew about the challenges women faced getting airborne. What surprised me in my research was that women have had an equally difficult time conquering ocean exploration.

Is some of it gender related? You bet. After the Mercury 13 were dumped from astronaut training, yet before Sally Ride made her historic flight, a marine biologist named Sylvia Earle applied for something called the Tektite project.

In the latter part of the 1960s, the government-sponsored Tektite project assigned teams of marine scientists to live and work in underwater habitats for periods of time. With a PhD from Duke University, Earle had already spent over ten years on scientific expeditions, including over 1,000 hours underwater. She was qualified. But she was turned down because the people in charge didn’t want men and women living together.

She didn’t give up. And in 1970, Dr. Earle led an all-female crew in the Tektite II project. For two weeks, five women lived underwater studying ocean life and the effects of living underwater. The project was a success.

Dr. Earle continues to be active in ocean conservation efforts. If you haven’t heard her TED talk, you can find it at www.ted.com or on YouTube.

There are many women doing amazing things in marine science today. I was privileged to talk to some of them—Lauren Mullineaux, Ashanti Johnson, and Natalie Arnoldi. Marine Biology: Cool Women Who Dive, part of the Girls in Science series by Nomad Press, is scheduled for release in September. MarineBio_GIS_Cover

Interestingly, ocean exploration is like a toddler compared to space exploration. The ocean may not be as limitless as space, but it’s fairly huge. Surface area alone takes up two-thirds of Earth. Depths can extend up to several miles. Environmental changes and movement in the tectonic plates mean that the ocean is always changing.

Discovery of life is ongoing. More than 230,000 species of marine life have been discovered with estimates that millions more may live in our planet’s waters, from the smallest microbes to species that live on the sea floor.

When I think of the ocean’s vastness, I hear the preamble to Star Trek, but instead of “Space, the final frontier,” I now hear “Oceans, the final frontier…”

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What’s in a Name?

November is Native American Heritage Month…or American Indian Heritage Month. Whatever term you prefer. I like our neighbors to the North’s use of “First Nations” to describe the original inhabitants. Sometimes it can be confusing to know what term to use. As long as it’s not derogatory, the name is not as important as the people and the recognition.

Dr. Arthur C. Parker, a Seneca in New York, was the first we know of to suggest a day to recognize to honor Native American Heritage. The first recognition day occurred New York in 1916. Other states followed with a day of recognition on the fourth Friday in September. In 1990, President George H. W. Bush designated November as “National American Indian Heritage Month.” It’s a good time, between Columbus Day (or as my kids used to call it, “when Columbus got lost” day) and Thanksgiving, holidays associated with many untruths.

Why recognize native people for one month each year? It would be ideal if recognition was on a daily basis throughout the year, but it’s not. Like women and African Americans, devoting a month to recognition of history and accomplishments forces people to take notice. And we do need to take notice.

Native Americans are the only cultural group to see a population decline, make that a significant population decline. In the years after colonization and westward expansion, many Indian nations lost more than half their population from violent conflict and European diseases, such as smallpox. Some nations ceased to exist. Far too often, decreasing the population was a purposeful act. Today, we call this genocide.

The uniqueness of Native Americans are that they aren’t one group, but many nations. Lakota people aren’t the same as those who are Choctaw, Hopi, Coeur d’Alene, or Inuit. We’re talking different histories, traditions, and languages. When you wipe out a nation, those things are gone. The boarding school/assimilation movement of the last century left people alive, but took the languages and traditions.

Native people are still at risk. They are more likely to suffer from diabetes and tuberculosis. Poverty, alcoholism, and suicide are at epidemic rates. More needs to be done to help people at risk.

One thing we should all do is take the opportunity during Native American Heritage Month to learn something newTRUTH about the history of the native people. And then to recognize all the amazing people around us. People like Sherman Alexie, Eloisa Garcia Tamez, Patty Talahongva, Notah Begay, Chris Eyre, John Herrington, Joanelle Romero to name a few.

Happy Native American Heritage Month.

Native American History for Kids

 

 

 

 

Available at Amazon.

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Women’s History Month Arrives Again

2/28/15

Today is the last day of Black History Month. Tomorrow is the first day of Women’s History Month. Native American Heritage Month lands each November. It’s unfortunate that we have to have these special months to recognize the achievements of people who don’t fall in the white male category. People should be recognized for their accomplishments regardless of gender, race, or culture. But they haven’t been in the past. Chances are they still wouldn’t be without these events.

I’m old enough that in my childhood, history books were filled with people like Andrew Jackson and George Custer. Not Harriet Quimby, Quanah Parker, or Mae Jemison. History was biased.

I recently had a conversation with one of my sons about studying literature. He hates taking English classes because he founds the analysis of literature pretentious and lacking in any lasting value. My favorite classes were always literature classes, no surprise since I’m a writer. I told this English class–hating son that enjoyment of literature and the meanings we derive from different works will always vary, because we all come to the experience of reading from different places. Who we are and what we value has an effect on what we read, whether it’s a mystery novel, classic literature, or history.

History continues to be biased because it’s written from the perspective of the writer, which is formed by the writer’s family, culture, education, and experiences. And in some ways, I think that’s a good thing. We just need more diversity in the telling and sharing of history.

Through Women’s History Month, I have discovered so many fascinating women. I admire them and want to know more about them. And in doing so, it makes me want to be a better woman…to try new things and to make a difference.

I spent slightly over a year writing two books about women—Women Aviators and Women in Space. For this year’s Women’s History’s Month, I will profile my favorite women in history at my Women in Flight Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/WomenInFlight. Come by and meet some of them.

 

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Texas History for Kids: Lone Star Lives and Legends

Lone Star Lives and Legends

Lone Star Lives and Legends

In early 2015, we visit closer to home–Texas. But it is just as fascinating as space. And if you didn’t already know, Texas has played a significant part in space exploration. No doubt you’ll find many references to Texas in my last book for Chicago Review Press, Women in Space. Well, in Texas History for Kids, there’s a chapter about space! Also chapters about dinosaurs, oil, and the strongest Latino culture in the U.S.

The larger-than-life story of the Lone Star State Encapsulating the 500-year saga of the one-of-a-kind state of Texas, this interactive book takes readers from the founding of the Spanish Missions and the victory at San Jacinto to the Great Storm that destroyed Galveston and the establishment of NASA’s Mission Control in Houston while covering everything in between. Texas History for Kids includes 21 informative and fun activities to help readers better understand the state’s culture, politics, and geography. Kids will recreate one of the six national flags that have flown over the state, make castings of local wildlife tracks, design a ranch’s branding iron, celebrate Juneteenth by reciting General Order Number 3, build a miniature Battle of Flowers float, and more. This valuable resource also includes a timeline of significant events, a list of historic sites to visit or explore online, and web resources for further study.

You can find Texas History for Kids: Lone Star Lives and Legends at:

Chicago Review Press

IPG Books

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

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