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Celebrate Women’s History Month with LBYR and our authors

 

LB School: What women have inspired you and how is it reflected in your writing?

 

“The first poem I ever truly loved was Edna St. Vincent Millay’s An Ancient Gesture, inspired by Homer’s Odyssey. Millay’s poem shifts the reader’s view away from the great Odysseus toward his wife Penelope. The poem bears witness to a single, small gesture of Penelope’s, one that reveals her bitter exhaustion, her resolve, her weary alone-ness in this world. In Millay’s work, Penelope gets a wholeness, a personhood, that Homer himself never gave her. I did not know back then that everything I’d someday know about writing, perhaps even life, was contained in those 17 lines.” —Ali Benjamin, author of The Next Great Paulie Fink and The Thing About Jellyfish

 

“When I consider how many times I nearly gave up trying to write a novel, it was my mother who inspired me to keep going. She was the child of immigrants, growing up during the Depression, and had to leave school after eighth grade to go to work. She always regretted her lack of formal education, but when she was seventy-five years old, she decided to take the GED exam, which she passed, and proudly hung her diploma on her wall. It might seem like a small thing, but it was an act of courage and aspiration for her and it helped me find the courage, when my youngest child was in college, to go back to school to get an MFA in writing for children. I sure wish she was still here with me to share the joy of seeing my first novel in print.” —Barbara Carroll Roberts, author of Nikki on the Line

 

“When I was in middle school, I got hooked on Erma Bombeck’s hilarious books about being a suburban housewife. We were at totally different life stages, but as I laughed and laughed, I learned how powerful putting just the right words together can be. Then, I saw Erma on TV. She was there not because she was an actress or a singer or model, but because she was smart, and funny and told great stories. I wondered, “Could I do those things too?” Turns out, I can. I hope kids who read my books – WHEN YOU ARE BRAVE and WHEREVER YOU GO – are inspired to be their best selves. Just like Erma inspired me.” —Pat Zietlow Miller, author of Wherever You Go and When You Are Brave

 

“While writing How High The Moon, and writing for middle graders for the first time, I found myself constantly returning to Jacqueline Woodson. She never feels like she’s writing for kids. Her writing is clean and honest. She creates characters we lean into. I continue to read Jacqueline’s stories, as a fan and as a student, hoping that one day I can welcome young readers into my stories with such grace. ”—Karyn Parsons, author of How High the Moon

 

“I was a junior in college when I first discovered women of color wrote books. My heart soared and I immediately changed my major to English. I wanted to connect my unique stories with common humanity. Reading published black women authors made me understand that there were many readers interested in diverse stories. Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye and Sula and Alice Walker’s In Love & Trouble and The Color Purple especially inspired me and made me cry, rise to anger, and then heal and rejoice. While I began my career writing for adults, I always harbored the dream to be a children’s author. Virginia Hamilton’s The People Could Fly, Herstories, and Many Thousands Gone resonated in my soul and stole my breath away. The combination of folktales, fairytales, dreams, conjure, and African/African-American oral storytelling influence all my children’s books. Not a tale is written that doesn’t delve in the spiritual power of family, friendship, and community. I hope my stories, like my writing mentors’s stories, mirror for each reader, the deepest well of love.”—Jewell Parker Rhodes, author of Ghost Boys and Towers Falling

 

After my paternal grandmother died we found, tucked away in the attic, a carefully crafted short story she’d written. She had to leave school at sixteen and I never realized she enjoyed writing, but finding the story reminded me that all people, even those we know well, contain layers of mystery. I gravitate towards this complexity in my reading; as a child, I loved stories by Madeleine L’Engle and Julia Alvarez, because they feature intelligent, talented girls who shine through difficult circumstances. Mary Oliver always inspires me with her deep connection to nature and ability to articulate spiritual truths in simple, beautiful language. My own writing, focused on strong female characters shaped by natural settings and wrestling with personal and community issues, reflects these women’s influence.” —Sarah R. Baughman, author of The Light in the Lake

 

“I never saw myself in books as a kid or as a young adult. So when I came across Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies in 1999, I was riveted from the first page. Lahiri’s short story collection and her later books like The Namesake, speak to the Indian American experience–and even though the characters were, in many ways, quite different from me, my life and feelings echoed in their stories–in their struggles and triumphs as the two worlds they straddled mingled on the page. My protagonists are young women–finding their voices, finding their politics, and persisting in the face of difficult odds–the complexity, nuance and love that Lahiri brought to her characters and the worlds they occupy is what I strive for in my craft.” —Samira Ahmed, author of Internment

 

“Toni Morrison and Alice Walker are at the top of my list, for their fearless and beautifully honest portrayals of black women. I admire the layers in their writing that reveal something surprising each time I delve into their work. Reading their words reminds me to never forget where I came from while always looking for new ways to tell stories. ” —Brandy Colbert, author of The Revolution of Birdie Randolph and Little and Lion

 

“Before I wrote fiction, I wrote poetry. Lots and lots of very angsty poetry, which honestly, helped me process a lot of equally angsty emotions in my twenties. I love the confessional poets, and Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath are two mid-century writers who inspired me to explore imagery and feelings with words. Both women dealt with their share of inner demons, expressing much of their experiences through their poetry. They created beautiful, authentic, and sometimes brutal poems that not only dug deeply into my own life at the time, but also shaped who I am as a fiction writer today. My favorite stories—both to read and write—are those in which my heart pounds right along with the character, where carefully chosen words knit together to form a singular, emotional experience. Whenever I’m feeling the need to connect, to be inspired by something both lovely and raw, I always return to the poems of Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath.” —Ashley Herring Blake, author of The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James and Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World

 

“Behind my desk is a photo collage of Dolores Huerta, the civil rights activist who coined the phrase “Si se puede.” Her fiery pursuit of what’s right inspires me along with my grandmothers: an Irish immigrant housekeeper who taught herself English using a dictionary and the day’s newspaper and a farm girl raised on the plains of Eastern Montana. Their self-efficacy leads me to write protagonists who also take charge of the world around them.  Of course, I’m constantly inspired by my mom, a retired kindergarten teacher who can improvise song lyrics about any mundane activity. She taught me to find the joy and humor in my stories, the same way she finds those qualities in life. ” —Bridget Farr, author of Pavi Sharma’s Guide to Going Home

 

“There are so many women who have inspired me that it would be too many to name! But, recently, when I find myself searching for inspiration I’ve been looking at unique author/illustrator combinations like Elizabeth Enright, Eleanor Estes and Natalie Babbitt. All three began with illustration aspirations and then found themselves writing novels instead–finding satisfaction by illustrating their own books. And in the process, they each created classic books that have been and will be loved for generations. Obviously, I wish to capture that same sort of magic in my own books!” —Grace Lin, author of A Big Mooncake for Little Star and Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

 

“I write mostly about women who have persevered in the face of obstacles, be it obstacles imposed on them by society, health, gender issues, economics, political ideologies, color barriers or anything else that has come up along the way to halt, or to deviate them from the lives they have up for themselves. I am intrigued by the lives of those who have gone unrecognized for decades; by those who have triumphed over adversity; by those who can offer a lesson to today’s generation; by the women who never quit, regardless of the difficulties they encountered. Their determination is not only inspirational, but blazes a path for many more women who follow them. I honor their lives by bring their stories to as many readers as possible.” —Roseanne Montillo, author of Atomic Women: The Untold Stories of the Scientists Who Helped Create the Nuclear Bomb