In continuing our 50th anniversary week of the 1963 Birmingham Children's March and celebration of We've Got a Job, Cynthia shares a bit about her writing process and what it was like to write such an important book:
We've Got a Job is
your first book -- when you started this process did you envision it as the
book it has become? What were some of your early goals for this project?
My first goal was to learn the
story, myself. Although I was in high school in 1963, I didn't know that the
key actors in obtaining civil rights in Birmingham were children. So, I wanted
to fill the gaps in my knowledge. Once I set out on the quest, I couldn't stop!
And, when I discovered James, Audrey, Wash, and Arnetta, who generously told me
their stories in detail, I knew that children today needed to hear them,
I don't think I could have
envisioned the book that it became, partly because Maureen Withee did such a
spectacularly creative job designing it. In addition, Kathy Landwehr's editing
pushed me to investigate, clarify, and verify critical story lines and details
that I hadn't initially understood or appreciated. This book was definitely a
team effort. So, it ultimately became a common vision, not mine alone.
You did a lot of
research and travel while developing We've Got a Job. What advice would you
give other nonfiction writers looking to capture authenticity in their writing
(something you've done so well)?
First, thank you! My basic advice
is: Listen--closely and critically. I learned much more than I anticipated by
asking a question with one area of inquiry in mind, only to discover layers I
was unaware of by being open to hearing unexpected responses. So, listening
entails being willing to question one's assumptions. Of course, writers also
have to ferret out whom to listen to. I talked to everyone who would let me; it
took a degree of skeptical analysis to determine which people were reliable and
What do you hope
people will take away from We've Got a Job as we look back over the last
50 years since the march?
Many children I talk with about
Birmingham 50 years ago are disbelieving about the extent of segregation and
cruelty there then. I think it's important for young people to be aware that,
although prejudice takes different forms today, it still exists. And, where
they see it, they can act to erase it.
What are you working
Thanks to Peachtree, I'm working on
two new projects! The one I'm immersed in at the moment focuses on circus--children's
circus--as a way of overcoming boundaries. These boundaries can be physical,
political, religious, cultural, and social. It should be a thrilling and
Thank you Cynthia first for writing such a wonderful book and for taking the time to talk a bit about it!
Labels: Blog Tours, Civil Rights, Letter from Birmingham Jail, Middle Grades, MLK, Nonfiction, YA