Moment of Life: How Empowering Women Changes the World

Review by Sarah White

You want to do good. But how do you figure out how to do good, well?

That is, how do you ensure you make your contributions in ways that actually achieve positive results? I believe that is the question that set Melinda Gates on the path to writing The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World.

Melinda Gates, 2019, Flatiron Books, 273 pages

I am a member of the advisory committee of A Fund for Women, an endowment fund that raised money and makes grants in the hopes of  transforming Dane County to a place where all women and girls thrive. Our work as grant decision-makers requires that we be well-informed about community needs and be strategic about our charitable giving. That is why we assigned ourselves the task of reading Melinda Gates’ philanthropic manifesto. We’ll be discussing it at our yearly planning retreat later this month.

What kind of book is this? A call to action that whispers to the heart, rather than reasons with the brain or throws a punch to the gut.

Melinda Gates writes from who she is and where she finds herself—a shy Catholic girl who grew into a supporter of women’s rights that includes abortion rights and contraception access, and still a practicing Catholic. on her own terms. Her women’s spirituality infuses the book.

Melinda finds herself working for an equal-partners marriage with her tech-giant husband Bill and an equal-partners role in their philanthropic foundation. In my opinion, she does an excellent job of weaving the personal difficulties of that work into the book’s main thrust—lessons learned from personal contact with women in the charities and NGOs that the Gates Foundation has funded.

The book is organized into nine chapters that make the case for lifting women and girls through maternal and newborn health, family planning, education, reducing the inequality of unpaid work, eliminating child marriage, and helping women in agriculture and in the workplace.

Here I share some takeaways, through the lens of AFFW’s grantmaking focus: economic empowerment for women, and for girls who bear adult responsibilities.

About maternal and newborn health:

“Poverty is not being able to protect your family….And because the strongest instinct of a mother is to protect her children, poverty is the most disempowering force. Help mothers protect their children.”

“When people are not getting healthcare that most others get, the problem is by definition one of poverty… that’s what it means to be poor. They’re on the margins… Poverty is created by barriers; we have to get around or break down those barriers to deliver solutions. The more I saw our work in the field, the more I realized that delivery needs to shape strategies.”

About girls in schools:

“The most transforming force of education for women and girls is changing the self-image of the girl who goes to school. That’s where the lift is. If her self-image doesn’t change, then going to school will not change the culture, because she will be using her skills to serve the social norms that keep her down.”

On women’s unpaid work:

“…It is paid work that elevates women toward equality with men and gives them power and independence….The Unpaid work a woman does in the home is a barrier to the activities that can advance her….Unequal unpaid work blocks a woman’s path to empowerment.”

Beginning about midway through the book, Melinda reveals more of her dilemma as someone who came to running a foundation as a self-described “rich, inexperienced donor.” She speaks of three ways “American billionaires” create problems for the organizations they try to help: funding the wrong ideas, failing to measure progress, and assuming their financial success equals expertise in anything and everything. These mistakes kill off good ideas, keep funding ideas that don’t work, and lead to bad decisions with big impact.

Melinda writes of the need to be a learning organization, to be able to pivot when you stumble on something more effective than what you were doing.

These are thoughts I’ll bring to the AFFW book discussion, and thoughts I’ll review as we prepare for our annual grant decision-making next July.

The Moment of Lift may never be great literature, but it is written with honesty, self-reflection, and compassion. NPR reviewer Lily Meyer writes, “Gates goes long on heartwarming anecdotes, short on argument. She writes often about lifting women up, but it can be difficult to tell how she expects readers without tech fortunes to do so.” Well, volunteering with something like A Fund for Women or one of our grantee agencies would be a start. Or you could contribute to our endowment fund. Grant requests typically total more than $300,000. Our yearly funding capacity runs a little more than $100,000. Every charitable gift shifts that equation for the better.

If you seek to understand how our system discourages economic empowerment for women and girls, read The Moment of Lift.Then take a look at your own community. Where could you invest your time or treasure to improve lives locally, as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is doing globally?

© 2019 Sarah White

Posted in Book review, Call for action | Leave a comment

Hungover: A Madison Story Slam Baptism

I posted last week about my first Moth story slam experience. I asked Linda Lenzke to share her experience with readers as well–and she agreed. Have you participated in a Story Slam? Share your experience here! See guest writer’s guidelines. – Sarah

By Linda Lenzke

“True stories from the heart of Madison, WI. Host Adam Rostad brings storytellers together to tell true stories based on a theme, from real people.”— From the Madison Story Slam website.

First, a little backstory before I tell this tale about my first — and only — story slam performance, Hungover: A Madison Story Slam Baptism.

Madison Story Slam is one of a number of storytelling open mics in Madison which typically spotlight spoken word monologue-style true stories, a hybrid of storytelling, stand-up comedy (or tragedy depending on the story), and performance in front of an audience. Some feature an element of competition, most are based on a theme, and prizes, or at least applause and laughter, are the reward for the storyteller.

Madison Story Slam, which will celebrate its Fifth Anniversary on February 15th at a special story slam event, is described by founder and host Adam Rostad as follows:

“We host events around Madison that are open to the public for people to come tell a true 7-10-minute story from their life. Stories are usually based on a theme that will be announced ahead of time. A panel of judges will judge stories based on content, time, and storytelling ability. But don’t worry, the competition part isn’t taken overly seriously. The crowds are friendly and are always very kind to storytellers.”

A little bit of background about me. I hail from a long line of oral historians, beloved family members who knew the value of a good story and the pleasure experienced when sharing it. They relished in the telling and retelling of their stories, embellishing, adding, and subtracting details in the service of the tale or life lesson. After attending reminiscence-writing workshops with Sarah White of First-Person Productions, I began putting words to page, telling stories about my lived experience. My blog, Mixed Metaphors, Oh My! was launched six years ago this month.

I’m not a stranger to the stage. I’ve acted in high school and college, and in the past performed stand-up comedy which featured observational humor about my life and relationships. Years ago, I was also a member of a women’s improv company, Acting Outat Apple Island and I’ve written and produced spoken word monologues for the stage, including Conceal & Carry: Queers Exposed.

Lastly, I’m a recovering alcoholic for over 30 years. This fact figures into my decision to tell a story about my first blackout at my first Madison Story Slam event, Hungover.

It was November 18, 2017. I arrived alone at Wil-Mar and signed-up on the roster of the evening’s storytellers. I’m a natural storyteller with friends and family, however, as I’ve gotten older, rather than becoming more at ease on stage, I exhibit all the common anxiety symptoms: weak knees, shallow breathing, mild dizziness, irregular heartbeat, excessive perspiration, and an uncontrollable desire to flee. I remained, and found a table to sit at as I was joined by a Madison Story Slam star, ‘Meatman’ Sosnowski.  It presented an opportunity for me to ask questions about story slam conventions and demystify what was about to unfold. A friend, Elisa arrived for moral support and joined me at the table. I relaxed a little.

I was second in the line-up, and after the first storyteller received a warm welcome, laughter, and enthusiastic applause, it was my turn. After being introduced, I opened my story in the tradition of AA meetings, “Hello, my name is Linda and I’m an alcoholic.”

 

I paused for effect which was followed by a l-o-n-g silence. It may have been a misstep. My monologue took a more serious turn than I had intended. The audience, which was prepared for another drunkalogue story, was uncertain whether to laugh, or not, as I proceeded to share my tale about the night of my high school graduation and my first blackout from alcohol.

The audience did respond with reserved laughter when I mentioned that when my parents gave me luggage as my high school graduation gift, it was clearly a hint to leave home. There was more laughter when I talked about joining friends following the dinner with my parents, and after purchasing the extra-large-sized orange drinks at the Spot Drive-In, and after we dumped half of it out, we filled it with gin.

We ended up at Leslie’s Continental Club in a part of town my father had forbidden me to ever set foot. The bar was closed because it was after hours, yet Leslie had an apartment attached at the back of the bar. We drank more and told stories until I had to use the bathroom.

Most people who’ve drank too much may have experienced ‘bed spins.’ When I sat on the toilet, I began having ‘toilet spins’ as I looked at all of Leslie’s freshly-laundered socks, hanging from every surface in the bathroom to dry, not in any order. I sat for an undetermined amount of time matching socks in my mind before I passed out on the bathroom floor with my underwear at my ankles.

There’s more to this story–which you can listen to in its entirety when you click on the link below. What was a both a bonus and a surprise to my storytelling was it sparked another story, this time by the host. Adam proceeded to tell an impromptu personal and poignant story about his mother who was an alcoholic. This is the gift of first-person storytelling — we all have stories to tell and they help us connect as a community, tribe, affinity group, or clan. We resonate with our shared experiences and often delight in our differences.

“Meatman” Sosnowski takes the stage at the Wil-Mar Center.

At the end of the evening, raffle prizes were awarded, including local craft beer and a set of Cards Against Humanity (with the expansion set!). I didn’t stay to find out who was voted the winner. I suspected it was my tablemate, ‘Meatman’, who had a loyal following and was a renowned story slam performer. What I learned at my Madison Story Slam baptism was you need a good story anda confident, entertaining performance. I’ll work on the latter before I tell my next story on stage. There will be more stories.

To listen to my Madison Story SlamHungover performance, click on the podcast link at the 11:09 minute timestamp. https://madisonstoryslam.podbean.com/e/story-slam-hungover-part-1/

To read more of my stories, visit my blog, https://www.mixedmetaphorsohmy.com/

© 2020 Linda Lenzke

Upcoming Madison Story Slam events:

February 5, 2020 at Stateline Distillery, 6:45 pm for Worst Date

February 7, Monona Public Library, 6:30-8:00 for “Wing It”

February 7, Wisconsin Historical Society, 8:00-11:00 for “Just Bust!” open mic, a story slam with a Black History Month theme

February 15, 2020 at Wil-Mar, 6:30 pm for Madison Story Slam’s 5th Anniversary

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My First Moth StorySLAM

By Sarah White

I think I’ve known about The Moth since it originated in New York City in 1997. A homesick southern poet wanted to recreate the feeling of the summer evenings he remembered, when people gathered on porches to tell stories, drawn to the flame of human spirit like moths to a porch-light. I read occasional news reports about its spread from New York to other cities, its increasingly professional productions. The Moth came to Madison in January 2016. So why did it take me until January 2020 to get myself over to a Moth StorySLAMto experience it for myself?

Moth emcee–the view from my seat

Well, no doubt a little fear was involved—fear that it would be too wonderful, that I would feel I didn’t belong. Maybe it was that old competitive bugaboo kicking in, fear that a local Moth would steal wind from the sails of my own storytelling monthly event. Well, I’m a big girl now, with a big MFA to my name, and I’m confident enough to get on over to a Moth and find out how it feels to sit in the dark listening to 5-minute, first-person, true stories performed from a stage.

Each Moth evening starts with an open-ended theme. January’s was “Adventure.” I arrived at the High Noon Saloon about a half hour before show-time and sat down next to a couple of friendly Gen-X women. Doors open at 6:30 for the 7:30 show, and my friendly informants—Moth regulars—told me that if you hope for one of the ten slots on the performer list, you’d better arrive at 6:30. They also let me in on the secret that some of the performers to take the stage that night were likely hand-picked—repeaters guaranteed to deliver good entertainment.

First up was Dan Nelson, who walked up to the mic and announced: “I was an 8-year-old pornographer.” He delivered with a comic’s timing his tale about stealing Playboy magazines and selling pages for a dollar a piece. When the applause settled down, the emcee drew a name from a bag, then improvised few time-fillers from prompt-slips handed in by audience members while the next storyteller made his way to the stage. Meanwhile three pairs of judges assigned a score to Nelson’s performance: 9.4. I was surprised to learn Moth events were competitive.

Slips with prompts were handed out at the door.

Four more storytellers followed before an intermission. The emcee ad-libbed between each. Victor Vileña gave an unpolished but impassioned description of his attempts to illegally cross the Mexico-America border as a 16-year-old. Judges awarded him an 8.1. Ann Bosananas described her adventures as a 4-year-old in a trailer park in Duluth, dunning neighbors for cookies. Score: 8.0. Erica Schultz took us with her on a road trip to Georgia with two college friends. High on energy drinks and all-night driving, they turned the stereotype of a dangerous hitchhiker on its head. He nearly bought a car just to get away from them. Score: 8.6.

Alexander Latham closed the set with another college road-trip story. This one brought ten unwashed young men to the doorstep of Latham’s ex-girlfriend’s family in Denver—while the ex was in Amsterdam. The family’s wealth and hospitality dwarfed the glories of Zion National Park and became the legend of that trip. Score: 9.4, a tie with Nelson, and clearly, another experienced performer. (I hope I’ve transcribed the names I heard correctly.)

Intermission hit then, as did 8:30pm, and I left for home, feeling pensive.

In this context, what set the polished performers apart from the amateurs? Most obvious was a combination of phrasing, gestures, and lack of filler words. The Moth format requires that people perform their stories—no reading aloud. The Moth website offers tips for telling a story well. There is some helpful advice for memoir writers there: “Paint a scene. Clearly state your fears, desires, the dilemma. Introduce the conflict. Make us worried for you. Impress us with observations that are uniquely yours. Rope us into the moment when it all goes down. Conclude as a different person: Triumphant? Defeated? Befuddled? Enlightened? … CHANGED.” I’ve taught 6-week workshops that covered no more than those points.

Story Tips & Rules from the Moth website

For six years I’ve hosted First Monday, First Person at a local library, billing it as a “salon” for memoir writers who want to share and critique writing in the first person with likeminded people. We’re unlike The Moth in several key ways: Tickets to the local Moth are $15; FMFP is free. They’re performing from memory; we’re reading our work (mostly first drafts) from pages or mobile devices. We’re in a well-lit library meeting room at a podium facing a dozen or so regulars and newbies in a horseshoe, not in a dark bar at a mic on a stage facing an anonymous audience beyond the spotlights. We offer encouragement and suggestions, but no numerical scores—we’re the antithesis of competitive.

There’s something about the Moth that makes me itchy and I can’t put my finger on what. I worry about how quickly the line is crossed from making our own fun to becoming passive consumers of content. The Moth started out homegrown fun, but now it’s not. Still fun, but not “just us.”  If indeed those super-talented performers who opened and closed the set were secretly invited, then they were competing under false pretenses and the rest of us were taken in. I feel a little bit duped. But I definitely want to go back to The Moth in Madison.

February’s theme is “Love Hurts.” Want to join me there on February 10? I might even try to sign up to tell a story of my own.

© 2020 Sarah White

 

Posted in Call for action, Sarah's memoir | 2 Comments

Launching of CIRCE

This is the 18th episode of a travel memoir that is unfolding, one chapter each month, here on True Stories Well Told. Stay tuned for more of the adventure as teenage Suzy’s family moves to Europe, builds a sailboat, and takes up life on the high seas circa 1961. Click here to read the earlier episodes.

Dad and Hank on launching day

 

Excerpts taken from Mom’s letter to her sister Margaret on January 10, 1963

Dear Marg:

Very quiet around here now—girls very reluctantly back in school, little boys in school, Tom, Tommy and Henry have gone on a two- day cruise over to another island, Minorca, to try out a friend’s boat. Everything being OK, they expect to come back tomorrow, and then take a trip up to France. I could go on any of these trips if I want to. But, when I get seasick, I want it to be my own boat I mess up … and that will come plenty soon for me! Our boat is coming along quite nicely now but will not really be ready to go before about the first of May, so we will probably be here till the first of June. Wish I could get the beautiful carpentry work in a house that is being done on the boat. The fellow who is doing the finishing work inside is a furniture maker, and the work is really exquisite. Everyone who sees the boat tells me how lucky we are, but stupid me—all I can think of is nine of us living in an area somewhere around 32 feet long and about 6 to 8 feet wide,. The boat is 58 feet long overall, but engine room, etc, make up the difference. Well, we shall see. Won’t be too bad during the summer when we’re on the move all the time, then when winter comes, we can always find a house if it gets too bad. At this point we are planning to be up on the south coast of France next winter so that the children can learn French and go to school there…better plan to make us a visit.

It seems to me that somewhere along the line I suggested that you might enjoy a Siamese cat. At this time I’m about to take back every word of it, in fact, I wouldn’t give a plugged nickel for ours. She has reached the age of consent. And OH HOW SHE WANTS A MAN! We’ve been trying to protect her maidenhood because they say that she’s too young to have a family so have kept her in. In fact, she’s always been kept in because there are some cat-hating dogs in the neighborhood. Anyway, during these periods of frustrated desires her yowling and indecent advances to Rusty become so disgusting that we banish her to an outside room. This only aggravates the situation, because. With her other problem is added the misery of loneliness—and does she let us know! Would think that she would perish from sheer exhaustion from howling steady all night long—but not Anitra. It’s a good thing we have no close neighbors, or we’d be chased from the neighborhood. And now rusty is having some same problems, but she’s much more of a lady, except that every five minutes she whines to get out. Never knowing if it might not be a sincere desire to answer a call of nature, one of us is constantly having to jump up and take her out on her leash—only to watch her ecstatically run from tree sniffing the wondrous odors. Oh me. Sat here last night reading and suddenly a huge black dog made a lunge at our terrace window trying to get in.

Certainly can’t complain about the weather at the moment—beautifully warm and sunshiny. I hear the little ones approaching, so no more now.

Lots of love to all of you and a real good New Year.

Sally

Excerpts taken from Suzy’s diary of 1963

February 6 – Today I bought this Diary in Casa Roger when Mom, Frank and I walked up town to do the shopping. I saw Juan for a minute at the school, but not for long. Ever since last Friday we have been out of school because it’s so cold out. There is snow in the mountains and ice in the roads. Later I went with Juanita & Tom to the Club where I met Juan and we watched Bonanza on television. He gave me the picture from New Year’s Eve Dance.

February 13 – This bright, beautiful day was my sister’s birthday. Mom and Dad came and got us here at school to take us out to lunch. We had a wonderful time, but it just didn’t last long enough. I sent a card to Juan with Mommy so I’m sure he will receive it. I didn’t have any classes today at all. Well, I guess that’s all except I never laughed so much as tonight with Angeles in study hall!

Feb. 14 As far as excitement goes there was none. We all sent Valentines cards to each other. At noon we wanted to go out to the bakery, so the girls said that Suzanne and I were celebrating “El Dia de los Enamorados” and the Mother gave us permission to go. During Spanish class we laughed all the time with the Senorita who is mad with her “novio” (boyfriend) !Es la Vida! Nothing else happened so I will close for today. Happy Valentines Day!

Feb. 16 This morning Henry came to pick us up at school and we traveled to Palma with him. We had lunch there and then caught the train home. When I got home, I had my hair fixed and Juan & Jose and Mrs. F all came up for drinks. After that we all walked to the movies, but Juan could only talk about other girls so it wasn’t very pleasant.

Feb. 24 Back home in Puerto. Tonight is the big night of the year. “The Dance of Carnival.” We all were to wear costumes, so I made one up of a French Sailor Girl. Tom and Hank also had ones which were stupendo. At the last minute Juan came up on his moto (motorcycle) and said that no one was wearing costumes so I took mine off. We had a wonderful time and besides it marked one year for Juan and I going together.

On the weekends in Puerto I spent most of my time with Juan, but he had to report for military duty, so I didn’t get to see him very often even though he was stationed in Puerto. We went to the movies whenever he got time off. One night we watched an American movie called Peyton Place, a movie I’d never seen before. Everyone wanted to know if that was the way we lived in Oregon.

Jan and I were plotting the end of our school days. We suggested to Mom as the boat was closer and closer to being launched, she might need us to help get things ready to move on board. There were pillows to make and covers for the life preservers. Dad wanted the linens embroidered with Circe. It worked! On March 12th we returned to Pont d’Inca to tell the nuns and our friends we were quitting school so we could help prepare for the launching of our boat.

Now that we were back home in Puerto I started teaching classes to Conrad and Frank. We did geography of Europe, studying the countries’ flags, and some basic translation in Spanish and French. We also did math, reading, and writing in English. Until now they had only had classes in Spanish. Jan and I both worked with mom getting the supplies ready for the boat. We also helped Mom eliminate things that wouldn’t go with us on the boat because of lack of space.

Circe on the move to the launching pad

Launching Day May 17, 1963 –  It took about twenty men pushing and pulling Circe by hand to get to the launching site at the military base, a distance of about a half mile. They put large straps around her and lifted her off the trailer and set her in the water with the crane they used to launch the sea-planes. Mom cracked a bottle of champagne on her bow just before they put her in the water. We’d seen Mom do this before many times, as Dad had built several boats before this one, although none as large as Circe.

It was a big day for us, but I cried, because I knew it meant we would soon move on board and leave Puerto, and Juan, behind. I didn’t want that time to come.

On June 23 we had an “Open House” for the boat. Dad moored Circe at the quay and we invited all our friends to come aboard and see where we would be living.

Hank, Jan, Suzy, and Juan

© 2020 Suzy Beal

Suzy Beal, an occasional contributor to True Stories Well Told, has been writing her life story and personal essays for years. In 2016 Suzy began studying with Sheila Bender at writingitreal.com.  Watch for the final chapter of her travel memoir to be posted next month! Please leave comments for Suzy on this post.

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It’s that time again: “Throw me somethin’, Mister!”

Mardi Gras may be more than a month away (it arrives February 25, 2020) but according to my blog content queue, it’s time to “Throw me somethin’, Mister,” as they say in the Big Easy.

 

It’s not plastic trinket “throws” I want, but your stories, true and well told.

That’s a writing technique called “borrowed interest” and I’m not ashamed to stoop to it to fill the digital pages of this blog. I publish writing prompts, book reviews, and stories from my own life, but my favorite content is YOUR stories.

Here are the guidelines. Now throw me somethin’, Mr.,  Ms., whoever you are! Send your stories to sarah.white@firstpersonprod.com.

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My Big MFA Adventure complete, finding a publisher comes next

“We’ve got your book,” said the title on the brochure that fell into my hands one fateful morning in Oxford, England, July, 2016.  “Whether you are a mid-career writer, a journalist, or an aspiring author, King’s MFA is designed for you. Bring us your idea for a narrative nonfiction book, a collection of essays, or a biography or memoir and we can help you turn it into a manuscript that’s on the road to publication.”  I did. If you have been following my Big MFA Adventure, you know that I now have a manuscript “that’s on the road to publication.” Or at least, on the on-ramp to that road. 

In the program, we learned to write a book, a book proposal, and a query letter. We learned about the importance of attending conferences, networking, and how to research agents and publishers so that instead of cold-calling, we approach people who will be interested to hear from us. Check, check, and check–I’ve written a book, a proposal, and a query letter, which I am currently sending out, personalized with any first sentence or two I can imagine to gin up the recipient’s interest in what I have to say. Here, without further preamble, is that pitch. Suggestions welcome! Introductions even more welcome! – Sarah White

 

[from] sarah.white@firstpersonprod.com

[subject line] Authors of “Love In a Can–The Soulful History of Glory Foods” are looking for representation

Dear [Publisher or Agent’s name here]

Dan Charna and I have written Love in a Can: The Soulful History of Glory Foods,a 90,000-word first draft that tells the bittersweet story of the unlikely partners who started Glory Foods to bring soul food lovers back to the family dinner table.

Book Summary:

In December 1988, three unlikely friends conceived the idea for Glory Foods, the first food company to put soul food in a can and make it available outside the south. Their first product, a humble can of collard greens seasoned the way Momma used to make them, holds the complicated story of the South—the redemptive act of transforming, through labor and love, food unfit for the master’s table into nourishment for the soul.

Over two decades, despite a wildly successful launch, failure loomed many times as the company met unexpected disruptions—even the death of two of the founding partners. Love in a Canis a dramatic tale of friendship and trial by fire that ranges across the American landscape from Columbus, Ohio, where the founding partners came together, to the fields and canneries of the Deep South and the corporate offices of major food brands in the Midwest. Throughout, the founders fought to achieve profit and prosperity for the people and companies Glory Foods touched.

In 2010, to combat a predatory competitor, the Glory Foods brand was acquired by its longtime vendor-partner, McCall Farms. Today, Glory Foods has 200,000+ social media followers and a faithful customer base, giving this book a built-in market.

Comp titles:

The strength of a memoir about business and history is the timeless appeal of these themes for a certain kind of reader. Books like  Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local – and Helped Save an American Town and Catfish Dream: Ed Scott’s Fight for His Family Farm and Racial Justice in the Mississippi Delta are among comparable titles.

About the authors:

Dan Charna, as the sole surviving partner among the original founders of Glory Foods, is the leading authority on the history of the business. Dan is a tenured professor teaching entrepreneurship, economics, and finance at Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, Ohio. In addition to teaching, Dan consults with startup ventures in food and consumer products. He serves on the Advisory Board of McCall Farms.

Sarah White is a professional freelance writer residing in Madison, Wisconsin who writes on business development, entrepreneurship, and leadership. Sarah holds an MFA-Creative Nonfiction from University of King’s College-Halifax. Her passion for Love in a Can: The Soulful History of Glory Foods comes from her deep interest in founders’ stories and recognition of a gap in the American historical narrative where black entrepreneurship belongs.

The authors have the full support of the brand’s former and current executives in writing this book.

A detailed proposal including marketing plan, book outline, table of contents and a sample chapter is available for your review.

Thank you for your consideration,

Sarah White

Does your nephew work in publishing? Did your ex-husband marry an ex-agent whose rolodex is still plump with contacts? Do you bicycle in France every summer with a couple who work for the University of Georgia press? I’m working my connections any which way but loose–let me tap yours! 

© 2019 Sarah White

 

Posted in Call for action, Sarah's memoir | 1 Comment

The Yellow House–new memoir by Sarah Broom

Review by Sarah White

I don’t recall, nor does it matter, what brought Sarah Broom’s memoir The Yellow House to my attention. Maybe a “best new memoirs” list (it won the National Book Awards 2019 first place for Nonfiction), or maybe that its subject matter is New Orleans, especially New Orleans East, even more devastated by Hurricane Katrina than the rest of that city. I spent a strange, very moving day (which I blogged about) in Broom’s neighborhood with a crew of community consultants nine months after Katrina. Maybe the mention of “Gentilly” is what drew me to Broom’s book.

The Yellow House is structured as the autobiography of a house, the family it sheltered, the community it stood in and with, intentionally omitted from the touristic narrative of New Orleans itself.

The book consists of four Movements, preceded by a prologue and followed by an epilogue. From the first page, author Sarah Broom clearly maps her life onto the geography of her home place.

The first Movement, “The World Before Me,” (approximately 100 pages of the 384-page book), tells the story of the blended family of Broom’s mother, twice married, and the eleven children she bore. Then Sarah is born, the 12th child and the only one fathered by the second husband, who died six months after her birth.

This launches Movement II, “The Grief House,” wherein Broom explores the missing father and his connection to the Yellow House, which he was continually tinkering on, adding to, rearranging, until his death in its bathroom. This section reads like many a coming-of-age story, as Broom absorbs her mother’s values–attention to place-making, self-respect, education. Those eleven older siblings provide examples of where life might take Broom; we see the shifting nature of a big family, how the oldest move up and out before the youngest get to know them, how the olders shift in and out of the youngers’ lives, teaching by their examples about choices both good and bad.

In Movement III, “Water,” Broom completes a journalism degree and begins a career in New York City. Then Katrina hits in August 2005. Everything after that is a story of displacement and the struggle to find the meaning of “home.” The Yellow House was razed by the city after a single notice delivered to the mailbox in front of an empty house on an abandoned street. What had first been Broom’s mother’s sanctuary, then her place of grief, refuses to die–the empty lot remains an anchor for the family in the largely vacant, post-apocalyptic New Orleans East.

In Movement IV, “Do You Know What It Means,” Broom constantly shifts jobs in an attempt to find her place, doing everything from working for Oprah’s magazine to running an NGO in Burundi. In the end, she returns to New Orleans and rents an apartment in the French Quarter for a full year, determined to research and write a book that, as the National Book Award’s review put it, “expands the map of New Orleans to include the stories of its lesser known natives, guided deftly by one of its native daughters, to demonstrate how enduring drives of clan, pride, and familial love resist and defy erasure.”

Broom largely tells her story through straight chronology, occasionally making visible the act of writing. She mentions her early instinct to write down family conversations verbatim, and later, the red tape recorder she carries–left running untended in the final scene as she learns to mow the lawn where the Yellow House once stood. Her brother and his friends still gather there, now caught on tape commenting on her performance with the riding mower.

Broom does not mention the fellowship that allowed her to take that year to live and write in New Orleans, or how she funded the many trips to interview family members flung far across the U.S. post-Katrina, never to return. Certain parts of the act of writing are, apparently, unmentionable. Googling tells me that Broom has attended numerous writing workshops, been awarded fellowships and residencies. Clearly, she’s worked at building her writing craft.

Broom skillfully manages shifting viewpoints, from the 3rd person point of view as she writes about the family backstory, to 1st person as the story becomes her own. She decided on this structure, she told Rumpus in an interview, because “I wanted to make a point about the ways in which we as humans are catapulted into preexisting stories—that we aren’t born and the story begins.” In that interview, she discusses the perspective shift required to write about her mother and grandmother as women: “It’s hard not to think of your grandmother as ‘grandmother,’ as opposed to ‘woman,’ a woman who made choices, who had decisions to make.”

Broom’s research took her deep into archives in New Orleans. She conducted hundreds of hours of interviews with family members, resulting in thousands of pages of transcripts. Themes in the book–what houses really mean, what family really is, the journeys of coming of age, of becoming a writer/artist, of finding home after displacement–emerged slowly, she told the Rumpus interviewer. The house as a way to understand her father only in the 3rd or 4th draft. “Around draft seven I read only for arc.” As a writer myself, I find this view into Broom’s process very helpful. (And daunting. I have a lot of rewrites ahead for Glory Foods, apparently.)

Broom’s The Yellow House is relevant far beyond its story of a family’s survival after catastrophe. There is displacement everywhere–wildfires in California and Australia, war and climate change in developing countries. Any of us may suddenly be on the move, asking ourselves the questions about place that Broom explores.

© 2019 Sarah White

 

 

 

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