On March 20, 2016 about 9:30 am, I invited myself to interview a special group of authors. These authors had been selected to be part of a publication headed by an organization that promotes literacy in the Great Lakes state. I had no idea what to expect when I went there. But I was looking forward to finding out.
Sunday morning turned out to be one of those days where you think summer was going to rear her head early. Instead of going to church that day, I headed to the center of downtown Detroit. The streets, normally full of traffic during the weekdays, were empty so it was a breeze getting to where I needed to go. I was feeling pretty excited. After all , this would be my first event I’d ever done in my capacity as a radio host. Would it go okay?
I found a parking garage and paid my ten dollar fee (if I ever stop writing, maybe I’ll open a parking garage in the D) and headed up the clean, cement garage and to the elevator.
Image courtesy of https://www.cobocenter.com/about_us/parking-5
Anyone whose a Detroiter knows about Cobo Hall (I know it’s Cobo Center now, but I remember it as Cobo Hall) and how big it is. Many years ago on a junior high school field trip, I met the architect who designed Cobo Hall. Let me tell you, that place is massive. It’s a city within a city. It was the first place where Cadillac set his foot, claiming the forested area for France, thus beginning the French period of Detroit. Fascinating history if you want to look up the history of Detroit. There are always events, both great and small going on there. In fact, on that day, there was a dinosaur exhibit going on. Cobo Center also hosts the North American International Auto Show every year.
About fifteen minutes later, I found the location where I’m to set up with the help of the employees who know how to navigate the building. When I arrived, I saw a group of ladies milling about and soon came to meet the three women I’d be most grateful for — Jamie, who is a student volunteer, the committee chair, Karen Amrell, and Laura Guzman.
With Jamie’s help, I was able to get set up at the table. Looking back on it, I’d wish I had show swag to decorate the table with. But in my mind, I didn’t want it to be about self-promotion but an event focused on young authors who did what some adults can’t do–finish a creative work and see it published.
My father-in-law came to take pictures of the event. There was a moment of hilarity when he called me on his cell phone and say, “I’m lost. Where are you?” my father-in-law has an innate sense of direction. I’m the one who gets lost in a closet. But I digress.
The concept behind Kaleidoscope, the publication of the Michigan Reading Association (MRA) is this — honor students who have written with getting their work published. It’s a simple idea but it packs a lot behind it. As a writer myself, I know how it feels to have my work published. Karen Amrell, the committee chair of the event made the statement, “Getting recognition for your work is a wonderful encouragement.” And she’s right.
Each year the MRA works to help promote literacy. When I talked to a couple of the staff persons before the event, I was shocked to find out how rampant illiteracy is. According to this site, 47% of metro Detroiters are reportedly functional illiterate, with the state level of functional illiteracy at 18%. Frightening to say the least.
With the Kaleidoscope publication, I saw the driving force behind it — teachers, working alongside parents, to encourage literacy. No one should just get by in life — they should take it by the horns. Being able to read for work, education, or for pleasure, opens up the mind’s playing field of possibilities. It’s empowerment.
THE FUN PART
Around 10:15, the first of the authors with their parents came. The show was about to begin. I was nervous as I hadn’t been in a while when doing my show. After all, these are kids much more smarter than me that I was interviewing. But I was so happy to be a part of their writing career in some way. We took pictures of the child, first with the Kaleidoscope frame by themselves and the one with me. Then they came around the table and I clipped the tiny microphone on them. With each child, I talked to them, asking them what grade they were in, what prompted them to write the piece, and how did they feel once they got word they were published.
Just like the children themselves, there were a variety of poems and stories. Science fiction, fantasy, slice of life, and more. One sci-fi story dealt with a planet that provided yo-yo’s to Earth. Another talked about a Batman suit his Grammy gave him. One child wrote down a story about all of his fears from when he was four and five years old. Then there’s the one about the turkey disguising itself as a biker.
It was great getting into their minds and speaking about their work. What author doesn’t like to talk about their stories? I know I do! And here I was able to give them the opportunity to do the same.
THE COMMON THREAD
After all the interviews were completed, I sat back and thought about the common thread with everyone I’d spoken to that day. Boy and girl, grade differences, life experiences, all of them had a common thread. And it wasn’t the gift of writing although each of them had it. It was those behind the scenes — the parents and teachers who worked with each writer, encouraging, nurturing, correcting, and always pushing them to develop the talent. That was the common thread. Writers may be born but they also have to be nurtured with the same dedication a gardener would to a tender, young plant.
At the end of each interview, I gave the parents my card and told them all, “If he or she ever publishes again, I’d love to have them on my show.” If there were siblings lingering with the parents, I invited them as well. After all, writers do run in the family.
I hope one day to get that email or that call that says, “Hey Parker, I just finished my next book. Can I be on the show?”
To listen to the podcast of these amazing authors,click here.
To see the slideshow of all participants interviewed, click here.