Friday, February 22, 2008

More Reading the World

I’ve been thinking about the many speeches and reunited friends that I came across at the Reading the World conference.

Rita Williams-Garcia's keynote speech, “Getting Off the Block,” was about getting out of your comfort zone, your block, physically and emotionally. As Page mentioned, I had a chance to see a side of Rita that I don’t often see… Rita as a young girl, from a military family, packed up in the car, dealing with racism and moving from coast to coast. For her, one fear that loomed large was the fear of coming home to a house all packed up and ready to leave.

While living in Seaside, CA, Rita told how her class had “traveled” to Japan. They did this by learning all they could about Japanese culture and customs. And when the US dropped the bomb on Hiroshima to end WWII, Rita said her class cried with them, they cried for the people of Japan, the people they had recently “met.”

Sarah Ellis brought the conference to a close with a “Synthesis of Reading the World.” She marveled and mused on how we all traveled there, by plane, taxi, BART, to gather to celebrate books for young people. (like how we do for our Res!) How all things, from the Kabuki Hot Springs schedule (found in her hotel room, Miyako Hotel in Japantown) to goddesses on stage (a reading by Doris Orgel), and the power of letter-writing (Alma Flor Ada speech) connects and energizes us.

In addition to Rita and Sarah, Naomi Shihab Nye was also a keynote speaker. She blew me away…

Naomi spoke about the power of the possible switch of perspective in our stories, of making mistakes and gaining redemption when you least expect it. She told this story:

Once Naomi mistook someone’s house for a museum. I missed how she ended up in this house, but she and a friend walked in, thinking the house was a museum, wondered why nothing was tagged or marked, and looked around at the objects in total awe. Soon she realized it was someone’s home after the owners asked her- hello? What are you doing here?

She was so embarrassed and never told anyone. A few years later, a young man came up to her and asked if she had walked into a home once and thought it was a museum. Naomi said yes, but how did he know? The young man turned out to be the homeowners’ son, a teen back then. He had always wanted to thank her because, from that day, he saw his parents in a different light; he began to see how special his parents were because Naomi, a stranger, had seen the special-ness in the things they “collected”. She thought she had made a terrible, embarrassing mistake and wanted to forget the whole thing. But to her surprise, the mistake turned out to be something more, not just for herself, but for a stranger as well.

I’m not doing justice to the story; you had to be there. Sniffles, reaching for Kleenex all around. Naomi is such a bold speaker… she speaks with frankness and enthusiasm, and with such reverence for the written word & for young people.

Sarah had the brilliant idea to have Naomi as a guest writer at VCFA. I agree; her writing and stories would inspire. This week, I’m reading Naomi’s book of poems for girls, A MAZE ME. I’m sure you all have read her poetry and novels.

I felt lucky to hang with VCFA folks and I didn’t have to leave home!

Ok, guess I did my writing for this morning.

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