Friday, June 18, 2010

A Look Back: A Look Forward

School’s out! Summer’s in full swing. Time to look back for a moment and reflect on our INK Blog accomplishments. INK bloggers spent the last year sharing favorite new books for young readers, introducing our own new books, and suggesting ways teachers and librarians can use them in the classroom. We shared opinions about e books, kindles, and research. Our subjects ranged from books on women astronauts, Darwin, and baseball to artists, animals, science and more. We have garnered awards and rousing reviews. We welcomed INK THINK TANK, an INK website and INK Think Tank video conferencing. I notice that most of us (present company excluded) are very good at livening up our posts with photos, drawings, book covers and illustrations. All in all a very exciting and productive year. A fringe benefit is that we are starting to meet each other in person. At the PEN Children’s Book writer’s dinner in NY at Elizabeth Levy’s last week, I met Vicki Cobb and Susannah Reich. It was nice to be able to have a face to face conversation!!

I just completed a mystery for adults and sent it off to a friend to review. Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring (with Sandra Jordan, illustrations by Brian Floca) will be out in August. So I am taking a break. For the next month I will catch up on my reading.
As usual I have a stack of books next to my bed ranging from The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest and Louis Sachar’s The Card Turner to a biography of the art dealer Leo Castelli and Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s memoir Nomad. Somewhere in the mix is a novel in the voice of a dog that my friend Barbara says is a must.

I’m excited to introduce Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring, which tells the story of the collaboration between Martha Graham, Isamu Noguchi and Aaron Copland to create Martha’s most celebrated dance. Copland won a Pulitzer prize for the music. Most people don’t realize that Noguchi designed many sets for Martha’s dances over the years. Sandra and I were thinking of writing a biography of the artist. When we visited the Noguchi museum in Long island City, New York a few years ago, there was a fascinating exhibit of Noguchi’s set designs for Martha. We wondered if it would be possible to do a picture book that would capture the spirit of his work with Martha. During the years she danced, choreographed, and taught in New York, everyone referred to her as Martha. She became an icon in her own lifetime. We watched early videos of the company’s performances. It became clear that Appalachian Spring was not only the most accessible story for young readers, but it was also the most American. It takes place in the hills of Pennsylvania, where a farmer and his bride celebrate their wedding day and the completion of their new house.

The ballet debuted at the Library of Congress in 1944, when the United States was at war with Germany and Japan. Although there were intimations in the music and the dance of troubled times, the ballet ended on a hopeful note. Critics called it her valentine to Eric Hawkins, the dancer who played the husband, the man Martha eventually married. She took the role of the bride. Interestingly Merce Cunningham was the Preacher. Whenever we went to watch rehearsals of the Martha Graham Dance Company, Brian Floca was there taking photographs. Sandra and I, as I’ve written before, do an enormous amount of research for our books. I was astonished to discover that an illustrator does the same thing. More about the book in the fall. Meanwhile a happy and productive Summer to all of you.


Caroline McAlister said...

I notice that most of the non-fiction books are about artists and musicians who have died. I am presently working on a biographical picture book about a figure who is alive. Can you speak to the advantages and disadvantages of writing about a person who is still mid-career?

In Peace,
Caroline McAlister
Author of
Holy Mole!
Brave Donatella and the Jasmine Thief.

Jan Greenberg said...

Hi Caroline, Having written biographies of both living artists and those who have died, I think the main difference is the ability to interview your subject. If you are writing about an artist in mid-career, the structure of the book also has to be different. It will not begin, he/she was born and end with the last years. Sandra Jordan and I in our books featuring Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Louise Bourgeois, Frank Gehry, and Chuck Close chose to divide chapters thematically rather than chronologically. Take a look at these books. It was fun to write them in a less conventional style. In Ballet for Martha, we were telling the story of the making of Appalachian Spring, focusing on the collaboration between Martha and Aaron Copland, Martha and Isamu Noguchi, and Martha and her dancers.It is really not a biographical picture book in the traditional sense.

BethMooreSchool said...

I make it a point to always have at least one book in the mix that has a dog as a central character... just kidding... sort of...