Thursday, January 21, 2010

Interview with Irene Latham

My sweet friend, Irene Latham, has agreed to answer some questions about her brand new middle-grades novel, Leaving Gee's Bend. Irene describes the book as "heart-touching tales of unexpected adventure." Irene's own journey discovering the quilts of Gee's Bend and writing her book was an adventure, too.

Tell us a little bit about Ludelphia Bennett, your main character.

Ludelphia is ten years old and only has one eye that works. But her other eye is always on the lookout for color -- because it might be a bit of cloth she can put into her quilt. She loves stitching more than anything. And she loves her mama, too.

Talk some about the setting of the book.

The story is set in 1932 Gee's Bend, Alabama, which is just southwest of Selma. It's a tiny little community that's tucked away in a curve of the Alabama River. There's only one road in or out, and it's forty miles long. So it's remained pretty isolated throughout its history. And it's populated by descendants of slaves, who, at the time of our story, are sharecroppers.

What curriculum ties have you identified for teachers who would like to use your book in their classroom?

I created a book discussion guide (available at my website with ties across the curriculum: language arts, social studies, math, music, art. The quilting component combined with the historical element makes for rich, accessible material.

Have you developed teacher helps or extended activities for classroom use with your book?

In addition to the book discussion guide I created, an activity guide created by Frankie Germany, a Mississippi teacher, is also available at my website. It has activites presented in a tic-tac-toe squares, and students are asked to choose three activities to complete the tic-tac-toe puzzle. Again, the activities presented span the curriculum, with activites such as creating a story quilt, designing a new book jacket, writing an acrostic poem.

Can you give us examples of what you might include in a school visit focused on Leaving Gee’s Bend?

I will present my first school program in Flint, Michigan, later this week. My presentation includes a powerpoint with actual research documents: Farm Security Administration photos taken by Arthur Rothstein, quilt images, and newspaper scans. I've also written two of the scenes as Reader's Theater and have some artifacts to share, such as a 1930's quilt, cotton bolls, a sack dress.

Would you share some highlights of your journey from the glimmer of idea to published book on the shelf?

First and foremost would be that life-changing day when I first viewed the quilts of Gee's Bend at the Whitney in New York City. After that, I really didn't set out to write a novel -- I was just feeding my obsession with everything Gee's Bend. So, a couple of years later, when I found myself writing story snippets set in Gee's Bend, it felt like something I was meant to do all along. Moving through the writing process, I had a huge breakthrough when I switched my manuscript from third person to first person -- finally, there she was, Ludelphia, a living breathing girl. Other highlights include seeing the cover art for the first time, viewing the dedication page in galley form, and reading letters from a group of students whose teacher read the ARC to them. It's such a feeling of connection, of coming full circle, to enter the life of a reader and to jointly experience a piece of literature that for so long existed only within myself. It really is the very best part.


  1. Wonderful interview, Dorraine. Thanks for posting.

  2. I am excited to hear that you are going to be using Reader's Theater in your school visits. I'm interested in hearing how that goes. Artifacts area always great!

  3. Great interview! Thanks for sharing!

  4. Terrific interview, Doraine! I'm mid-way through the book right now and loving it. (And, my own mama wore many a sack dress growing up in a tenant farmer family in Arkansas. Her mama is the reason I love quilts and dabble in quiltmaking, too.) Continued success to both of you...

  5. Thanks Vicky and Kristin for stopping by.

    Sarah, I'm looking forward to hearing how the Readers Theater goes, too. I'm working on a Readers Theater book right now, so I'm always watching to see how different folks use it.

    Robyn, It's amazing how many people I know are so interested in quilting. My own interest lies in collecting, not the needlework. Actually my husband is the one who is always searching the antique stores and bringing home another quilt!

    Thanks all, for reading.