Léna is also a Regional Manager for Writopia Lab whose mission is to foster joy, literacy, and critical thinking in kids and teens from all backgrounds through creative writing.

"Well, the question is, what do you want to believe? Do you want to live in a world where things are possible, or in one where they aren't?" Cin, Edges.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The Cover Reveal for Becoming Madeleine

My grandmother, Madeleine L’Engle, has always been a source of inspiration for me -- from my own writing, to my obsession with the metaphysical, and to my teaching and mentoring. I’d always wanted to tell her story, and had fooled around with different ways of telling it - (at the end of her life I was writing my own version of The Summer of the Great-Grandmother) but I knew I needed my sister Charlotte to help me write it. She didn’t want to, thinking that we were too close to the subject. And perhaps she was right: Gran had become her ethereal self, while here on earth grief and perspective took a long time to settle.


Yet here we are, ten years after her death on September 6th, announcing the cover reveal for our book, Becoming Madeleine. How did that happen?


Two years ago we started thinking about her hundredth birthday, coming up in November of 2018. She LOVED celebrating birthdays. We wanted to give her a big tribute to honor her. But what to do? A grand party? The release of thousands of doves, or balloons? A constellation in the heavens made in her honor?


“Some kind of biography?” I suggested, ever hopeful.


Charlotte hesitated. “Maybe... What about a picture book? It can open with Gan’s first memory of being woken up and taken outside to look at the stars.”


The publisher, though, was interested in a biography aimed at readers who had loved A Wrinkle in Time.


“We can do this,” I whispered. “It should be us.”


“A ‘Madeleine L’Engle was born…’ narrative?” Charlotte asked. “Let someone else  write it.”


“Someone else might, at some point! But that doesn’t mean we can’t write one too - and we have such a unique relationship -- it will be like a love letter to her.”


I kept whispering. Charlotte kept resisting. She worried that the more scholarly distance required would change our relationship with our grandmother. Besides, the work involved in carefully looking at old letters and journals was daunting. So much material! And while collaborating on a project sounded like fun, there could be  pitfalls. “But if not us,” I asked, “who?”


“Okay,” Charlotte said, finally giving in (after listening to “Hamilton” -- “who lives, who dies, who tells your story” convinced her where I couldn’t) “Oh! What if we start it at that moment when she was abandoned at boarding school...” I squealed with joy, because once Charlotte commits to something, she’s in it two hundred percent.


I started writing, fictionalizing that moment, imagining dialogue and the young Madeleine’s inner-most thoughts. Charlotte started reading her journals from the 1930’s, and we felt a deeper, more intimate connection with Gran than we had in years. She had been such a large part in helping US become, we felt we could successfully write about her becoming with distance,perspective, and great love.


I stopped fictionalizing, and we both wrote straight, trading back and forth, I writing the first draft of one section, Charlotte editing and then writing the first draft of another. Our voices blended like a running backstitch. We began to read her journals and letters from her girlhood, and I realized why Charlotte had been so daunted. “And this is only from when she was a teenager!” Still, we found moments that added to the narrative and incorporated them into our draft..


We quickly came up with a very rough draft and took it to Margaret Ferguson from FSG who said, “You have a book! But you have work to do.”


Thrilled, we rolled up our sleeves and went back to work, reading her journals and letters up to 1963 when A Wrinkle in Time won the Newbery Award. We were writing the book I had always wanted us to write --  one voice together in harmony -- we who loved our grandmother fiercely, whose presence made the world a better place, and whose work lives on.


Becoming Madeleine will be published in 2018, the year she would have turned one hundred.


Happy Birthday Gran - we wouldn’t be us without you!


Lena Roy is Regional Manager and instructor at Writopia Lab.



Wednesday, January 25, 2017

In Support of Elementary School Librarians

Dear Community Members,

It’s half way into our first school year with no full-time librarians in Bedford Central School District’s elementary schools. How is it going? Are your children reading just as much? Are the ESL students thriving in reading and writing without the the intimate guidance of the librarians? Are all of our children excited about the latest trends in literature?


Because librarians do more than stack books -- they create a culture. My grandmother, the late Madeleine L’Engle who wrote A Wrinkle in Time as well as 60 other books was the librarian and artist-in-residence for 35 years at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. It is not enough to have a library without a librarian. In her 1998 Margaret Edwards Award Acceptance speech she said: “To be a librarian, particularly a librarian for young adults, is to be a nourisher, to share stories, offer books full of new ideas. We live in a world which has changed radically in the last half century, and story helps us to understand and live creatively with change.”


I, like all of us, have witnessed firsthand the power of well-funded public education, as I have three children in Fox Lane Middle and High Schools who all reaped the benefits of having an elementary school librarian. I am an author and an educator; I run the Westchester and Connecticut chapters of a national writing non-profit program called Writopia Lab, where our mission is to spread joy, literacy, and critical thinking to all children and teens through creative writing. Kids learn critical thinking through exposure to all kinds of reading and writing - this is how they become problem solvers, this is how they learn about humanity, and this is how they find their own voice in the world. For example, over 95% of Writopia parents say their children and teens have more joy in their life because of their involvement in writing workshops; over 74% of the parents of reluctant writers report that they feel that their children’s grades and test scores improved because of their positive immersion in reading and writing.


Elementary school librarians can fill that gap: reading and writing skills not only help our children grow as critical thinkers, but they help them achieve academic excellence as well. They pull students from classrooms who need extra support or enrichment, and teach all children the language and love of books.  They are also the stewards into which kids learn how to research, and how to separate fact from fiction. Which, these days, seems like a more and more important skill.


More kids than ever are reaching high school and applying to college with no idea how to write an essay, and with no tools for critical thinking other than regurgitation for the Common Core tests - our children are woefully unprepared. Don’t our kids need and deserve more nourishers in their lives? Isn’t this what opportunity and top education is all about? Our children are only in elementary school once; and we have the power to create something wonderful for them.


Our support of librarians sends a clear message to our children: we, as a community, value the pursuit of intellectual curiosity.


Please consider reinstating elementary school librarians for the 2017-2018 budget, and for years to come.

Sincerely,

Monday, January 23, 2017

Reflections on Women's March on Washington and "Pussy"

“What does pussy mean anyway?” my daughter and goddaughter asked as my best friend and I were making the trip to the Women’s March on Washington DC. We’d just left a rest stop, where the predawn crowd of about a hundred women -- many in pink pussyhats -- clapped as our eleven-year-old girls arrived with their tee shirts proclaiming “This is What a Feminist Looks Like” and “Grrrl Power.”





My friend and I looked at each other and nodded. “Pussy is a slang word for our pudenda,” I started. “And sometimes it’s said in a demeaning and disrespectful way, calling someone weak if it’s said in reference to a man, or objectifying girls or women.”
The girls were incensed. My daughter then started talking about the Trump/ Billy Bush tape. "He was saying that he can grab women by the pussy . . ."
"Because he is a celebrity and can get away with it," my friend added.
"So the message we got from him is that he thinks it’s okay to treat women like objects and to assault them,” I finished. "That's why we're reclaiming the word as something more powerful."


That launched us into a discussion about consent. “After he said that, there was a lot of outrage and memes on the internet saying Pussy Bites Back or Power to the Pussy, and then when Trump was elected and the march started being planned, people were knitting pink hats with little ears and calling them pussyhats.”


They already knew about “the wall”, the threat of deportations and a Muslim registry, the movement to take away reproductive freedom, plans to defund Planned Parenthood, and destroy Obamacare. They know about racism and racial profiling. They don’t think that gay marriage should be a big deal because duh, people should be able to love who they love.


“That’s just bullying!” Smart girls. They know about bullying.


The organized bus for which we’d signed up had mysteriously cancelled in the middle of the night, so we got in a car and forged ahead with no idea how to navigate Washington, DC. Our girls had taken to this spirit, declaring we were “spontaneous warrior moms.” Driving those five hours to the march, it felt like we finally had the opportunity to speak up for not only ourselves,  but for everyone who had taken insults and scapegoating throughout the past year by our new president.


We somehow found parking at 11am at Union Station, and immediately joined the community of pink pussyhats flowing to the National Mall. We were so enthralled with the loveliness of the immense crowds -- every age, every color -- that it didn’t matter we couldn’t get anywhere near enough to the stage to hear the speakers. The mood everywhere was one of friendship and family, of true nationhood. We met a big burly bearded man sporting a pink pussyhat and holding a sign with the same slogan as my daughter's tee shirt. John Kerry himself strolled past us, walking his family dog.


As the crowd swelled, word spread that our community was too large for an organized march. Everyone decided otherwise, and this community the size of a midwestern city began marching towards the White House, spilling in from all different directions. We chanted “This is what democracy looks like” and meant it and felt it. We joined the chorus of "Black Lives Matter" and tears came to our eyes when our daughters chanted "My Body, My Choice" with other young women, while the adults and men responded, "Her body, her choice." There was no violence, no bad behavior. Everybody was united and peaceful, and through that we were powerful.


My friend and I plus our daughters made it as close as two blocks away from the White House when the crowd began filtering back. So we slipped away to a less crowded street, and slowly made our way to Union Station, full of hope. I’d never experienced anything like it. Yet, I believe this is just the beginning. If we continue to be vigilant, if we stick together as a community, that hope we all felt will remain. I see from this experience that we all need to do more than we did in this past election. We have to be active, interested, and fully awake.


And we’ll have to start knitting more pussyhats.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Visiting the set of A Wrinkle in Time

There was something more meaningful than I could ever have imagined about visiting the set of A Wrinkle in Time this past Monday on the heels of this crushing election. It wasn’t just because I have been waiting almost 40 years for this to be adapted. It wasn’t just basking in the warmth of the LA sun. It wasn’t just that we need the story and themes put forth in Wrinkle just as much now as we did in the early 1960’s. It was as simple as recognizing I still have faith in humanity and I refuse to be a misanthrope. It was as simple as the relational warmth of Ava DuVernay and the common purpose and diversity of everyone on set, from the cast, crew, and three hundred “extras”.

Movies are still being made, books are being written, people are still saying “I love you” and the sun rises and sets. People are organizing solidarity marches, and recognizing the political battleground in themselves. People are waking up. People are working harder to find meaning in their lives, and that comes from creative and critical thinking, and being of service. Participating in something larger than oneself.

We all need meaning.

Especially when you feel crushed. Maybe the tower does need to be destroyed in order to be rebuilt. But be part of the rebuilding. Be a part of the retelling. Ava DuVernay and Jennifer Lee will be retelling Wrinkle in their own unique ways.

Don’t be afraid of your voice, don’t be afraid to use it.

"This is my charge to you. You are to be a light-bearer. You are to choose the light."
-- Madeleine L'Engle, A Ring of Endless Light

And this is bipartisan - nobody has the corner on being a lightbearer. Maybe this is where we can come together, where we can empathize with each other.

Many years ago, there was a time in my life when I felt so marginalized that I didn’t think my life was worth anything, that I was just a waste of space. I didn’t think I had any choices, let alone the power to choose the light.

But I did, and I continue to have to make the choice (especially when crushed) and you can too.

Thank you Ava -- and the cast and crew of Wrinkle -- for being lightbearers.


No more walls.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

On Seeing Ava DuVernay's 13TH

13TH opened the 54th NewYork Film Festival at Alice Tully Hall on Friday night and I had the good fortune escort my amazing, politically conscious and thoughtful 15 year old niece Magda.

It is the first documentary ever to open the film festival, and was chosen for its compelling narrative. It had been made very quietly under the radar, by film director, Ava DuVernay (who also happens to be directing the upcoming adaptation of my grandmother's book, A Wrinkle in Time) and "13TH" refers to the 13th amendment:

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

This documentary comes at an important time in our political history, after eight years of our first black president, where some of us have hoped we would be able to live in a color-blind world.

Our myopia is shattered as wishful thinking: Ms. Duvernay explores through interviews and archived footage, how the 13th amendment re-enslaved African-Americans and criminalized a whole segment of the population of the United States. The documentary as nothing less than astonishing, infuriating, and galvanizing and at times I was moved to tears. Drawing a line from slavery to counter-reconstruction, to Jim Crow, to The Southern Strategy to The Crime Bill, "13TH" tells a compelling story that demands a response.

This New York Times Review sums up her argument: "The United States did not just criminalize a select group of black people. It criminalized black people as a whole, a process that, in addition to destroying untold lives, effectively transferred the guilt for slavery from the people who perpetuated it to the very people who suffered through it."

Magda, who can fairly represent the views of every teen I know (and as a teacher, I know a great many!) is as troubled by this as I am, so everyone needs to see this movie (available on Netflix October 7th) with their families before going to the polls on November 8th so that we can begin to have deeper conversations about this. And also make some necessary institutional changes.

Don't forget to vote on Tuesday, November 8th!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Trying to Live in Thanksgiving

A cold crisp November morning curled up in a cozy chair by the fire in Starbucks, piping hot coffee and my laptop open, my writing mojo strong and swift. I had even found an available outlet to plug in - both literally and figuratively. Tap, tap, tap, sip. The opportunities I have for writing these days are few and far between, so I was relishing every second, burrowing deeper into a scene in a French class at a boarding school.


It wasn’t a happy scene, and my lip started to curl in disgust, and that’s when I noticed the strong stench of urine behind me.


Sweet Jesus. I slowly turned around to look at the obstacle to my literary joy. It was a large elderly man wearing an olive green jacket. He was perching on a stool and looking out the window. I turned back around and tried to get back to my writing, but my olfactory senses had been assaulted and I couldn’t concentrate - I had to move.


The only problem with moving, was that he was sitting right by the outlet where my cord was.


The seat opposite from me was empty, so I unplugged my computer and moved my belongings, and then gingerly made my way over to the window to retrieve my cord from the outlet.


“Excuse me, I just need to get that,” I said, with a half-smile of apology.


“Oh I am so sorry!” this man said to me kindly, but he also sounded . . . embarrassed. He looked worried that he was bothering me - and my heart melted.


“No, I’m the one who is sorry!” I said as I got my cord and made my way back to my seat.  I opened my computer but instead of writing, I observed him. What was his story? I didn’t need to know it, only that there was a man who felt invisible, who was marginalized by society in so many ways, and he had just come into Starbucks to warm up. I wanted him to know that he wasn’t invisible, that I could see him. I could see that he was more than his story. I downed the rest of my coffee, still staring at him staring out the window. I didn’t think too much before I jumped up and went back over to him.


“Sir, I’d like to buy you a cup of coffee.”


I looked deep into his eyes while he registered surprise and he cocked his head as if to say “really?” and I kept eye contact with him - really. The corners of his mouth turned up slowly and he had the most stunning smile. “Yes, I will accept your kind offer.”


I asked him about milk and sugar and he nodded, smiling while he gave me his order.


I got back in line for a refill for me and a grande caffeinated beverage for my new friend and I delivered it to him, and when I went back to my seat I have to say that I watched him enjoy it, feeling so grateful for my own heart and its flexibility. In a matter of seconds, my initial disgust had turned to a genuine interaction with another human being. I felt so grateful for this man, for giving me hope and in my own feelings toward humanity.


I went back to finishing my scene with gusto, and a little later, he came over to me, and bent down a little bit to speak softly.


“You know - I am always grateful for whatever anybody chooses to give me. I am a lucky man.” And with that, he left.


I am a lucky man . . .


All I did was buy him coffee and recognize that his personhood. I’m not sure of the impact on him, but I know that for me, the positive impact of our interaction is still reverberating as I write this.


The key to “happiness” they say, is to practice gratitude daily, remain curious and open, and to share both of those things with others.


The fourth Thursday of this month is merely a reminder of all of these things, even in a world full of doubt and uncertainty, homelessness, mental illness, and wars. There is room. Let’s make room!


So here’s to daily Thanksgiving! (And lots of turkey/tofurkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes today!)

PS And thank you to Starbucks for serving a purpose for the larger community as a civic space.