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, September 6, 2017
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
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.
Monday, January 23, 2017
“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.