Friday, April 16, 2010

Book Launch, Author Interview--Larry Dane Brimner

A Book Launch Lunch

Gabrella is a restaurant located in the heart of the Birmingham Civil Rights Historic District. From its sidewalk tables, you can see the marquee of the Carver Theater, home of the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame. The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI) is a two block walk, and the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church sits across the street from BCRI. In between BCRI and Gabrella’s is the famous Kelly Ingram Park, where peaceful protesters gathered to pray before marching for equal rights in a deeply divided city. Sculptures and markers dot the park, recalling those difficult times in the 1960's.

It was this restaurant that Larry Dane Brimner chose as a setting for the launch of his latest book, BIRMINGHAM SUNDAY, reviewed here yesterday. The invitation read, “...join us for some of the finest Southern cooking in Alabama and books, books, books.”

Attendees enjoying a buffet topped off with peach cobbler included the publisher’s editorial director, archivists, librarians, teachers, historians, and writers. The author thanked each one for helping to place this book, so close to his heart, in the hands of children.

After lunch, the author met with future leaders, ages 10-14, members of the Birmingham Cultural Alliance Partnership, an after school magnet program based at Hudson K-8 School. The students had read BIRMINGHAM SUNDAY. They arrived prepared to ask excellent questions.

A student used the bio on Larry’s website to introduce him. She noted his growing up years on Alaska’s Kodiak Island, that he’d written 150 books, and quoted him as saying,” I enjoy writing because it lets me try on other lives, in the case of fiction, or to delve into topics about which I’m curious, in the case of nonfiction.”

Then came the questions.
1) Why would a man who grew up in faraway Alaska want to write about something that happened in Birmingham, Alabama?
2) Had Mr. Brimner experienced discrimination?
3) Why is the book titled BIRMINGHAM SUNDAY?
4) What do the words Ku Klux Klan mean?

Larry’s answers:
1) My family lived in Birmingham many years ago.
2) My mother was Jewish and yes, she knew the stings of persecution.
3) The title is taken from a Joan Baez song.
4) I don’t know. That would be a great research project for YOU.

Prior to his visit in Birmingham, Larry graciously consented to an interview with Book Log. Pull up a cyber chair, and sip a glass of Gabrella’s popular peach tea while you learn even more about this former teacher turned award winning author.


MIGRANT FAMILY which dealt with the lives of Mexican migrant workers was the first civil rights book written by Larry Dane Brimner. Years later he wrote WE ARE ONE, the biography of Bayard Rustin, who organized the March on Washington.

For historical perspective, the March on Washington took place in August 1963. Only weeks later the tragic September bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, the central event in BIRMINGHAM SUNDAY, received global attention. Hatred infected the country. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in November.

When I asked Larry what led him to write BIRMINGHAM SUNDAY, he said the book was
“the result of belonging to lots of different library and reading associations–something I encourage all writers to do. In one of their publications I read a librarian’s call for biographies of the four young girls who were killed in Birmingham. I did some preliminary research...and discovered there were two other children killed that day that few people outside of Alabama knew about. Also, I share a birth year with three of the victims of the church bombing; had those children lived, they would be my age. ...this struck a personal note, and the realization that I didn’t know a great deal about the incident made me want to find out more. I mentioned the topic to my editor (Calkins Creek Editor Carolyn Yoder) and she said ‘Go for it.’”

What’s ahead for you now that BIRMINGHAM SUNDAY is successfully launched?

“Writers not only have to worry about researching and writing whatever project is current, but also with making certain that the new child can make its way in the world. The publishers, of course, will do their part by sending the new baby to review sources–oodles of them–and awards committees. And authors, in this competitive business, need to do their part, too.

“I’ve been busy since the publication of BIRMINGHAM SUNDAY (and even before) with making sure people are aware that it is available by featuring it on the home page of my website, along with a few of its reviews...Soon I’ll head to Chicago for the annual conference of the International Reading Association where I put together a panel of authors and illustrators to talk about research as a means to ‘putting flesh on the bare bones of fact.’ In August I may be in Honesdale, PA for a nonfiction workshop. In the fall I’ll be in Denver for the annual conference of the National Council for Social Studies.

“You can see that the launch of BIRMINGHAM SUNDAY will be a year in the doing. Some of your readers who are writers will think ‘Gosh, what a lucky guy to have his publisher’s support’, and they would be right. I am lucky to have my publisher’s support if not always the publisher’s dime. They should know that much of the (publicity/promotion) effort has been self-funded or only co-funded by my publisher and done while I am also trying to work on making the next baby–a biography of Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth, a project that grew out of BIRMINGHAM SUNDAY–and have a life apart from my keyboard.

“Too many writers think that publishers should do all the work of promotion, and it would be great if they would or could. The fact is that writers need to think about the business of writing, and every business I know of invests in the products that business creates. A writer’s business is books and if he or she wants to sell to a larger audience than simply friends or family, he or she really needs to give thought to investing time, energy, and money in the success of that creative product.”

What do you want your literary legacy to be? What idea or concept would you most like your readers to make their own?

“I don’t think in terms of a literary legacy. What I do think about is what I hope my readers will take away from my books in the here and now.

“What I hope readers take away from my nonfiction, especially my civil rights books, is the great sacrifice that individuals–often anonymous–made and, indeed, the danger they put themselves in, for the greater good of society. I want them to understand that no movement starts with thousands of people demanding change; it starts with one voice–and that voice can belong to a young person.

“In the case of my fiction, ... when a second grader was asked why he thought I write, he answered, ‘to make children smile.’ If that’s a literary legacy, then let it be mine.”

What would you say to young authors as they learn the research process? In a recent American Library Association article the point was made that kids today are educating themselves online but lack the skills to evaluate the information they find. As a former school teacher and as an author who makes many school visits every year, how do you assess this?

“I advise students, when I’m speaking to them, to consider the source of the material before believing it is true or factual. ... I always suggest to teachers that that they require children to use multiple resources for any research project, allowing only one of them to be internet based. I suggest that if they live in a community--and this is just about everyone--with an historical society or archive...that they require at least one documented resource come from material held at these locations. (Even the little town of 150 where I spend my summers has an historical society and museum.) I suggest that they require children to have at least one resource that comes from an archived copy of a newspaper, a medium soon to be extinct. Whether college-bound or not, because not everyone needs or should go to college, I believe the true mark of an educated person is not necessarily what he or she knows but that he or she is familiar with how to find the information they do not know.”

Larry’s website is reader friendly for both kids and adults and includes his bio and how to schedule school visits with him. WWW.BRIMNER.COM.

What better way to celebrate National Library Week than to speak with a writer who lauds research facilities and the librarians and archivists who know how to utilize them. Tomorrow I’ll wrap up the week and tell you what Larry has to say about the importance of libraries.

Happy Friday. Here’s hoping your weekend includes a good book, a comfortable porch chair, and a glass of peach tea.

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic interview with lots of excellent info. (from researching to marketing!) Wish I could have been in Birmingham for this event.


Hillview School Library