Tag Archives: Kanye West

The Re-Reading Project: The Great Gilly Hopkins

“Gilly,” said Miss Ellis with a shake of her long blonde hair toward the passenger in the back seat. “I need to feel that you are willing to make some effort.”

Galadriel Hopkins shifted her bubble gum to the front of her mouth and began to blow gently. She blew until she could barely see the shape of the social worker’s head through the pink bubble.

The copy of Katherine Paterson’s The Great Gilly Hopkins that I’ve just finished re-reading (a first edition paperback from 1978 that I bought in one of my favorite used bookstores) has an illustration of this pink bubble obscuring Gilly’s face, but I think the version I would’ve read as a kid was the one on the right:

Gilly 1978gilly-hopkins

I’m kind of fascinated with all of the different covers there are for this book. Pig-tailed or with short-boyish hair, after the first edition, she always seems to be standing defiantly, staring down the reader who would dare to pick up the book. The first cover is more childish, playful, while in the later poses, she has an aura of real menace and strength about her. Usually, she’s blonde, although in two teacher’s guides I found from 2000 and 2004, she’s brunette.

While I know I read The Bridge to Terabithia as a kid, and liked it, The Great Gilly Hopkins had more resonance in my memories. Once again, like with Maniac Magee, what I remembered most was a general tone or mood and not a lot of specific details. I remembered that Gilly was a foster kid, a tough cookie, someone who I admired as a kid because I was shy and she was bold. I didn’t remember that she’s a manipulative bully and pretty racist (at least at first), willing to prey on the weaknesses of everyone around her, much like the kid in Problem Child. Now that I’m an adult, it’s easy to see through Gilly’s swagger to the damaged girl who is, most of all, incredibly smart and ambivalent about people, especially adults. She’s essentially Kanye West for the middle school set, hyping herself up till she believes her own legend. She’s fronting.

Re-reading as an adult, this is obvious from the second page when Gilly thinks “Cripes….The woman was getting sincere. What a pain.” But, it must have unfolded slowly for me as a kid until that last page, the gut-wrenching phone call with Trotter. Gilly has a journey and kids get to go on it with her, realizing that their perceptions of people and events are not always accurate and that life is tough, with mixed blessings and lots of pain. It’s weird because while that seems like a grim lesson for Gilly and the kid reader to learn, while the end isn’t a pat and easy happy ending, Gilly’s growth is beautiful.

It feels raw and real in a way that children’s literature so often doesn’t, maybe because Paterson grew up in China, the daughter of missionaries, and moved thirteen times in thirteen years growing up. Maybe this background helped her imagine and understand the isolation and defensiveness of a foster child.

Considering that it’s four years older than I am, The Great Gilly Hopkins has actually aged pretty well, (except maybe those bits about flower children). I think it must still speak to kids and that it wouldn’t take much to make a movie adaptation feel current. So while I wasn’t surprised, I was pleased to discover that there is a film adaptation due soon, with Kathy Bates and Danny Glover. Even more happily, it’s directed by Stephen Herek, who directed some of my favorite movies in the 90s and who I got to work with a few years ago on The Chaperone. The story’s in good hands.

One last interesting thing is that the area where Gilly lives with Trotter, William Ernest and Mr. Randolph is very close to the part of the country where Alice McKinley from Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s Alice series (first published in 1985) grows up. I was already grown when I first started reading the Alice books and while they’re special to me, they tend to feel unrealistic and very dated, which might speak more to where I was in life when I started reading them. Regardless, you couldn’t find two more different girls than Gilly and Alice, but it’d be interesting to imagine a world in which they interacted, since they have no doubt both been influential to generations of girls.

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Personal change and political change, a recap and celebration

Where in the world has Emilie been?

So I fully intended to write a blog responding to the inauguration, was super excited about so many things that day. However, in addition to that good kind of excitement, the rest of the day was devoted to a lot of personal emotional highs and lows. It seemed like drama and emotion was coming at me from every angle and all at once. I did get to cap the evening with a drink to toast President Obama with some friends and that was nice, to come back round to that excitement.

I’m kinda surrounded by President Obama at the moment. I’ve been reading Dreams From My Father for some time now. It’s a brilliant achievement in and of itself, but reading it while knowing that the author became America’s president a few years later is pretty cool. I’m consistently amazed at Obama’s storytelling ability, impressed as a writer studying another writer. And I’m fascinated at how troubled and conflicted he is in the book, that he’s brave enough to demonstrate that. And awed at how fluently he describes things I feel every day and struggle to capture.

Additionally, he’s been on pretty much every cover of Newsweek and Time Magazine lately, or at least it seems so. C., my out-going roommate subscribed to both of those, so I got to peek at his copies when they came in the mail. I believe he was even prominent in EW, which is the mag I subscribe to. A few days after the inauguration, I remember grabbing several magazines and DFMF and laying them out on my desk, suddenly struck by the fact that Obama was featured in and on every one. Luckily, I’m happy to be so surrounded. But it’s gotta be tough to be so exposed. I think this is going to have to subside a bit or we’ll all get a little overwhelmed, even and especially President Obama himself.

Right after the inauguration, I planned to break down my favorite portions of his speech, to discuss my feelings and opinions quite leisurely and completely. But since some time has passed, I’ve come to feel that words are largely inadequate to describe everything I’ve thought since the inauguration completely. There will be no completeness – I can’t blog once and finally about this. It’ll crop up later, I’m now quite confident.

In an opening summation, I feel like the speech hit all the right notes. We need to celebrate Obama’s historic presidency, but we also need to get to work right away. So many of us have such faith in him, faith that he can bring about at least some of the change that we need. But for that faith to work, we need to give him time and have patience and he needs to roll up his sleeves and begin immediately. His speech delivered a confidence that he knows this and is ready, while also celebrating what we have already achieved just by choosing this man for the job. His election stands already as a vote of confidence in our future, a willingness to embrace change and each other.

I was rapt for the entire speech, but my favorite parts were mostly toward the end.

– “The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works — whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end.”

– “As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.”

– “And so to all the other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.”

– “For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass…”

– “To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West — know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.” [By far, my favorite moment of the speech.]

– “Let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.”

Read the entire text of the speech here.

Newsweek‘s latest issue commemorates the inauguration and I very much enjoyed the quotes at the end from artists, actors and writers. “What Obama Means to Me” in the Voices section is a must read. Here are some of my favorite parts.

“The United States, a country that (to borrow from Kanye) never really cared about black people, has elected a positive, liberal, non-self-loathing black man to the most powerful office on the planet! WTF?! Who besides the science-fiction writers and the producers of 24 and the most optimistic among us could have imagined this? …. I grew up in a world where people in power didn’t look anything like me. I grew up in an America that didn’t reflect me at all, where I was therefore a ghost. …. India and Matteo, though, will grow up in a world where the most powerful man reflects them back, at least in part. This might mean nothing. It might mean everything. But for the first time in human history we’ll have a chance to find out.” – Junot Diaz

“He is a person whose head and heart are connected, who sees people as linked rather than ranked…” – Gloria Steinem

“The world can put faith in our elections. We finally picked the most qualified man.” – Wynton Marsalis [Despite my desire to someday have a woman president, I actually think we finally picked the most qualified PERSON this time around.]

“…and for the first time in the lives of a lot of white Americans, and maybe even Latino Americans and Asian-Americans, there is going to be a black person in their midst on a daily basis. And over the course of time, gradually, they’re not going to see his color, and certainly won’t focus on it. They’re going to see him as Obama. His race is going to disappear. And in and of itself, that’ll be a tremendous revelation: that, to quote the Muppet movie, ‘people is people.'” – Scott Turow

“He’s a very smart guy. I’m sure he will eventually get that his beliefs should not infringe upon my rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The same way he fell in love with a beautiful woman and had the right to marry her, I should be able to do the same.” – Wanda Sykes

“He is not a black man. He is a black man and a white man. That’s running in his blood, and this is important. It’s a symbol of the bringing together of two sides…” – Nadine Gordimer

“When we look at Obama we see our own possibility. When we look at ourselves in the mirror of our new leader, we aren’t looking for a single simple narrative to take our differences away. We know that’s not real. We know how complex we are. Maybe we didn’t realize how ready we were to accept our complexity.” – Anna Deavere Smith

“Obama means a world I never thought would come to pass. At least not with me here to see it.” – Sidney Poitier

“I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on earth is my story even possible.” – Barack Obama from his “A More Perfect Union” speech (near the end of the Newsweek issue).

For the record, I couldn’t find any of the Commemorative Inaugural Edition online so I could link to it – I think Newsweek‘s trying to keep it special so people will buy the issue to commemorate the event. I recommend you do so, cause I only selected partial quotes and there was a lot of cool stuff in the issue.

Right after the inauguration, I was talking with anybody who’d listen and started musing over an Obama/Superhero analogy. Because he’s become an important historic figure and such a pop icon (so relatively quickly), I think it’s important that we keep things in perspective. I’m not so worried about President Obama himself – anyone looking at his family can see they’ve got that covered. Now for my superhero comparisons, let’s take the various movie editions because they’re the ones the greatest majority (including me) are more fluent in, because they’re the pop culture result of another pop culture entertainment format that often embodies a lot of psychology and philosophy.

Batman – At first, I thought Obama and Batman are only shallowly related because of the Chicago/Gotham City aspect. Batman is essentially a vigilante and that goes against my vision of Obama. But then I found this blog discussing Obama and politics in relation to the newest Batman movie and I thought it was interesting. It made me think maybe they do have more in common. Batman has no powers and has to use the resources he does have to compensate in order to protect Gotham – intelligence, cleverness, money. And then I remembered an EW piece I read where Obama and McCain were asked their favorite superheros and Obama said, “‘The guys who have too many powers, like Superman, that always made me think they weren’t really earning their superhero status. It’s a little too easy. Whereas Spider-Man and Batman, they have some inner turmoil. They get knocked around a little bit.”

Which brings us to Superman – Superman is iconic of America and though he grew up here and protects America, he’s from elsewhere, Krypton. He was sent here in order to give him the opportunity to survive and thrive, but he remains an insider/outsider. Though American, Obama was raised in Hawaii (at the time a new addition) and Indonesia, his father and many of his family members are from Africa. Like Superman (Kansas), Obama was influced by the midwest (Illinois/Chicago). As Superman can treasure and come to embody American ideals, Obama is an insider who has the perspective of an outsider, who can truly value America because he can see it for what it is, both positive and negative.

And finally, Spider-Man – Remember when Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man gets full of himself from all of the acclaim and attention? Remember how he is brought low? Sometimes the public depicts him as a villain himself. The lesson this should teach us, President Obama included (though I suspect he knows it), is that Spider-Man is a man who does great things. Sometimes he messes up, sometimes he saves us. Despite a superhero’s superhuman status, the essentially function to remind us about human qualities. We need to allow President Obama his humanity, value and respect him, appreciate all that he has done, is doing and will do for this country and our global community. We need to have faith and give him time and we need to keep this pop-frenzy in check so that we do not lose sight of the man within the image, the legend.

So I smile when I see Barack Obama’s face everywhere, but I worry too. We’ll get it right, I know. When it’s hard to have faith, I have faith in President Obama’s humanity and in his awareness of ours.

The economy is troubled and rapid, vast change is underfoot. Ironically but probably appropriately, my life mirrors this. Whenever change happens in my life, it usually comes from all directions and all at once. That is the case now. I was a little preoccupied the past few weeks, but I hope to be writing here regularly again.

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Some reading for you and thoughts from me

One of the things I hate about real life is that it so often intrudes. So I need to be working on the book – every time I have a conversation about the book with a stranger, say a med student in a coffee shop or catch up with my old friend Frankie and he asks about my progress relative to the last draft he’s read, I’m reminded that I have to finish this book. I can feel an anxious, excited, terrified, exhilarated little fire re-light in my stomach. Is it burning fuel so I can get a move on or is it going to burn me up? – and everything happens all at once. I’ve got to reestablish my whole life all at once, all over again. At least that’s how it feels. Nothing cataclysmic – maybe I just need to do the laundry. 🙂

After Toni sent me the link to the online version (ironically, the print version was sitting right beside my computer, demanding to be read), I finally got down to finishing the New Guard interview in Poets & Writers. Had some good laughs at how the interview got even smarter and more honest the longer it went on (and the more wine consumed) and then at the end with the “anonymous answers.” Check it out, definitely worth a concentrated read. It’s inspiring and terrifying. I could literally say something about every sentence and statement, but I think I’ll just mention that early on in the piece, an essential confusion, terror of the writer (as I understand it) was perfectly illustrated.

BARER: You know what? Stop looking around. Focus on your own book. Focus on your own career. It’s not about what everybody else is getting. [I’ve abbreviated this paragraph to the last few lines.]

and later…

BARER: I think an ideal client is somebody who is obviously an incredibly gifted writer who also understands that, these days, being a writer is more than just writing a book. A writer who is willing to participate in the publication. Brainstorming. Working with their publicist. Working with their marketing department. Getting themselves out there. Using their connections. It’s hard because I think a lot of writers happen to be introverts who are shy and kind of just want to be left alone to sit at their desks in solitude. I think it’s somewhat unfair that the business has changed so much and that we now rely on them. But we do. And, truthfully, the writers who are the most successful sometimes are the ones who are really willing to be a part of the business aspect of it.

I’m not picking on Julie Barer by selecting these two quotes because I think they very neatly illustrate this issue. It’s about the book and you as a writer and the writing. You’re supposed to focus just on that. BUT. Then, you have to switch gears and focus on sooo much else: audience, marketing, whether you’re likable, what you say, who you know, how your sales will affect what book you write next and whether it’ll ever get published. There’s no point whining about it, so I’m not trying to do that, but I think a lot of us find this difficult because we would like to be introverted and enjoy whatever space we can carve out in our lives to be insulated and listen to the voices in our heads. My experiences so far have been such that I’m a fairly business-minded writer, and I’ve done a lot over the course of my life to become more extroverted and confident (ask anybody who knows me if I’m shy – they say no, I say yes) and I still struggle with this. But I’m learning that I need to get better at shutting all of that off, especially at this stage of my process, so I can hear those voices, so they don’t get drowned out by thoughts about genre, reviews and blurbs, cover art, touring and whether any of this, the good stuff, will even happen.

So I was intrigued by how this was laid out in the piece. Among other things. Read all the way through for the debate about whether the form of the book is archaic and no longer viable. Love the part especially about how editors and publishers will Google a writer, see what they’re online presence is (of course). It brings back to mind (for me) the question of whether I want more people to read this blog or fewer, how personal, how opinionated I can be, should be. This is a venue in which I am lazier about my writing in some contexts and sometimes more careful and concerned. Sometimes indiscriminately, randomly, unfortunately. It’s an outlet, but also a platform. And perhaps that can be dangerous and is probably, at the very least, messy.

For more reading, check out Toni’s latest Muderati blog, it’s a good one. About creating heroes who are worthy of themselves and of their villains.

And if you need to laugh and not think about literary concerns after all of that (and who can blame you?), check out F*ck You, Penguin (not the publisher, the cute animal) which is hysterical and two videos on YouTube that I’m obsessed with at the moment: Katy Perry’s Thinking of You and Beyonce’s If I Were a Boy. (W. says of the first, “She doesn’t even sound like the same person who sang I Kissed a Girl,” and of the second, “She’s so pretty there at the end.”) Oh, and you know what? You have to see Kanye’s Heartless. I forget how much I love videos sometimes, how much they can enrich a song. In all of these three, that is certainly the case.

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