Blog: Here's what Tom says about that!

Closing lines from books that changed my life

Posted December 6th, 2014 by Tom
Painted Steps

Andi’s Painted Steps

There are times when I am “stuck” in my own writing for various reasons, but I always read. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t reading a book. I read for the joy of the story. I read to enter other worlds. I read to inspire my own writing. Reading and writing are two sides of the same coin for a writer. Both are requirements for the job.

Since August I’ve participated in The Painted Steps, a small group of writers who have committed to working together for six months, to inspire each other to keep our writing at the forefront of our daily lives, and to complete the first draft of a manuscript by the end of January. We meet via video conference every week. The Painted Steps is the brainchild of Andi Cumbo-Floyd, author of The Slaves Have Names. Over the past couple weeks Andi asked us to share some favorite “opening lines” in books and then “closing lines.” The “opening lines” was easier. “Call me Ishmael.” “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” “I am an invisible man.” Choosing closing lines to share with my fellow writers took more time; more thought.

The successful ending of a story not only offers a conclusion. Successful endings offer beginnings to further contemplation of what has gone before and imaginings of what’s next. What follows are the closing lines from ten books that have had a profound impact on my thinking; on how I view the world. I hope these lines don’t ruin these stories for anyone who has not read them. I don’t believe they do. hopefully they inspire you to read… Read the rest of this entry »

Coming to the Table National Gathering

Posted June 5th, 2014 by Tom

IMG_7419The National Gathering of Coming to the Table took place at Eastern Mennonite University during the Summer Peacebuilding Institute May 23-25. An article about the gathering, “Desire to address, heal, traumatic legacy of U.S. slavery sparks growth in Coming to the Table group“, shares the heart of what we hoped participants would experience.

At the 2014 annual meeting of Coming to the Table, two participants read emotionally charged poems that they exchanged after learning they were descended from the same plantation in Missouri. During one discussion, a participant of European origins shared her suspicions that the systematic abuse in her family was a legacy of the psychological impact of owning slaves.

More than 150 years after the end of slavery, the historical trauma of a system that turned people into property remains throughout the nation. It’s a trauma that members of Coming to the Table are trying to address…

My writing partner Sharon Morgan and I both served on the Planning and Facilitation Committee for the Gathering. We were pleased that we were filled to capacity and that participants were deeply engaged and satisfied with the experience.

Gather at the Table authors record Gettysburg Address for PBS site

Posted November 19th, 2013 by Tom

This post was originally published at Gather at the Table

 

LincolnSilhouetteNovember 19, 2013 marks the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address. PBS and documentary filmmaker Ken Burns launched a national effort to encourage people to video record themselves reciting President Abraham Lincoln’s famous speech, one of the most important statements on human equality in American history.

Sharon Morgan and I participated in the project, as have President Obama, Stephen Colbert, Whoopi Goldberg, Rachel Maddow, Stephen Spielberg, and many others. You can watch our video at the Learn the Address website on PBS. Or you can watch it below from the Gather at the Table YouTube page.

We hope our participation will raise more awareness of the Coming to the Table approach to acknowledging and healing wounds from racism and the legacy of slavery that Sharon and I wrote about in Gather at the Table.

And may we all now re-dedicate ourselves “to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom…”

12 Years a Slave

Posted November 10th, 2013 by Tom

12-years-a-slave-001.jpg_rgbMy wife Lindi and I went to see 12 Years a Slave yesterday. It wasn’t a film I wanted to see. It was a film I needed to see. It is harsh and searing and honest in its depiction of the institution of slavery in the United States. I hope (and encourage in particular) my white friends will watch this important film. 12 Years a Slave is now a key resource to understanding the traumatic wounds – physical, psychological, and spiritual – inflicted upon black people for the benefit of white people, and inflicted upon white people (whether directly or indirectly connected with the system of enslavement); wounds that have never been healed, have been passed down through generations, and continue to cause harm to all of us today.

My second request is you read the words of my Gather at the Table writing partner and friend Sharon Leslie Morgan. She wrote “400 Years a Slave” on her Our Black Ancestry blogsite after experiencing 12 Years a Slave the day before we did. I read Sharon’s words (click here) before we went to the theater, and again after we returned home. Her story is as powerful and haunting to me as the film because Sharon’s family lived and suffered and died in slavery and its racist aftermath. When white people make the effort to sincerely understand and acknowledge the experience and feelings of people of color as regards these historic wounds, and to understand how white people were and are wounded, and the present-day consequences of this damage, we take our first real step toward healing.

 

Akee Tree: A Coming to the Table story, and a first for this author

Posted August 26th, 2013 by Tom

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Akee Tree: A Descendant’s Quest for His Slave Ancestors on the Eskridge Planation, written by Stephen Hanks, was recently published by American History Press.

I was particularly interested in the publication of this book for a couple of reasons.

First, this is the story of a long journey of genealogical discovery. Mr. Hanks became obsessed with learning about the past. Anyone who has read Gather at the Table understands it is often the case for black folks in America that such a journey involves researching not only one’s own family, but the family that once enslaved yours. Such explorations can be both enlightening and painful.

Second, Hanks’s journey is one that fits into the Coming to the Table approach to healing: uncovering, acknowledging and understanding the full stories of the past in order to heal historic, traumatic wounds. In my role as Community Coordinator for Coming to the Table, it is exciting to see more books, films, and other resources becoming available for this and future generations.

Finally, I was honored to be asked to provide an endorsement quote for Akee Tree. That’s a first for me, and I only hope that my words of support for Stephen Hanks’s important work will help get his book into the hands of more readers. Here’s a couple images of the back of Akee Tree. I hope you’ll check it out:

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My Favorite Media Interview

Posted June 24th, 2013 by Tom

MyWindowInterviewI recently participated in one of my favorite media interviews ever.

I don’t know how many times I’ve spoken with reporters over the years, but it’s been a lot. My close encounters with news microphones began in the late 1970’s when I managed, and then owned, movie theaters, video, comic book, and frozen yogurt shops; human interest stories, Darth Vader appearances, you get the picture. Free publicity by way of news stories is invaluable to a small business owner and I was not shy. When I ran for city council in 1991, and began a 14-year spate of involvement in local politics and statewide arts advocacy, the frequency of interviews increased.

When my first book, Inheriting the Trade, was published, and the documentary Traces of the Trade both came out in January 2008, media requests began to come from around the country. As an author, being on The Early Show on CBS in connection with my first book, and Melissa Harris Perry on MSNBC with my co-author Sharon Leslie Morgan for our recent book, Gather at the Table, were invaluable opportunities for spreading the word about our work.

So what was it about this particular interview? Read the rest of this entry »

Breaking into Norway

Posted June 2nd, 2013 by Tom

When I fantasize about international acclaim, I think about my books being published in the countries included within their pages (in the case of my first two books, Ghana, Cuba, and Tobago), as well as many other countries and languages. I haven’t achieved that level of success with my writing… yet. But I did get interviewed by a Norwegian newspaper, Vårt Land, last month. It’s a start…

Vart Land Logo 2

If you understand Norwegian, you can read the article here: Vart Land Interview (Norwegian Newspaper, 10 May 13)

The reporter, Ingrid Hovda Storaas, contacted me through my publicist at Beacon Press. She wrote that she was working on a story on “inherited responsibility” for a Norwegian daily print Newspaper. They had recently “published a story on German youths working voluntarily in Norway as a way to ‘pay’ for the fact that their forefathers participated in the German occupation of Norway. A 20-year old boy was asked if he feels he is atoning for his grandfather’s sin (he was a soldier), and put it like this: ‘In a way. I have not inherited his guilt, but I feel I have inherited a responsibility.'” They were now doing a follow-up story with a more global view and had come across Inheriting the Trade in her research.

I agreed to respond to her questions via email. I was particularly interested in this opportunity because my great grandfather, Ole Nicholson, was born in Norway in January 1853. He came with his parents to the United States when he was 4 years old. His wife, Martha Ryen, was the daughter of Norwegian immigrants as well. They lived in Illinois and Iowa. Their daughter, my grandmother, Lida Nicholson married my grandfather, Giles DeWolf around 1915. Consequently, I have very fond feelings for Norway and hope to visit someday. Read the rest of this entry »

On Writing

Posted May 26th, 2013 by Tom

Home. Finally I have time to write.

Uh, not so fast, there Tommy…

From October through April mine was a life spent primarily on the road; promoting Gather at the Table with my writing partner Sharon Morgan and speaking solo at several colleges, universities and libraries. I was determined that once I returned home toward the end of April, I would stay home and focus on writing for the next 4-5 months.

There were a few technical details that needed attending. I had time to take my new laptop in to the Geek Squad to get the on/off button fixed (it broke in January but I couldn’t be without it while on the road so I simply put it into hibernate mode when I wasn’t using it). I had time to replace my aging and ailing Blackberry with a new iPhone. Learning how to use the iPhone, figure out how to add all my  contacts, email accounts, calendar, was challenging. But knowing I would be without my laptop for at least a week, I did my best to make the iPhone work for me. Then I was told that fixing my laptop was more costly to Best Buy than simply giving me a new computer. Oh, no! Read the rest of this entry »

Free Angela

Posted April 4th, 2013 by Tom

freenangelaI can’t wait to see the film Free Angela & All Political Prisoners. The primary focus of the documentary is Davis’s infamous 1971 trial. She was arrested in 1970; charged with conspiracy, kidnapping, and murder following the failed attempt to free Black Panther George Jackson.

Read the review of the film in Village Voice.

If you live in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Washington DC, Detroit, Los Angeles, New York, Oakland, or Philadelphia, Free Angela opens in your city at an AMC Theater this Friday, April 5.

The rest of us may have to wait awhile. My hope is that folks in the above cities will FLOCK to Free Angela, so that it will receive the exposure it deserves.

The director of the film, Shola Lynch, previously made the acclaimed film Chilsolm ’72.

Shola-Lynch-and-Angela-DavisCaveat: my personal passion for Free Angela is that Shola is also the daughter-in-law of my writing partner for Gather at the Table, Sharon Morgan. Shola has been working on this film for several years. I know from my participation in the creation of Traces of the Trade just how challenging it is to complete documentary films. I haven’t seen Free Angela yet, but Sharon told me it is INCREDIBLE. She attended the premiere in New York along with producers Will and Jada Smith, Harry Belafonte, Ruby Dee, and, of course, Ms. Davis.

I am so proud and honored to be connected to this family. Go see Free Angela. Not only did Ms. Davis speak truth to power, she forced power to listen. We need her example to inspire us today to do the same.

The world did not end. So NOW what?

Posted December 21st, 2012 by Tom

Warren“Heh, heh, them Mayans didn’t know crap,” harrumphs the little voice that prattles about in my head.

“Fine with me,” I reply. “I’m still here and my course is set.”

“Says you.”

“Yeah, says me!”

“Fifty-eight years old and you wanna go back to college?” the voice prods with a tone of derision.

“So what?” I look around to make sure no one is watching. After all, I’m sitting in Starbucks. Just one other customer, a woman, sits a few tables away scrolling on her iPad.

“Are you crazy?” the voice is louder now.

“Of course I am!” I shout. The woman turns toward me; gives me a funny look.

I quickly put my cell phone to my ear so she’ll think I’m on a call. “Craziness is the essential ingredient.”

“HA! Then you’ve got it made! You’re crazier than the Mayans!” Read the rest of this entry »

Copyright 2012 by Thomas Norman DeWolf | Website: James DeW. Perry