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March 6th Event

Ms. Heidi Durrow is a phenomenal woman.

On Tuesday evening she humbly downplayed her brilliance by referring her successes in life to hard work, and serendipitous events.

Certainly, Heidi has worked hard. Graduating from Stanford University with Honors is a large achievement by anyones standard. When she graduated, she only owed $4000.00. She attributed this to the multitude of scholarships and grants she applied for, implying that the same opportunities apply to everyone. I do not think this is the case.

One must exhibit a brilliance that transcends the scholarship application document. The scholarship reader must perceive the beneficial use of limited educational funds, and accurately place them where they will benefit mankind the most. There must be a return on investment. Obviously, Heidis brilliance transcended through the application to the scholarship reader.

She applied to Columbia School of Law and exhibited her work ethic again. Graduating, and joining a highly regarded law firm. In her second year at the firm, they recognized her talents, and assigned her the daunting task of taking depositions. During one of those depositions, the man she was questioning, threatened her. She handled him firmly as any competent seasoned professional would. Later, she thankfully found out the man was not carrying a gun the day she questioned him. This exhibits her resourceful use of her extraordinary natural abilities to deal effectively with the man.

When she was hired to teach professional athletes how to deal with difficult situations with women, she reported that she was hired on the spot because she knew nothing about watching sports. Again, this is an erroneous remark. I am sure that she exhibited the same brilliance in the interview to train athletes as she exhibited on Tuesday, March 6th during her lecture. She cannot hide the radiance that shines from her bright blue eyes and warm, friendly smile.

She is not simply a pretty face. Her masterful writing created an artifact that will stand the test of critical close reading. She gracefully intertwined Nella Larsens classic “Passing”  seamlessly. One must truly connect with Nella Larsens writing to appreciate Heidis true mastery of the english language.

Heidi Durrow is intellectually brilliant and humbly wants to invest her success in encouraging others.

Her consistent message is that every obstacle can be overcome to live a full and enriching life.

“Live a life you love.” Heidi Durrow

Sincerely reported by Marty Botts

The day has finally arrived, ladies and gentlemen: the day that Heidi Durrow speaks about her book and writing process to hundreds upon hundreds of participants in the Everybody Reads program. What’s that you say? The event has already passed? Ah, my literary friends, I beg to differ. Heidi’s presentation may have ended, but the conversation she has inspired has only just begun.

There was something for every sort of person at the Schnitz tonight. Heidi managed to touch on subjects that readers, writers, creative spirits, geeky spirits (yes, she did indeed bust out a Spock analogy), and people of all sorts of racial or socioeconomic backgrounds could identify with. In describing her own process of writing The Girl Who Fell From The Sky, Heidi demonstrated the intensely personal nature of creativity. There was no way to disentangle her own background and experiences, no matter how small they may have seemed, from the specific act of sitting down and putting pen to paper and mind to matter. In fact, the majority of her presentation dealt with where she came from not only as a writer but more importantly as a person.

The peak of the night came at Heidi’s plea for artists to use their creativity to form a strong, supportive, and inspiring connection with their readers or other audiences. She spoke directly to the anonymous girl upon whom she based her story, expressing the love both she and readers of her book have for her. Even without the build-up of emotional connections with the creative process that the rest of the talk introduced, this specific moment of utter honesty and raw emotion was enough to speak to the heart of anyone in the audience–definitely to myself, anyway!

All that said, we do not want to end the conversation here! Please don’t be afraid to contribute what you got from the presentation in the comment thread for this or any other post on our blog. Heidi has shared with us what it means to be an artist and to inspire others to inspire others and so forth–so pass on the baton! Start building your emotional connections with others in our reading community! We’d love to hear from you. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • How do you identify with the themes Heidi discussed today?
  • Would you consider yourself a reader (what Heidi described as a “wisher”) or a writer? Or both?
  • What are some ways in which you can exemplify the creative process in everyday life? After all, you don’t have to be a professional writer or other sort of artist in order to inspire others!
  • What role has your own personal background played in your ability to connect with others through literature or the creative process?
  • What part of today’s talk most resonated with you?
  • How would you like to give back to the community–literary or otherwise–after listening to Heidi speak?
  • Anything goes! What is your original, organic (Heidi used that word a lot!) response to anything she said, anything the book dealt with, or anything you even thought at any point throughout this program?
  • Tell us your story. Seriously. We have no guidelines. We just want to hear from you!

Today’s seminar was really fantastic! Our three residential speakers, (introduced– with commentary– by Karen Gibson), Charlotte Rutherford, Maxine Fitzpatrick, and Michelle DePass, were all very insightful. They all brought up interesting topics, such as growing up in the Albina district, gentrification, and what happens to people when development displacing them.

Charlotte Rutherford gave us a personal account of what growing up in Albina felt like forty years ago. To expand on this subject,  for those of you that live, or have lived,  please leave a comment about how your experience was growing up in the Albina district. 

Rutherford also commented a lot on the importance of owning her own home, and how difficult it was for black people to receive a loan for a house, in which case a white person would buy it and then sell it to a black person. The process of gentrification and redlining helped push black people out of the city (or at least farther east). During the period where whites fled out of the Albina district, banks would sometimes loan out a block at a time for black people. Maxine Fitzpatrick, the executive director of the Portland Community Reinvestment Incentives Inc., works with a company that buys houses to help them to stay in their homes. They help bring back single family homes to black people, to help enrich the community, and saving people from being displaced.

Michelle DePass, is a community neighborhood activist, and on the State Holder Advisory Committee of the North Williams transportation. She actively works to try to make her street safer by doubling the bike land, and reducing a two lane road to a one lane road. She also works with different sub-committees one of which is creating the principles to “development without displacement.” This way development can still be achieved while the people surrounding it are not affected or displaced. The sub-committee also works on incentives to include black owned businesses.

There was a lot discussed today, and the audience had a lot to say too, from schools being affected to the media not doing enough. What are your thought about how to resolve these problems, and is there anything we can do as individuals to help?

Child-Rearing and Identity

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Pictured above is our three moderators, Alma Trinidad, Martha Balshem, and Cheryl Forster. They all did a great job tonight, giving different professional insights into the themes and characters of the book. We also had a thoughtful discussion afterwords with the audience members.

To start us off, Cheryl Forster discussed the attachment and bi-racial issues which are pivotal to the book. Forster began with attachment, saying it  is basic to humans and that it directs our future development, and in a sense, ‘shapes our brains.’  She goes on to talk about racial and ethnic identity, and how we all have one. She uses Kerwin and Ponterotto’s identity and development model as a way to demonstrate the growing identity of biracial children. Biracial identity develops early in preschool, and when a child starts school, the ‘what are you’ question arrises. During adolescence, biracial individuals sort out the “what are you,” and feel an increase pressure to choose one or the other.  A good quote from The Girl Who Fell From The Sky, in which Rachel describes how she identifies with being biracial is, “I learn that I am black. I have blue eyes. I put all these new faces into the new girl.” (10)

Martha Balshem focused on family, and the ability for a family to keep each other safe. Throughout the novel, Nella (Rachel’s mom) has a yearning to keep her family safe which ultimately leads to tragedy. “I love them and will keep them safe” (157) Balshem focuses on the family (the private domain) keeping each other safe from society (the public domain). Usually these two areas do not  overlap, but in this case they do, because the ‘private domain bridges the gap between the two.’  Martha also examines the smaller characters in the novel, such as Nella and Rachel’s grandma. Nella believes strongly in loving and taking care of her family, and keeping them safe. Rachel’s grandma believes in the same, but shows it in very different ways, by having her set ways it seems to teach Rachel what she needs to know and how  to keep her safe in her own ways.

Alma Trinidad looks at the social and political development of identity. Trinidad focuses on the family and the  individual which formulates our identity that is able to find a community for like minded individuals. For Rachel, Loretta is the concreteness of what it means to be a black woman. “Aunt Loretta is a black woman–the kind of woman I will be.” (98). Even the book she is handed by Drew, “Black Skin, White Masks” is written by Frantz Fanon, an anticolonial, who wants to reclaim our identity and change the Western ideas. The novel itself examines sociopolitical identity through Rachel, who critically thinks about her identity, her grandma, who preserves her identity, and through many other characters who are struggling with their identity as well.

There was a lot said at tonight’s event. There are many questions that could be asked, as well.  To start simply: are there any initial thoughts or reactions to what was said? Did this discussion change the way you thought about the novel? Did it make you think about your identity? To think more critically: Do you feel like Rachel now understands her identity, or do you feel like there is more she has to learn? Do you further understand your identity, or is there more that even you have to learn?

“I’m A Story”

Today’s early morning started off great: breakfast and a chat with Heidi Durrow! The discussion was wide ranging with excellent audience participation (and a great radio host, Dave Miller). If you would like to hear the discussion, go to http://www.opb.org/thinkoutloud/shows/girl-who-fell-sky/ , then come back and comment on this post.

The topic today centered around being  biracial, and “discovering race”-when you answer the question, “what are you.”  Heidi’s self titled “Afro-viking”, she says, creates conversation, and “expands the definition of black and whiteness.” Many audience members were able to share their stories or at least able to give their opinion. The same question, then directed towards the audience,  is now being presented here: how do you respond when someone asks, “What are you?” 

In addition to the biracial issue, Heidi also discussed how other people reacted to the book. She told one woman not to read it for fear that it might hurt her more (although, the girl then said she would read it anyway.) Regardless of who or “what” you are, everyone takes away something different from the novel. What did you take away from it? Heidi’s mom was there, which was an awesome experience. After reading her daughter’s novel, she learned a lot about what Heidi had gone through, and also “learned about herself.” Did it make you think about yourself? If not, what did you think about?

Tuesdays evening panel and discussion was facilitated by Kevin Thomas, Ethan Johnson, and Maude Hines. Many facets and personal experiences of growing up bi-racial were discussed by each panel member. The panel then opened up the conversation with individuals in the community. 

From each panel member to each community member that shared, every contribution added to the rich flavor of the diverse city in which we live. One of the common themes expressed was, “I don’t think bi-racial. I am simply me.”  A common human struggle emerges when one attempts to reconcile ones personal view with an identity imposed on us by how the world treats us.

Some of the statements from that process are, “do you have to know my race to know how to treat me?” and “When someone asks what I am, Bi-racial is not an acceptable answer.” “There was no history of how to be bi-racial. It was illegal for a black person to marry a white person.”

The relief of tension in the room was poignant as each person shared their intimate circumstances and struggles.

Several times the emphasis was affirmed that more conversation and dialog with each member in the community is wanted and needed. Everyone has a unique, important story to tell.

Please share your experiences with how you view yourself, (I am simply me), and work at solving the difference between what the world thinks you should be (the expectations implied by how we are treated).

Hello readers!

We hope you enjoyed the literary round table this evening. All three of our moderators, Maude Hines, Ann Marie Fallon, and Inger Olsen, did a fascinating job of putting The Girl Who Fell From The Sky in its cultural, geographic, and literary context. Let’s give up a warm round of applause for our beautiful hostesses!

For those of you who would like to continue the discussion we began today, please head over to the comment box on this post and leave comments, questions, or general thoughts on the topics we covered–or any other relevant topics you’d like to bring up. Here are some possible questions based off of today’s conversation:

  • How do secondary characters create their own stories or add to the stories of other characters? Some examples you might want to take into consideration are characters such as Brick and Roger, who are developed themselves and who help develop other characters through their third-person narration. Additionally, how do characters such as Grandma and Jesse, whose point of view is never taken in the book, contribute to their own characterization and the characterization of others?
  • Along the same lines, Durrow chooses to tell the story from some points of views but not from others. Why do you think she chooses the particular narrators she does? For example, why would she choose Laronne, Roger, Brick, and Nella as narrators but not Grandma, Aunt Loretta, Drew, or Jesse?
  • The use of words and stories is an important theme throughout the novel. We discussed some of the ambiguity Durrow presents through her clouding of specific events (see Rachel’s description of Anthony and her memory of the day on the roof on page 173.) What do you think this ambiguity adds to the interpretive experience?
  • Another concept that we discussed was the performative nature of words. An example of this can be found on page 233, where Rachel suggests that perhaps Jesse’s words are making her skin appear dark. Another example is the recurring theme of narrative validity, which is demonstrated through Rachel’s constant refusal to definitively describe the events of the day on the roof. How do you think Durrow wants readers to approach the power of words after reading this novel?
Feel free to add any thoughts of your own. Happy discussing!

 

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