Monday Interview: Award Winning Journalist, Author, Blogger & Educator Amy Bowllan

Hi everyone,

I’m deeply grateful to Amy Bowllan for granting an interview to Multiculturalism Rocks! You certainly know her from her activist work, as well as her amazing blog on the School Library Journal called Bowllan’s Blog. For the past two years she’s hosted a series called Writers Against Racism (W.A.R.), initiated by author Zetta Elliott, PhD, and George E. Stanley (R.I.P.).

Here’s a short biography:
“Two-time Emmy Award recipient and mother of two, Amy Bodden Bowllan, is a true humanitarian whose imprint on our society will indirectly leave its mark for generations. Understanding that knowledge is power, Amy plays an active role in building libraries for low-income families. As well, she and her family are avid walkers in the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundations’s Race for the Cure. Amy began her career as a Television Investigative Producer and Reporter for WCBS-TV NY and KNXV in Phoenix, AZ. Memorable achievements include a risk-taking venture into the mind of a pedophile, resulting in a helpful list of Do’s and Don’ts for parents to safeguard their children. Currently holding the position of Director of Diversity, Amy teaches Broadcast Journalism and Technology classes at The Hewitt School in NYC, and is accredited for integrating technological resources into staff and students day-to-day programs. Amy has been a teacher (grades K-12) for 12-years and has also hosted “Internet in Action” for PBS. Visit Bowllan’s Blog at SLJ.com, where she spotlights amazing people doing amazing things, and watch for her articles as Guest Writer for the School Library Journal Magazine, beginning September, 2008.

Amy is the recipient of:
– Several Associate Press Awards,
– An Emmy Award for exposing abortion scandal,
– An Emmy Award for going undercover into the ten worst schools in NYC.
She is also the author of the children’s ebook: The Land of Crayons.
Note: thanks to Ziana Bethune for this profile.

The three questions asked during a W.A.R. interview are:
1- Briefly describe the impact racism had on you as a young person.
2- Has your personal experience of racism impacted your professional work as a writer/educator?
3- In what way can literature be used to combat the effects of racism and promote tolerance?

Click here to read her answers to these crucial questions:
http://blog.schoollibraryjournal.com/bowllansblog/2009/09/10/writers-against-racism-amy-bodden-bowllan/

Multiculturalism Rocks!: What type of feedback have you received from W.A.R.? (Anything from publishers? I’m curious…)

Amy Bowllan: Well, I have received an enormous amount of feedback from authors, educators, parents and young people, from all over the world.  Everyone’s voices are heard and Bowllan’s Blog is simply one platform, as there are many others out there, spreading the message that diversifying our reading lists is of paramount importance in this day and age.

As far as publishers, the smaller, independent ones have been very supportive of our efforts. However, I have not heard much from the big publishers, and have sent several e-mails asking them why there are so few authors of color in their catalogs.

As a writer and educator–Director of Diversity and teacher of broadcast journalism and technology at The Hewitt School in NYC, what are some of the changes you hope to witness in the future?

My hope for the future lies in our young people. I want them to walk into their classrooms knowing that their teachers are providing them with a full menu of literary works from across the globe, and from people of ALL ethnic backgrounds. This will help to ensure a global interconnectedness that will bridge cultural gaps, and get people talking about the lives of everyday people. When we learn about others we reach an understanding of others in ways beyond our wildest dreams. Bigotry, racism, and judging, washes away.

“I hope teachers realize their power and the importance of kindness and fairness as well as firmness. How one mixes the magic potion of the creative process, heritage, ethnicity, place and time, and language, makes the magic of words and writing.” (Virginia Hamilton)

How can we help? (Readers, writers, bloggers…)

There are many ways to help…

For one, readers should definitely watch the Harlem Book Fair C-Span segment that aired two weeks ago – where panelists discussed the problem of creating greater racial diversity in the production of children’s literature. A point that Zetta Elliott made in that program is the essence of what needs to be done when she said, “It is really important that parents and librarians and educators and anyone who is a book lover become more of an advocate.”

Writers should join the W.A.R. movement, so that the conversation is ongoing, and their books are profiled. (Note from Multiculturalism Rocks: Contact Amy Bowllan with
– the answers to the following questions

1- Briefly describe the impact racism had on you as a young person.
2- Has your personal experience of racism impacted your professional work as a writer/educator?
3- In what way can literature be used to combat the effects of racism and promote tolerance?
– a picture
– and a 3-sentence biography;
It’s as simple as that, and you will make a big difference).

Right now, I am asking readers to send in a jpeg image catching someone reading an Author of Color’s book.  This puts a face to the book they are reading, and hopefully this will push librarians and teachers to include them in their collections.

There are many bloggers out there who are pioneering this important cause. Please visit my blogroll for all W.A.R. contributors’ blogs.

Last but not least, what fiction and non-fiction books dealing with racism would you recommend?

These are just a few, and of course…
A WISH AFTER MIDNIGHT by Zetta Elliott. My review for it is on my blog.
MEXICAN WHITE BOY by Matt De La Pena
BAMBOO PEOPLE by Mitali Perkins
SIXTEEN YEARS IN SIXTEEN SECONDS: THE SAMMY LEE STORY by Paula Yoo; Illustrated by Dom Lee

Thank you, Amy, for your time and for sharing your experience! 🙂

To keep in touch with Amy Bowllan:
o Bowllan’s Blog
o Facebook
o Twitter

Read all about the origins of W.A.R. here:
http://nilkibenitez.blogspot.com/2010/06/war-in-literature-writers-against.html

Monday Interview: Librarian and Blogger Edi Campbell, of Crazy Quilts, on Books, High School Libraries & More…

Today I’m thrilled to interview Edi Campbell, a librarian, book reviewer and blogger. Whether you are a publisher, a writer or simply someone who enjoys books, I believe it is essential to know people like her. Edi interacts directly with readers, recommending books to students and proving how books can be useful in addressing social issues. I often lurk on her blogs, Crazy Quilts and It’s Just Food; they leave me celebrating good news, reflecting about life, and wondering if I’m doing enough… Below is the email interview, in its raw form. Enjoy!

I’m sitting in the most awkward position (it’s a challenge to type). One of my cats took over my laps and fell asleep! Anyway, thank you again for doing the interview. I’m so glad! I tried to stick to 5-7 questions… Here we go:

Hi Edi! So love your blog and the variety of topics you cover. Its name gives way to a myriad of plausible explanations. Why “Crazy Quilts”? And if I may, how has quilting influenced your life? 🙂

Edi Campbell: Nathalie, YOU ASKED THESE QUESTIONS A MONTH AND A HALF AGO!!! I have to apologize for sitting on them so long! I hope the cats have moved!!!
Crazy Quilts… funny, that’s a style of quilting that has never really appealed to me. I wanted to find a cute, catchy random name for my blog that had an obscure tie to me, unless you got to know me. Quilting was my creative outlet. I’ll have to see if I have a photo of the quilt I made for my daughter. I remember being in my family-room, cutting and sewing, not measuring or planning anything and this quilt was the result. Quilting was a nice outlet for me.

Every time I read your blog I’m touched by your passion for people and for books. Out of all the professions you could have embraced, why choose high school librarian?

Like most things I’ve done in life, I just stumbled into the library from the social studies classroom. It’s such a natural fit, I should have been there ages ago! Right now, working without any kind of staff really drains me because there is so much to do and my time too often is lost on clerical type stuff. Still, the library is where I want to be! I love the times I’m able to give a book to a student who has never finished a book before. And to have them come back for another!! I love it when some student I’ve never seen before stumbles into the media center because they need help with this or that and they become another student I look out for. I really enjoy it when a teacher stops through for teaching ideas, things click and we end up co-teaching a nice little project. I could go on and on! Libraries can be draining because there is so much to do. I work not only with all the students and staff, but I get substitutes who need last minute materials, teachers who left home with no Christmas wrapping paper for gifts, alumni who want yearbooks from 20 years ago and community members working on all kinds of projects. The job description only highlights most of what librarians do!

It is my understanding that you work with a culturally diverse population. Does “race” matter (when it comes to books)? If yes, how so? (special note, just curious: ever had any special request?)

My school is diverse from mainstream America, but in and of itself it lacks diversity. My school is about 98% African American. In this case, in every case in America, race matters. It matters in libraries because we should be the places that open up the world to readers. My students need to have books that allow them to find their place in the world; books that show them people like themselves and books to which they can relate. Don’t all students need that? Where some schools may need Sarah Dessen and Jerry Spinelli, Alex Sanchez, Paula Yoo or Kelly Parra, I need Walter Dean Myers, L. Divine and NiNi Simone. But mine also need the previously mentioned authors because they need to learn about Whites, Latinos and Asians AND they need to be able to read good books regardless of race!!!
I always have special requests! Don’t ever let anyone tell you that Black children don’t read! My students are always begging their teachers to bring them to get books! My girls most often want “drama”. Some want vampires and the younger girls want romance. My boys are more diverse. Nine of the ten top readers at my school are boys! Most of these boys are underclassmen and they are often readers of manga. My boys ask for books about war, murder, guns, dragons, sports, cars and the Bible. The last request I had was for Dante’s Inferno.

Banned books: good or bad for the youth? Who decides if a book gets banned?

Libraries are supposed to have policies that lead to deciding whether to withdraw a book from its collection. My school board has approved the policy for our district and should someone as that a book be removed from any library in our district, we would follow these guidelines. Banning a books from a library is not quite the same as banning it from a classroom. In a class setting, a teaching has a captive audience and is using the book for direct instruction. In a library, students choose what they’re reading. Students at varying levels of maturity are able to select books for reading. A parent is free to tell a child to return a book to the library and not allow them to read it. Books selected for a school library should fit the ages of the student in the building while supporting the school curriculum.

Edi, (playing the devil’s advocate and bracing myself for the rotten tomatoes coming my way): In this dire economy, we have to make cuts. Let’s lay off a few librarians or close school libraries, reduce their hours and save on electricity bills in the process. After all if they really read, kids can use internet to get the literary information they need. Your answer?

If they really read, students can get information from the Internet but is it valid? Does it really meet the criteria? How will the student collect the information? What if they can find what they want on the only search engine everyone seems to be using these days? Can they use advance search features? Do they really know how to use key terms? What if they need journal articles from the state provided databases? What if, heaven forbid! they need a depth of information that they’re more likely to get in a book? Or what if what they really need, have needed for the past 30 minutes they’ve been searching, is in a book? Who would tell them that? We could close the libraries but that would show we haven’t read any of the 17 state reports that link performance on state mandated tests to students use of well stocked, professionally staffed school libraries both for research and reading experiences. In education it’s all about the testing!

I won’t throw tomatoes!! Too many people have absolutely no idea what school libraries do any more or even who we are. I was listening to a local report about a school district that was cutting media specialists. How many parents and voters know what a media specialist is?

Honestly, deciding to make cuts in schools can’t be easy. Teachers,librarians, custodians, clerks, counselors and administrators all have roles that are critical to providing students with an education. Just don’t use that old crony system that protects people in meaningless positions that bring nothing to the classroom.

How can we show our support to school libraries?

Visit the library and find out their need. Some libraries need volunteers. I was surprised recently to find that libraries in my own state have no budget! Some libraries need new books, some need contemporary furnishings while others need technology tools. Talk to your school librarian and see what their needs are.

All librarians will benefit from voters paying attention to issues and voting in ways to support school issues.

I saw this on your blog and gotta ask: Please tell us about your involvement with the World Food Program. How can we help?

I was involved with the World Food Program though a social justice challenge in which I’m involved. Every month we read a book related to a particular issue and in reading the book, we become more active! I’m sure it’s not too late to join the challenge: http://socialjusticechallenge.mawbooks.com/
I was so excited about these reading challenges. They sounded like so much fun!! I haven’t kept up with any of them 🙁

Last but not least, a few favorite titles this year?

I wish you’d ask this at the end of the summer. Right now there are just too many books I haven’t read! Some of my favs are:

The other hand (released here as Little Bee) by Chris Cleve
He Forgot to Say Goodbye by Benjamin Alire Saenz
Keeping Corner by Kashmira Sheth
The gangsta we are all looking for by lê thi diem thúy
Saving Maddie by Varian Johnson

Edi, thank you so much for your time and for the information you shared!

To keep up with Edi, visit her blogs
o Crazy Quilts
o It’s Just Food
o Follow Edi on Twitter!

Thank you for reading and have a wonderful week,

Nathalie