Thursday, October 1, 2009

Guest Blogger: Irene Latham

I'm honored to host author, and fellow Tenner, Irene Latham not only for her contribution to my Banned Books Week post, but because her book focuses on a wonderful subject very close to my heart - women's and family history!

Leaving Gee's Bend will be released January 7, 2010 (Putnam), but Irene has already bumped up against a book challenge. She's been gracious enough to share her experience here:

When I set out to write a novel set in the tiny, isolated African American quilt-making community of Gee’s Bend, Alabama, I had no idea this was the work that would land me on the list of Authors of Banned Books. I had no idea that my family story, one that celebrates courage and survival and the power of home, would, by a committee at an elementary school, be reduced to one word: “afterbirth.”

As a mother of three sons, I’ve always been frank with my children. We don’t use euphemisms for body parts, we talk about sex and drugs and all the things that make us human, including birth. In fact, one of my kids’ favorite birthday rituals even now, at ages 9, 12 and 15, is pulling out the scrapbook and poring over pictures of me pregnant and those precious first moment of life outside the womb, complete with blood and vernix and umbilical cord. And what is the umbilical cord attached to? Ah, another miracle, the one that has by then served its purpose. And in 1932 Gee’s Bend, Alabama, the thing that was buried in the orange dirt beside the cabin.

The fact that this book was banned in Alabama, when I am an Alabama author and this is an Alabama book, is particularly disappointing. Anytime a group chooses to deny children a meaningful reading experience due to their own fears or discomfort is a tragedy. Especially when it is something as innocuous as “afterbirth,” a word that has nothing to do with sexuality or violence or competing religious beliefs. One might blame it on the “gross” factor, but I still see Walter the Farting Dog and Captain Underpants on the school library shelves. Which is why we need parents, more than ever, to read to their children, to choose stories that reflect the human experience in all its complicated glory.

And just as I was inspired by the brave, unadorned practical beauty of the Gee’s Bend quilts, I hope other readers will pick up LEAVING GEE’S BEND and experience it not as a book that contains the uncomfortable fact of afterbirth, but one that reminds us of the strength and grace that exists in each of us, no matter the year or place on the planet. That even if you are barefooted and don't have a map to guide you and the path is unknown -- go your own way. Create the life you want. And tell your story in whatever way that makes sense to you. Maybe even in a quilt.

Thank you so much for your post, Irene! Can't wait for the book!!


  1. I can't wait to buy this book. It will be pre ordered.

    Fantastic post. Subdued and powerful.

  2. I'm astounded at the concept that afterbirth is something so wrong. Of course, I'm pretty astounded at book banning in general, so that's nothing astounding. Still, kudos to you for standing tall; I'll absolutely be buying this.

    I might even say, "Neiner neiner neiner" under my breath to the banners as I do it.

  3. I haven't heard of Irene but now I'm intrigued.


  4. Kinda makes you wonder who serves on these committees.

  5. Good grief. The book isn't even on the shelves yet, and they're challenging it. What a sad commentary on the gatekeepers.
    This post is so beautifully written, and the story sounds so wonderful, I know I will be buying it.
    Thank you Irene and Andrea for this.

  6. Andrea, thank you so much for including me as a guest! I love your blog so much, and this is such an important issue. We just have to keep writing the stories, you know?

  7. Irene, THANK YOU for this wonderful post. And yes, we all need to keep writing (and apparently get on these school committees too!) I will be proud to teach your novel in a women's history class in the not too distant future!

  8. Why does ignorance usually win? Good Lord, I can't imagine what these people are thinking. Oh right, they're not thinking.

    I will buy the book in support of Irene.

  9. This is just...sad. Thank you for the great post, Irene. I'm very much looking forward to the book.