Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Daisy: Between a Rock and a Hard Place Blog Tour

Writing for my life

Imagine if suddenly there was no oxygen available to your lungs; no sustenance of any kind for your body – whether you’re an omnivore, a vegan or vegetarian…whatever it is that revs your energy, think for a moment what it would be like if that food source – all food sources—went away. Or, if every water spring throughout our universe went dry, leaving our earth and our bodies scorched for that wondrous life source, H20.

Any or all of the above describes what it must be like for a writer to lose the ability to write. I can speak only for me, and yes…it would be the end of life as I dreamed it for so many years on Varner Road; it would be the end of that path that began in the cotton fields of Arkansas; and, what I have continued to dream and live for most of my life. For, well before I became a “writer,” my life was centered on writing. From that seven year old girl too shy to speak in class, or sing in church, or respond to classmates’ taunts; to that teenager who had the same boyfriend for four years and never initiated a kiss…or, spoke more than 500 words to him in that entire 1,460 days.

Writing down my feelings, my fears, my conflicts, and my anger was how I got through those first 30 years of my life before I comfortably dunned the “writer’s” hat. Writing was that miraculous connection between my inner spirit, my muse, my heart and my soul. It became my life line, and thankfully, that life line remains with me, today.

To awake one morning, no longer able to create beauty or awe or inspiration or sadness, by linking words together in a magical way is too horrific a thought for me to dwell on for very long. Imagine… losing the ability to draw characters in my head that someone somewhere can relate to so perfectly that they swear I knew their cousin, Elle.

Yet, as horrific a thought as it truly is; the worst part is its possibility. And, because of that, I celebrate each moment, each day, and each story in which I am blessed to make magic with words. And, because we are only human, and this is an imperfect world in which we live, I wake up each day knowing that my ability to sit down at my desk and allow my muse to cohabit with my inner spirit; may be just one blessing away from the last time I sit down at my desk and write. I savor each moment, each morning.

Writing is nothing less than a miracle, and for one more day…I am writing for my life.


Huttig…A Vestige of Lumber and Leaders

What manner of town was this Huttig, to have produced a child such as Daisy Lee Gatson, born some 11 years after the launch of southwest Arkansas’ timber industry? Daisy Gatson was born in into the state’s most thriving timber belt. It spread to an area wide open for growth, and with little obstacles - no environmentalists lamenting the incoming lumber mills that came from neighboring Louisiana, and other northern states; no loud declarations of the industry raping and ravaging the South’s rich woodlands. Instead, it was a progress that most Arkansans invited with open arms, viewing it as a boost to the state’s economic standing in the region. The people of the area and the state’s economic leaders fully endorsed the manufacturing of southwest Arkansas’ woodlands. What would a small, poor area such as Huttig do with all the giant trees, anyway?
This small southwest Arkansas town was the imagination and creation of businessmen who wanted to ensure the success of their lumber mills by ensuring that their workers had a place to live, shop and to send their children to school – all within the town of Huttig. They created a functional, though segregated, small town for their white and black workers and their families.
In short order, Huttig morphed into a vital, thriving town, critical to the growth of the state, and one that drew every kind of man from other parts of the state, and as far away as Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and Louisiana. Some came with the honest desire to find good jobs that allowed them to feed and clothe their families. Others – both black and white - came for far less forthright reasons...work, as well as freedom to indulge in `open’ activities. Like fast and loose girls said to frequent the area, the new town’s moral reputation traveled fast. The architects of the town’s physical structures were single-focused men, set on constructing a profitable company, and an inhabitable township. Unfortunately, they left the soul of their new town to its inhabitants.
Arkansas slaveholders usually lived in plain frame houses or log cabins. Slave cabins were grouped in areas called “quarters,” near enough to the owners’ houses that they could keep an eye on the goings-on of their property.
No need to paint a romantic picture of Arkansas’ slave history. These men, women and children bore were forced into excruciating labor, and harsh, utterly inhumane existences. Theirs was a hand to mouth survival, scrounging for unwanted leftovers from livestock slaughters. These `throwaway’ meat pieces evolved into regular slave meals, and included such fare as: pork cracklings; hog head cheese, pork chitterlings, pig feet, pork brains and tongue. Along with this, the farmers would share their corn between the livestock and their human chattel. From the corn, slaves developed meals such as corn pone or hoecakes on their open ovens. They canned molasses, after gathering leavings from the sorghum crops. On their evenings after work, they hunted wild game, and harvested small communal vegetables `truck patches.’
There would have been no happy slaves, none thankful for the role they found themselves. Slaves’ clothing was sparse and usually inadequate for adverse weather. Most was pulled together from throwaway clothing from their owners, or hand-sewn pants, dresses and coats from scraps of cloth they were given to do what they could. Their bed clothing would have been hand-sewn quilting from clothing pieces no longer used. Seldom were they lucky enough to have at their disposal the full, rich, beautiful quilts now exhibited around the country as authentic slave quilts.
Overall, slaves lived wretched lives, no matter the lineage of their masters. Many sought their freedom by any means possible. Posters were regularly placed throughout Arkansas towns announcing runaway slaves. Though public rhetoric and law denounced brutal mistreatment of slaves, it was little more than rhetoric. Though the larger landowners generally treated their slaves as valuable property, drawing a definitive line between themselves and their slaves; smaller farmers were forced, by necessity, to interact more with their few slaves, including working alongside them in the fields, and inside the homes.

Tour Schedule

Daisy: Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Presidential diarist and author Janis F. Kearney transforms civil rights legend Daisy Gatson Bates’ life from black and white, to living color.  The author, who interviewed Bates many times; recreates her conversations and interviews to “fill in” places left un-filled, and colors incidents and experiences, to bring Daisy Bates to life. Kearney plums the mysterious murder of Bates’ mother, and the orphan’s childhood; the young woman’s prophetic decision to share a traveling salesman’s life; her non-traditional role as co-publisher of an award winning newspaper; and her leadership role at a time, and place where women rarely led.
Between a Rock and a Hard Place is Daisy’s “look back” at her life, and…finally, a self-analysis of how, and possibly, why she became the Daisy Gatson Bates for which she is known throughout the world.  Author Janis F. Kearney recounts the leader’s many friendships, relationships and associations that helps define who she was in the eyes of the world - from Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Clinton; First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt; the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.; Roy Wilson, NAACP President; Thurgood Marshall and Wiley Branton, NAACP attorneys, Maya Angelou and Jackie Robinson… and countless others.
The author met Daisy Bates in the summer of 1969, at the age of16. From that moment, the high school student dreamed of working for the woman her father called one of Arkansas’ greatest leaders – black or white.

"Thank you to Janis F. Kearney for shedding a critical light on an often forgotten civil rights heroine. Daisy Bates was a woman who refused to be defined by society's rules on both race and place in America. An often controversial figure, Bates lived life on her own terms, for which she paid dearly. She was an American hero who loved her country for all its greatness; but courageously proclaimed it could and should be better." ~Sharon La Cruise, Producer

Author Janis F. Kearney

Janis F. Kearney is a publisher, author, and oral historian. She was one of 19 children born to Arkansas Delta Sharecroppers T.J. and Ethel Kearney. She Graduated from the  University of Arkansas at Fayetteville with a B.A., in  Journalism, and completed 30 hours in public administration, and Journalism.  

She was hired by Daisy Bates in 1987 as Managing Editor of the Arkansas State Press.  In 1988, she purchased the newspaper.  She served as Personal Diarist to President Clinton from 1995 to 2001.  She was the country’s first personal diarist to a U.S. President, and during that time, she also served as White House liaison to the U.S. National Archives.   

In 2001, Janis moved with her husband Bob Nash to Chicago, where she began her writing life.  In 2003, Janis, with her husband’s support, founded Writing our World Press/WOW! Books  in 2003.  Her first book, Cotton Field of Dreams: A Memoir was published in 2004. Her other books include Something to Write Home About: Memories of a Presidential Diarist; Conversations: William Jefferson Clinton…from Hope to Harlem; and Once Upon a Time there was a Girl: a Murder at Mobile Bay, her first fiction. WOW! Books has also published two other authors. Her next book, Daisy: Between a Rock and a Hard Place, is scheduled for publication, December 2012.  Her third memoir, Sundays with TJ: 100 years of Memories on Varner Road,  and her second Once Upon a Time there was a Girl murder mystery are both slated for publication in Spring, 2013.


Blog Tour Giveaway
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Ends 1/27/12

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