Category Archives: Autobiographies

Across That Bridge

“Darkness cannot overcome darkness, only light can do that. Violence can never overcome violence, only peace can do that. Hate can never overcome hate, only love can do that.”

The life of Representative John Lewis was inspirational. The more I learn about this great American leader, the more I admire him. I just finished reading his 2017 book called  Across That Bridge: A Vision for Change and the Future of America, in which he told his own story of his path that lead him to the bridge in Alabama that day, his commitment to the ideals of his country and to the concept of non-violent protest for change, and his deep love of humanity. But as the title suggests, it is more than his story. His vision for change and the future of our country is a gift and a legacy for all of us! This book should be required reading for all of us. Do we still have “civics” classes in high school? It would definitely be on that reading list. And it should be on every book list for understanding the Black experience and for “becoming anti-racist.”

“But we must accept one central truth and responsibility as participants in a democracy: Freedom is not a state; it is an act. It is not some enchanted garden perched high on a distant plateau where we can finally sit down and rest. Freedom is the continuous action we all must take, and each generation must do its part to create an even more fair, more just society.”

There are eight chapters in this book, and Congressman Lewis called them his “lessons.” Each one is full of wisdom, insight, and compassion.

CHAPTER 1: Faith
CHAPTER 2: Patience
CHAPTER 3: Study
CHAPTER 4: Truth
CHAPTER 5: Act
CHAPTER 6: Peace
CHAPTER 7: Love
CHAPTER 8: Reconciliation

I have written these lessons on freedom and meditations on change for the generations who will take us into the future, for the dreamers young and ever young who should never get lost in a sea of despair, but are faithfully readying themselves for the next push for change. It is for the parents who want to inspire their sons and daughters to build a more just society. And, it’s for the sons and daughters who hear the call of a new age. This book is for the people.

It is for the grassroots leaders who will emerge not for the sake of fame or fortune, but with a burning desire to do good. It is for all those willing to join in the human spirit’s age-old struggle to break free from the bondage of concepts and structures that have lost their use. It is for the masses of people who with each new day have the chance to peel the scales from their eyes and remember it is they alone who are the most powerful agents of change. It is for anyone who wants to reform his or her existence or to fashion a better life for the children. It’s for those who want to improve their community or make their mark in history. This book is a collection of a few of the truths that I have learned as one who dreamed, worked, and struggled in America’s last revolution.

I know that there are quite a few books coming out now on the life of this great man, but this would be my recommended starting place to learn more about him and his important contributions to our nation.

Facing the Lion: Growing Up Maasai on the African Savanna

Facing the Lion: Growing Up Maasai on the African Savanna, by Joseph Lemasolai Lekuton, is a wonderful introduction to the culture of Kenya, and a fascinating memoir of a talented Maasai boy. Mr. Lekuton tells his boyhood stories and tells how, with the help of his tribe, he was sent to study in an American college, St. Lawrence University in New York.

from the publisher:

Joseph Lemasolai Lekuton gives American kids a firsthand look at growing up in Kenya as a member of a tribe of nomads whose livelihood centers on the raising and grazing of cattle. Readers share Lekuton’s first encounter with a lion, the epitome of bravery in the warrior tradition. They follow his mischievous antics as a young Maasai cattle herder, coming-of-age initiation, boarding school escapades, soccer success, and journey to America for college. Lekuton’s riveting text combines exotic details of nomadic life with the universal experience and emotions of a growing boy.

After graduating from St. Lawrence, he taught middle school in Virginia for many years, and then was accepted at Harvard University where he earned a Master’s degree in International Education policy at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

He returned to Kenya in 2007, and was elected as a representative in the National Assembly of Kenya. He was reelected in 2013. His work has been dedicated to improving the lives of young Kenyans through education.

To bridge cultures you must mix people together,” he says. “Education and travel are the best teachers.

This was a very enjoyable book, a wonderful introduction to Kenya and to a young boy who grew up to be an inspirational man.

Click here to listen to Joseph Lekuton’s TED Talk, “A Parable for Kenya.”

 

I chose to read this book for my personal challenge, Wanderlust,” an effort to read books that are from or take place in each country of the world. This was a book about Kenya.

Adventures of a Biographer

I sometimes have the feeling that every biography I have written is a part of my autobiography. Remembered experiences and emotions grant me a lens of empathy through which I can view my subject. One’s writing and one’s personal life frequently mesh. We are the stories we tell.

Natalie S. Bober is an author I came across during my teaching years who quickly became a favorite author of mine (and of my mother after I introduced her to some of her books!). She has written excellent biographies for young people, and I found them fascinating to read.

I discovered recently that she had written a book about being a writer and specifically a writer of biographies. Of course, I had to find it and read it immediately. Simply put: I loved it!  It tells her own story about becoming a biographer, and explains to young writers how to make that happen. It also describes her immersion into the lives of the subjects of her biographies, and so gives a fascinating new view of the lives of those people and extends the experience of each of those biographies. I just wish my mother were still here to enjoy this book as much as she enjoyed the other books by Natalie Bober!

This book gives a wonderful view into the life of a writer. I found myself highlighting many passages, wanting to store them away and refer back to them many times. Here are a few of her ideas that resonated with me:

The story becomes, then, not simply the life of a subject, but the portrait of an era as well. And – in this way biography becomes a prism of history. In fact, biography has been described as the human heart of history. The biographer, then, becomes a historian as well as a portrait painter.

To be a writer, I was discovering, one must first be a reader!

Every biography that I write offers me an excuse to travel. Documents can never tell the whole story. I must go to the territory. I must walk where my subjects walked, and see what they must have seen. The language of landscape is essential.

I have always felt that writing is exploration. I write to learn. My drafts become a lens helping me to see my subjects from a new perspective.

Research can be exciting, for me perhaps more so even than the writing, because when I’m researching I’m learning. It’s like a game, a treasure hunt. I’m playing detective, and the excitement comes from search and discovery – from recreating a life from details.

Most importantly, the good biographer combines the detective work of the historian, the insight of the psychologist, and the art of the novelist.

Always, as I write, I have in mind something written by Sir Sidney Lee (1859-1926), editor of the Dictionary of National Biography in England, and known for his biography of William Shakespeare. He wrote: “The aim of biography is the truthful transmission of personality.”

There are still a couple of her biographies I haven’t read yet, and I would love to reread many of the others. I’ve read her books on Abigail Adams and on Robert Frost but didn’t review them. I would love to reread both of those! When I do, I will definitely review them and add to the list below!

Please check out the other blog posts I have written on Natalie Bober and her wonderful biographies:

I do hope you’ll read some of her books! They are so well written and so interesting!