From the Heartland: Dharathula “Dolly” Hood Millender

Local authors provide teens access to the landscape of local history and geography. They write about stories that include the language, hangouts and routines of local teens. They also visit schools and libraries and remind young adults that reading and writing are important and that anyone right here in this town, in this state, in Indiana of all places, can indeed become a successful writer.

I’ve recently been researching local young adult authors and I’m so amazed by the work they do that goes beyond authoring books. So many authors seem to have a tremendous level of dedication to their community of readers. Sometimes, it can be difficult to find all that they do. We read about the visit Matt de la Peña made to New Mexico to visit schools when students requested his visit after so many books there were banned. We see the letters that Nikki Grimes that shares from the relationships she’s developed with students that span (and inspire) the years. I’ve spoken with Angela Johnson and know of her service to prison communities, but you typically have to dig to find out this kind of information.

And, digging is just what I did to find out about Dharathula “Dolly” Millender. At age 94, Dolly has to be the oldest living children’s and young adult author in Indiana, if not the nation. Dolly is both woman and an African American very much ahead of her times.9780020418108

Nicholas Hood, Dolly’s grandfather, settled in Indian after he became free.

Her mother, Daisy Hood, received a teaching degree from Fisk University in the early 1900s. She was quite active in the NAACP and one of the founders of the Phyllis Wheatley Association in Terre Haute. This organization built the Phyllis Wheatley House that provided housing for African American female students at Indiana State Normal School. (The now Indiana State University.) At that time, the university did admit African American students but did not allow them to live in the dorms or eat in the dining halls.

Her father was every bit as active. Orestes Hood attended Purdue University where he completed a two-year teacher’s course of study in electricity. He taught for a while in the East Saint Louis schools before moving to Terre Haute, IN. Here, he opened the only radio shop in downtown Terre Haute at a time when radios were as important as computers are to us today. Orestes was contracted for work throughout the city for individual and corporate work. When he was hired by Purdue University to repair audio-visual equipment, Orestes became the first African American professional staff member on the campus.

Understand, please this was Indiana in the early 1900s. (Dolly wasn’t born until 1920.) Slavery ended in this country a scant 35 years prior. The Civil Rights movement had not yet begun. The Harlem Renaissance was about to start. Terre Haute was about to hustle and bustle as bootleggers were  setting up camp. Native Americans had been removed years and years before.

30% of the white male population in Indiana belonged to the Ku Klux Klan.

From 1900-1910, the population of African Americans in Indiana was about half of what it was for Whites. In fact, in 1900, there were considerably fewer than 100,000 African Americans in the state and most of these settled in urban areas.

Horses were the mainstay of travel and telephones were new on the scene.

So, as I continue to recount details of Dolly’s life, we have to know there’s much that is missing. I don’t believe it came as easy to the Hoods as it seems by reading a list of their accomplishments. As we read on, try to keep in mind when and where this all happened.

Dolly was born 4 February 1920 and had seven siblings. Her parents were of that generation that wanted thimageseir children to have a better life than they themselves did and this certainly required an education. Dolly attend the then Indiana State Teacher’s College (now Indiana State University) in 1941 where she earned a bachelor’s degree in English, minoring in music and library science. Dolly lived in the Phyllis Wheatley house because colored students could not live on campus. Her brother, Orestes attended college at the same time as Dolly. He held a one man sit-in to successfully de-segregate the university’s dining facilities in the late 1930s, about 30 years before the sit-ins across the southern United States.

Dolly graduated and worked as a librarian at a junior college in South Carolina, in the Library of Congress and in severa71PD7NPSY2L._AA160_l school libraries. She eventually began working as a school librarian in Gary, Indiana until she retired in 1978. She became the official historian of Gary, a city councilwoman, a school board member and the founder and CEO of the Gary Historical Society. She also received a Master of Science degree in Educational Media from Purdue University in 1968.

Her mother had always told stories about famous Negroes, and very few were present in books. Between the stories she heard and the influence of a former teacher publishing The Child’s Story of the Negro, Dolly was able to publish Crispus Attucks, Boy of Valor as part of Bobbs-Merrill’s Childhood of Famous Americans Series. The company also approached her to write books on Martin Luther King Jr. and Louis Armstrong for the series. The Louis Armstrong millendebook was revised and republished by Simon and Schuster.

Dolly’s motto is “The joy of living is the joy of giving service to others.”

Dolly is passionate about local history. She is local history! She is listed in Who’s Who Among African Americans.

I’m not a 15 year old searching for identity but I have to say that just knowing about Dolly Millender and Kevin Waltman, I feel that much prouder of who I am and where I am. Share these stories with your teens! Dolly and Kevin’s books are still available, so pick up a copy! And, stay tuned because there are more IN YA authors who write about people of color!

 

 

References

Duncan, Hilary. Dolly Millender, ’41, Naomi Millender, 67. State Magazine. Retrieved from http://statemagazine.com/hood-legacy/

Reynolds, Crystal. The Joy of Giving Service Dharathula “Dolly” Millender. Retrieved from http://www.indstate.edu/diversity/docs/The%20Joy%20of%20Giving%20Service%20Dolly%20Hood%20Millender%20Biography.pdf

Visclosky, Peter J. 2010. Dolly Millender. Retrieved from

http://capitolwords.org/date/2010/02/02/E125-4_dolly-millender/

 

 

 

 

From the Heartland: Kevin Waltman

My recent interview with Crystal Allen got me wondering who are the Indiana authors who write about teens of color? This is an important question when you consider how many YA books are set in NYC. Teens in Indiana , or any state, benefit from stories set where they live because setting can provide one more way for young readers to relate to their reading. Stories that mention the Pacers, Fort Wayne or Turkey Run State Park not only resonates with readers, but they also let readers  know that where they live matters and indeed they must, too.

Local authors are also important for teachers and librarians. Little can emphasize the importance of reading and writing more that a visit from these experts! Don’t we all get giddy around these rock stars of words and imagination?

You’ve met Crystal and I have several others for you to meet over the next couple of weeks. While some have lived in Indiana their entire life, others passed through for a few years. “Once a Hoosier, always a Hoosier!”

These are the authors those students I used to teach in Indianapolis would just love to meet!

Kevin Waltman lived in Indiana for his childhood, high school and college years. Indiana is where Kevin developed his love of basketball, partially because, well this is Indiana! But more important, his dad was legendary college coach Royce Waltman. Kevin currently lives in Alabama. Most recently, he’s been writing the D-Bow High School Hoops Series (Cinco Puntos Press). The first book in the series, Next came out in 2013 and Slump releases in October.

Where did you grow up?

            I was born in Bedford, Pennsylvania, where I lived until I was 11. After that, I lived in Bloomington, Indiana, for five years, then in Greencastle, Indiana, where I went to high school and college (DePauw University). After college I lived briefly in Washington, D.C., before moving to Indianapolis for five years before moving down to Alabama, where I’ve lived since 2001.

Do you have any pets?

          Our dog Henry. Technically, he’s my wife Jesssica’s dog, as she adopted him before we started dating—but we’ve been together for 9 years now, so Henry feels very much like my dog, too.

What were some of the first books you found as a child that turned you into a reader?

            As a little child, I read and read, but the series of books that stand out in my memory are the Black Stallion books. I just couldn’t get enough of those. Like a lot of boys, I hit a bit of dead period in my reading in my teens, but The Catcher in the Rye got me jump-started again.

Which famous person would you most like to write a review for your book?

           Roy Hibbert or Mike Conley, Jr. They’re both NBA players with Indiana connections, and they seem genuinely interested in helping young people—my potential readers.

What book(s) are you currently in the middle of reading?

            I just started The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon, but I’m only a couple pages in, so it hasn’t taken over my imagination yet. Before that, I read On Such a Full Sea by Chang-Rae Lee, which is honestly one of the best books I’ve read in some time, at least since The Wind-up Bird Chronicle. And I’m also reading a tale from The Complete Sherlock Holmes in between every other book I read.

Is there much difference between life in Indiana and life in Alabama?

            Alabama’s hotter. Okay, that’s a bit of a joke, but in some ways that underscores other differences. The more rural nature of Alabamians, their relationships to the land, their penchant for comfort food—all of it seems influenced at least in part by the Southern weather. There are, certainly, other differences. Alabama, like other Southern states is more conservative, more religious, and poorer than Midwestern counterparts. However, though those traits are broadly true, the differences on those fronts don’t seem particularly pronounced when compared to Indiana.

                  Then, of course, there’s sports. I sometimes get rather quizzical looks when I tell Alabamians that I’m writing novels that focus in part on basketball, where in Indiana that is rather central to most people’s activities. Down here, it’s football first. And second. And always.

I have noticed that you teach writing at the university level. I would think teaching writing would be so difficult because there are just some things about writing that one cannot teach. What is it about teaching this skill that you enjoy?

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Click to hear a podcast interview with Kevin.

            It depends on what type of writing you’re talking about. I teach a lot of English Composition, which is really about preparing first-year students to write academic essays: how to research information and cite it; how to analyze and develop arguments; how to explore a topic as even-handedly as possible. That seems quite teachable if a student is actually earnest in wanting to learn. Creative writing is trickier, and I think that’s probably what you’re referring to here. In some ways, teaching that is largely telling students to break all the rules that they’ve been taught in English Composition. Rather than one or two accepted styles, there are endless styles. Rather than painstakingly developing “argument,” they can let go of “having a point” altogether. They can fabricate things. They can make up words. They can re-invent themselves over and over again. English Composition is like teaching students how to make a good lasagna, with a few possible variations they might try once they master the recipe. Teaching creative writing is like taking students to a kitchen and pointing out all the possible ingredients, then saying, “Have at it.”

                  In both cases, though, there are times when, as an instructor, you can actually see moments of recognition in students. You’ve maybe told them something a dozen times, but for whatever reason that final explanation clicks for them, and you immediately see a breakthrough in their writing—which also means a breakthrough in how they conceive of themselves as scholars and writers. That’s rather rewarding.

What attracted you to writing about basketball?

            My dad was a basketball coach (in order: Bedford High School head coach; assistant coach at Indiana University; then head coach at DePauw University, the University of Indianapolis, and Indiana State University). Basketball was a part of me from the get-go. Though I played poorly and quit my high school team, I always loved to play—and I was an avid pick-up player until a few years ago when I hurt my knee. But more than playing, I watched endless hours of basketball. When I was a kid, I’d get dropped off after school at the Bedford gym where my dad was running practice. As a teenager, I watched every game on ESPN every single night. I went to hundreds of my dad’s games. I went to Pacers games, to random college games, to tournament games in Indianapolis and Milwaukee and Nashville. To Final Fours in Atlanta and Denver. Alabama games. Summer league games. I once tried to estimate how much time I’ve spent watching basketball—it came out roughly to a full year of my life.

                  So, to answer your question: writing about basketball feels almost as natural as breathing.

How did you decide you wanted to write for teens?

            This is a little trickier. I don’t know if it was ever a conscious decision, as much as it was a happy accident. Sometime in 2000, I met the now-somewhat-famous-y.a.-author David Levithan, and he was busy scouting authors for a new y.a. imprint at Scholastic, where he is an editor. I sent him some material. He liked it. And that’s how my first y.a. novel, Nowhere Fast, began. I followed that up with Learning the Game for Scholastic in 2005, and then after a hiatus where I was working on other projects, I returned to y.a. for Next. It’s good to be back.

Is it difficult to maintain Kevin’s character over 3 books? In what ways does he develop?

            Well, I’m in the middle of writing the third book now. And this is the first time that I’ve ever written a series. So the tricky part has been balancing “maintaining” characters while changing them enough so that there’s real development from book to book. At the same time, I can’t totally reinvent Derrick or any other character when I start a new manuscript—they need to have some consistency. In fact, Derrick—because his basketball goals keep him so focused—has been in some ways the slowest to change. He changes all right, but his end goal stays the same, and as I work on the third book I find that other characters—Wes, Jasmine, Uncle Kid—are undergoing more radical changes around Derrick.

It sounds like there are many generational messages in the D-Bow series. What influenced you to put those relationships into your stories?

            I think there are two forces. The first is that, with sports, it’s hard to separate the player from his parentage (in whatever form that may come). One of the most touching moments in sports over the last few years was Kevin Durant’s MVP speech, particularly his words for his mother. Any player, if he’s honest with himself, owes something. For Derrick, his parents keep him grounded and disciplined, and they keep him from taking an easier—and more questionable—path. Meanwhile, Uncle Kid has been vital to his development as a player. And even if it’s not about growth as a player and a person, the way people experience sports when they’re young is often a way to share an experience with a parent: watching or going to a game together.

                  The other forces are personal. I’ve recently become a parent, and as any parent will tell you that changes everything. There is not a single idea or object in my world that hasn’t been somehow altered and made more brilliant by our daughter’s presence. Her exhilaration at her world becomes mine. So while I’m not consciously putting anything in my books about her, I’m a fool to think that anything I do is left unaffected by her. And, finally, I recently lost my father. Again, that’s not something I’ve consciously worked into the books—in fact, I revised Slump so Derrick’s father’s health problems were less similar to my own father’s. But, again, my own relationship to sports is inextricably tied to my own relationship to my father. So my dad—and my history with him—hovers like a shadow beside every sentence I write in this series.

What does diversity mean to you?

            To me, it means a goal that Americans still need to meet. I don’t mean to deny the progress America has made, not just since the pre-Civil Rights era, but since I was a kid. Most students I encounter now almost reflexively champion the benefits of diversity, though there are still exceptions. That’s great, but I think sometimes it’s lip service. That’s true of individuals who praise diversity publicly because they’re “supposed to,” but who don’t embrace any policies that might actually bring such diversity about. And it’s true of America in general, too. I live just outside of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, which was recently featured in The Atlantic in a story about how our public schools are being re-segregated. It makes sense to focus on Tuscaloosa, since it’s in the self-proclaimed “Heart of Dixie,” but the sad truth—and I don’t offer this in any way to acquit Tuscaloosa of the charges that article leveled—is that such re-segregation is happening all over the country. And that kind of segregation creates a persisting “underclass” that Americans—or at least too few of the officials we elect to office—don’t seem to care that much about, no matter how much we extol the virtues of diversity.

                  So, yes, we’ve come a long way, but I think there’s a self-satisfaction because we see “diversity” all over our televisions, or at college graduation ceremonies, or even in some board rooms. Those images, important as they are, blind us from the segregation that exists between the haves and the disproportionately minority have-nots. There’s work to be done.

Guest Reviewer: The Laura Line

I recently posted an interview with Crystal Allen (who happens to blog at The BrownBooksShelf) and I felt bad that I hadn’t read The Laura Line and couldn’t review it. So, I reached out to Olugbemisola Amusashonubi-Perkovich (who also blogs at The BrownBookShelf) and she helped me find a most skilled young lady to write a review. Thanks Gbemi and Ms. ARP!  I’d say we all need to rush out and buy this book!

51O8GYjCtrL._AA160_Title: The Laura Line

author: Crystal Allen

Date: Balzer + Bray; 2013

main character: Laura Dyson

guest review: ARP

 

Laura Dyson is a fashionista, she plays baseball, and is good at it too, and she has a crush on the school’s baseball star! However,arpphoto she believes she also has a super embarrassing family history, which she is worried will drive him away. So, she keeps it a secret, and sticks with her best buddy Sage, her only friend at school (besides her teacher, of course.) Just like any other middle schooler, she has a big bully, who apparently thinks that she can’t go a day without a candy. NOT POSSIBLE! She always has a couple of Almond Joys in her pocket, even if they are a little squished, and she tries to keep her special “CHUNKY HUNKY” (a.k.a, her crush, Troy Bailey,) in sight at all times. Unfortunately for Laura, he won’t even give her a second glance.
But then, Laura and her class have to write an assignment, and Laura is pushed on all sides to learn about her long family line of strong, black women. And by doing this, she discovers they might not be so embarrassing after all….
After a few sticky situations like accidentally damaging something important to her family, and more Almond Joys, this funny story comes to an end, and we say goodbye to the wonderful, amazing, baseball player, fashionista Laura Dyson.
This book helped me understand how important it is to stay true to your culture and heritage, and most of all your family. I also liked the way that Ms. Allen showed that appearance isn’t everything.
I would recommend this book to anyone, but if you like realistic fiction, this book is especially for you!