Wikipedia defines intentionality as “the power of minds to be about, to represent, or to stand for things, properties and states of affairs” and should not be confused with intention. I think it’s only when beliefs are a part of us that that give us a power of mind. I think about my own intentionality and how well my professed ideas match the life I live, and how often this same concept holds true for authors and the words they write.
I wish I’d taken better notes yesterday when I attended Paul Fleischman’s author talk. I started to Tweet it, but when you get caught under a storyteller’s spell, it’s easy to forget about Twitter. Fleischman’s visit was part of the Bayh College of Education’s diversity initiative. The college decided to sponsor a one book, one read and at the suggestion of Dr. Mary Howard Hamilton, Seedfolks was chosen as the book. As the library’s liaison to the BCOE, I was invited to join a group and to read and discuss with a members of the college. We met over the summer while the community garden to which I belong was in full bloom and there were several other gardeners in the group as well. We were able to springboard from discussing the book and our garden experiences to sharing bits of our individual lives, getting to know each other in ways we wouldn’t have otherwise. I regret that the members of my group and the seeds that we planted (literally. We planted marigold seeds after our last meeting.) are over in another building and I don’t get to see them very often. Gardens and good books are just good ways to bring people together.
As a highlight to the reading experience, the college, along with the office of Academic Affairs, brought the book’s author, Paul Fleischman to campus. He was able to visit our community garden and pre-service teachers, but not local schools because they are engaged in standardized testing.
Fleischman talked about how he developed Seedfolks into a book and how he next went on to write The Matchbox Diary. Actually, he began by talking about his father’s Russian ancestry, spinning stories about his dad throughout his presentation.
I enjoy hearing authors talk about their writing process, about the idea that sparked a book or the way they selected a title for a book, but when authors speak about diversity and inclusion, my heart perks up. Diversity is not the only thing I hear, but for me these days it’s the important thing I hear.
Fleischman never mentioned the ‘d’ word. He never talked about inclusion, justice or equality. Well, not directly. Fleischman give witness to a life that is diverse, is inclusive and seeks justice and equality. He mentioned that student who ambles across the street as you, the driver sits and waits for them to journey from here to there. I’ve experienced that student and I’ve wanted to Tweet about that slow moving student. But, Fleischman has a wisdom I don’t. He made us aware of how disconnected this self-indulgent student must be from their community and, he went on to talk about how we can enfold young people into our communities. He talked about inviting community members, those who fought for civil rights or those who own local businesses into the classrooms. His examples were diverse and inclusive, reflecting his own experiences. He spoke of his teacher’s move from the west coast to the South by recanting his wife’s experience on the bus. She sat down in a seat only to experience the Black women near her get up and move further to the rear of the bus. Speaking these stories out loud validates them and the people in the story. He equated gardening with diversity when he stated “diversity makes for a strong ecosystem the same way it makes for a resilient community.”
I spoke briefly with Fleischman afterwards and thanked him for advocating for diversity in such an authentic way. He annihilated that train of thought about how to help white writers to write diversity. LIVE. IT. He was actually seemed shocked that I found the diversity in his presentation, in his life because it’s just who he is. Fleischman isn’t a #DiversityJedi, that’s not his intention. But, his honest, intentional message is one that we need. His text is inclusive, not locked into a subtext of Whiteness. We spoke about the importance of diverse books and the need for all people to be able to tell their stories.
Seedfolks has been developed for stage and will be performed as a one woman show in Chicago from 5-22 May. It is a wonderful story, a slight, easy to read novel that is filled with messages, symbols and memorable characters. Fleischmann did give us the name of his forthcoming book, but I wasn’t taking notes. Whether you’re trying to figure out how to write more diversely or want to read books that reflect the world around you, do read something by Paul Fleischman. I’m not sure what’s next on the BCOE’s agenda but I think the experience with Seedfolks will be tough to follow.