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Book Deal During Banned Books Week
Would I have become a writer without a mom who encouraged me to read banned books?
For the past forty years or so, September 18-24 has been known as “Banned Book Week.” According to my brief Internet “research,” this started in 1982 when I was a youngster.
My second mom, Jan, encouraged my love of reading by recommending books to me that some might not have considered “age appropriate.” Like the book Forever Amber that came out in 1944, back when she was a teenager, which had been banned back then because of “70 references to sexual intercourse.” That’s from Internet research again—I don’t remember 70 references to sexual intercourse. I remember that Forever Amber took place during the British Reconstruction, sparking an interest for me in that historical time period as well as its literature. I remember that bubonic plague was depicted in a way that made an abstract concept feel more real to an adolescent. Miss Jan also encouraged me to read her copy of Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy (banned in Boston in 1925). That one taught me something about wealth disparity and exploitation of women working in factories.
I wondered if I ever would have written books if my mom Jan hadn’t encouraged me to read books, including some that had once been banned. She was a teacher and trusted me to learn something from books rather than seek out salacious scenes. I’m distressed by reports of books I hear are being challenged in school libraries these days—books like Half of a Yellow Sun, set during the Nigerian Civil War. That piece of literature can teach readers of all ages important history, but some people get riled up over certain minor scenes.
I’m grateful during this #BannedBookWeek to announce that I have a second book deal, a year after the first one. This time I am writing a book with my friend and fellow Episcopal priest and writer Samantha Vincent-Alexander. One publisher (who declined to make an offer) was concerned about three words in our proposal: “bitch,” “shit,” and “damn.” I was astonished and did a word search in the proposal to see where those three words showed up among nearly thirteen thousand other words. They were there, and, I thought, salient to our point.
Both Samantha and I were deathly ill during the pandemic. I had two cancers and underwent three surgeries as well as radiation and chemo. Samantha came down with MRSA and was in and out of the hospital for months. She called me one night when she was in the ICU and asked me how I had prayed in that place. I had struggled with prayer when I had been in the ICU, and a seed for our book was planted when we confessed this to each other. Samantha and I found that our ministry to others who are seriously ill has changed since enduring these illnesses ourselves.
I’m so excited to share the book with you! Our publisher will be Eerdmans, also the publisher of my first book, and we will get to work with amazing editor Lisa Ann Cockrel. Samantha and I will turn in the manuscript in March, and hope that Irreverent Prayers (working title) will come out in summer 2024, possibly in time for the next Episcopal General Convention.
In the meantime: read a banned book and recommend one to a friend! I’d love to hear one of your favorite banned books in the comments. If you share this newsletter, please use the hashtag #BannedBooksWeek!
What I’m Reading:
Erin Lane, Someone Other Than a Mother. A young couple declines to be defined by parenthood but also adopts three foster children.
Paula Hawkins, A Slow Fire Burning. Leftover from my murder mystery binge last month.
What I’m Writing:
All I have this month are sermons, and since I am now writing another book as well as a Bible study for The Good Book Club, it will probably be that way for a while. We’re deep in Jeremiah now, so the texts get harder. Read these at your own risk.