Last week Phillip Shabazz shared a bit about his family background and early life, and I’m pleased to have him back today to talk more specifically about his novel in verse, “When the Grass Was Blue.” If you leave a comment or indicate you will share on your favorite social media I will enter your name in the drawing.
Here is a synopsis:
Told through the eyes of a young boy, “When the Grass Was Blue” poetically portrays the trials and hardships of growing up in the South during the Civil Rights era of the 1960s.
On the surface, Kathoor, the youngest child in a working-class African American family from Louisville, Kentucky, appears sheltered in a stable home with his working father, faithful mother, and cool big brother. But as dysfunction in his family becomes apparent, Kathoor senses their familial closeness slipping away-and he feels as though he’s losing the most important people in his life. Trying to adjust, Kathoor’s only option is to search for strength within his own heart.
LP: Your novel in verse, When the Grass Was Blue, was widely used by language arts and social studies teachers in North Carolina schools. Tell us how you came to write it.
PS: I wrote When the Grass Was Blue, out of curiosity about that significant period of American history popularly known as the sixties. I wanted to draw attention to that time and place because I have an interest in the Civil Rights struggle and an interest in the idea of freedom. I’d read Dr. King, Malcolm X, and other activists from that era. I wanted to get a better understanding of what the Black Liberation Movement was all about.
What really interested me, during that era, is how people were choosing sides about various issues such as racial segregation, police brutality, poverty, the war in Vietnam, etc., and how all this impacted children in general (particularly black children), how all this impacted the black family and community. The questions I asked myself were, what is the fallout of all this? How did black people come through the fallout?
I decided to ground When the Grass Was Blue in that period because there were characters that I wanted to bring to life. The story focused on a family who endured the turbulent complexities of that moment. That family experienced the struggle of private and personal everyday matters, and at the same time, the public challenges, pressures, and concerns of a racially segregated society. So the result of my interest in When the Grass Was Blue, is a blend of family, community, and an unforgettable history.
LP: Many students have an automatic aversion to poetry, yet you have been very successful teaching it in the schools. Can you share a few anecdotes or methods of working with students?
PS: I try to meet students on common ground and relate to their world. I give them a number of guidelines and ideas to choose from, in addition to sample poems to reference. We discuss craft, in other words, what makes a poem imaginative and interesting. I ask them try to write about something that matters to them, something fun, or something heartfelt regarding an experience, a person, a time and place. I tell them to write what they think and feel. It always amazes me what the students come up with, how each of them uses words to create a new way of seeing or experiencing the world.
I did a reading with students in Richmond County, NC at a high school. It was like a new light covered the auditorium: teachers and students made a deep connection through poetry. There was laughter. People cried. They supported one another. Even the shyest and most underachieving students let it all out. That’s when I really saw that ‘the pen is mightier than the sword.’
LP: You have several works in progress. Can you tell us about what you are working on for young readers?
PS: I am trying to finish a novel for middle school students, which is attempting to show something about peer pressure and bullying from the point of view of a high school kid who looks back at that period of his life. What I’m trying to convey is how a specific reality (bullying) affects who we are, and who we become.
LP: As a retired teacher and a parent I can tell you that there is a definite need to address the topic of bullying in a way that reaches young people right where they live. I can’t wait to read this one! In closing, what nugget of wisdom would you like to share with writers, particularly those who dream of getting published someday?
PS: Whether it’s writing a song at the kitchen table or a story in a corral at the library, or a poem at the desk in your bedroom or study, writing in any of those places can work and leads to publishing, if you make that writing space you own. It’s like staking a claim: you mark your spot, and make your mark. Oh, and have a good time.
LP: Thank you, Phillip, for inspiring us with your work and words, and showing us how we can have “a good time” with writing at any age. READERS of all ages, leave a comment or indicate you shared on social media so you won’t miss out on the drawing for When the Grass Was Blue.
Hey READERS, I would love to hear from you.
Is your MIND FULL of old thoughts or new?