Taking a Stand for Girls

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Meg and Gigi at the March on Monument

It’s MLK Day in our nation, during a time when our country is heartbreakingly fractured. On Saturday, January 14, 2017, the two of us took a stand and walked in the March on Monumenta peaceful coming together of the various social justice groups that serve the Richmond community.  Two thousand or so of our neighbors stood shoulder to shoulder chanting a call and response:

Show Me What Democracy Looks Like! THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE! 

What do we need? LOVE. When do we need it? NOW. What do we need? Unity. When do we need it? NOW. 

There were older women and men. Parents pushing strollers and carrying signs. Old Basset hounds. Seasoned activists and college students. Wheelchair users. Artists, writers, musicians. And, members of the faith community.

Looking around, we saw our community celebrating diversity and inclusion at the statue of Robert E. Lee asking, How do we knit ourselves together in strength? How can we make our community a place where all people are respected and cared for? What can each of us offer?

We had been thinking long and hard about Girls of Summer, our curated reading list for strong girls, now approaching its seventh year. To be frank, last year, we wondered if it might be time to let the list go. Exhausted and overscheduled, we could point to dozens of other reading lists for girls to choose from.

But then the world got upended in deep and disturbing ways, most notably in an infamous video and talk of grabbing women by their genitals. And we realized that now was not the time to stop. There is still so much work to do together to make this world safe, secure, and nurturing of girls.

So plans have changed.

For the next four years, not only are we not letting go of Girls of Summer, but we are going to grow it big. We’ll use every ounce of our strength as authors, mothers, and literary citizens to build it up as a resource to empower young women of all ages to become lifelong readers and learners, with the tools to find their voices, to stand up, and to protect themselves.

So, here is the first of what will be many exciting changes this year:

Our Girls of Summer team is growing. We are joined by new and dynamic friends with loving ties to our city. These are book women, strong women, and advocates who will be helping to choose our list, plan our event, and spread the word to girls here at home and around the country. They are:

Stacy Hawkins Adams

Stacy Hawkins Adams

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Amanda Nelson

aisha-saeed-headshot

Aisha Saeed

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Maya Smart

In the coming months, you can expect to hear about new a partnership with Richmond Young Writers, too, as we develop new ways for young people to have access to our visiting authors. You’ll hear about a literary breakfast event organized by our longtime champions at the Richmond Public Library and about new schools and organizations who have asked to join us in this effort. And it’s our hope that you will, in fact, engage with us through attendance, donations, and support with new and urgent energy.

We linked arms as we marched on Saturday, in effort to stay warm and in thanksgiving for this friendship of ours. Encircled by thousands of new friends, we got caught up in the spirit of loving kindness and the spirit of justice that rolled down Monument Avenue. How did this happen, we wondered? Just two girls: one with roots in Cuba and one from Mississippi, two friends who have found that it’s our differences that make us strong and our shared values that keep us brave.

Our friendship is what sparked Girls of Summer, but we know that friendship alone isn’t what sustains this important project. For that kind of sustenance, we need a community filled with smart people who care about books and reading in the lives of every day folks. (Here’s looking at you bbgb books and Kris Spisak – champions from the start.) We need a community that is invested in respecting and empowering females, from ages eight to eighty-eight. We need neighbors who insist on equality and inclusion where we live, work, and play.

And in Richmond, Virginia, as it turns out,  we have found exactly that.

Stayed tuned.

Meg Medina and Gigi Amateau are authors of works for young readers. Among their many projects, they are the cofounders of Girls of Summer List, a curated summer reading list for strong girls. They live (proudly) in Richmond, Virginia.

2011: A Wonderful Life

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Here’s a look back on 2011, a really great year for my family and me. Bubba started a new job a year ago and every day we’re thankful that he has a job he enjoys. This year I got to go to Houston with my mom and my cousin to watch our VCU Rams play in the Final Four. My daughter graduated high school, started college (go Rams!), got a job, and is really making a wonderful life of her own.

I traveled to San Francisco and Arizona for work and writing and visiting. Home is definitely here in Richmond with our family and friends. Home is wherever and whenever I’m with my West Coast family, too. I also spent some great days with Judith and dear friends in Oak Island, NC.

Bubba and I worked lots of good hours in our garden and good hours planning our garden for 2012. After three years of cultivating a purple leaf coneflower border, we’re about there. Now for the Baptisia! Oh, and also, I want a Lewis and Clark garden. I’m not sure how this will work out. Maybe I’ll fill our entire garden space with plants introduced by the Corps of Discovery.

2011 was a really awesome writing year. I finally realized that I love the research and reflection every bit as much as the creating and editing. I finished up my manuscript for a new book that will come out in 2012 called Come August, Come Freedom about the blacksmith, Gabriel. More than any other, this book changed who I am and who I hope to be. I also wrote my first short story since 5th grade – about the river, of course. And visited so many schools! One highlight was participating in Longwood University’s Summer Literacy Institute, where I met some great writers and lots of inspiring librarians. Oh, and in the fall, reading with some rockin’ amazing women at artist Susan Singer’s Beyond Barbie series. And writing with middle school students at Carver and Midlo, mmmm-mmmm, mighty fun!

Last year I enjoyed writing retreats at Richmond Hill with poet, Cheryl Pallant and at The Porches, with good friends. Two enchanting spaces conducive to creating and quieting. When I couldn’t get away, writing with Valley Haggard was its own mini weekly writing retreat.

We moved our horses to Campbell Springs Farm, like, a day before Hurricane Irene! Albert and Latte have settled in nicely. We found a silver lining of living without power for nine days post-Irene: evenings of ice cream and conversation with Bubba’s parents, a tradition we’ll continue until McDonald’s stops selling $1 caramel sundaes.

There wasn’t anything wildly spectacular about 2011 except for everything about it. All the regular, every day moments that make life good: fixing tacos with my goddaughter, working cows with three handsome men, sharing meals and manuscripts with my beautiful friends, looking for bufflehead and bald eagle on the river, watching a cicada molt, cooking with Judith and Bub, revising and revising with my dog and a fire, taking our sweet nephew to his first bball game. And even on days of sorrow or uncertainty, smelling Grammy’s roses or my Winter Daphne and remembering Shelley. If Winter’s here, can spring be far behind?

My plan for 2012? More.

 2012 Plan

My plan for 2012

Herons and Shad and Poetry

A dog and her river

A dog and her river

Last night, I dreamed that I was walking at the river, down at Pony Pasture. In my dream, there were Great Blue Herons everywhere!

Not a stretch, really, since there actually ARE Great Blue Herons everywhere on the James. [And lately, I can pretty reliably sight a kingfisher, too. No, not the beer. The bird.] One time I sat on the rocks at Belle Isle and counted 32 herons. It was crazy. First, I had to find the magic eye way of seeing them, but once I tuned in? Well, abundance is the word that comes to mind.

Back to my dream of last night. So, there were all these herons walking around eating and carrying extra food for later under their wings:

Eaglets and eaglet eggs,

Big fish, little fish,

Red fish, blue fish (Not really.)

An abundant James River is not only real in my dreams. There’s no way you could live here and miss the actual living proof that the James is expanding in abundance, in fish and wildlife, and in inspiring people to spend more time outdoors. But, if you need confirmation from outside the region, check out this recent New York Times article about the James River:

In Richmond, Va., Herons and Shad Signal a James River Revival

Even better than sitting at your desk reading about the river, give yourself a day off to walk and write and explore the James using this Poetry Guide to the James River Park System: http://www.jamesriverpark.org/documents/JRP-Poetry-Guide.pdf

Yes, that’s right, our river comes complete with poetry guide!

Find your inspiration from the river, find guidance from river poems by Wendell Berry, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Emily Dickinson, Emerson, Longfellow, and wondrous more. Maps to Belle Isle, Pony Pasture, and Reedy Creek are included in the guide.

So, what are we waiting for?

Pick a park, go there, and follow these instructions from the Poetry Guide:

“Read a poem
Stay still and contemplate the meanings.
Write a poem, reflections or musings using the blank pages or the
style templates provided.”

When you go, remember: be safe and be aware. Let someone know where exactly you’re going and when you’ll return. And whatever you do – do not, I repeat, do not try to ride a floating tree.

As Style Weekly reminds us in Melissa Scott Sinclair’s article “The River Wild,” as alluring and inviting as the James is, our river also wants to kill you. Heed the advice therein from Ralph White, ‘This is not a Kings Dominion ride. This is the real thing. You can die.’

So. Go to the river! Act right while you’re there. Walk around. Write some poetry. Sit down and count Great Blue Herons.

Or count the trees floating by.

One more time: Don’t what?

That’s right. Don’t ride them.

For more about the James go here:

James River News Hub

James River Association

James River Park System

Hometown Culture and Cuisine

My husband, Bubba, and I spent Saturday being tourists in our hometown, Richmond, Virginia. It’s easy to fall into a weekend rut – eh…routine. Not a thing wrong with filling Saturday and Sunday with chores, errands, a movie, and a good book, but we decided to switch it up yesterday.

We started the morning out at the Library of Virginia, where we checked out a special cartography collection. Bubs studied geology in college, and the old maps really give a sense of the character of the land. We also saw a letter that Robert E. Lee wrote to Jefferson Davis declining an offer of a new horse. Lee wrote about his horse, Traveler, “My gray has calmed down amazingly, gave me a very pleasant ride all day yesterday. I enjoyed his gaits much.”

Lee and Traveler

Lee and Traveler

Reading about Traveler made us think of Bubba’s cousin, Jay, who passed away too soon. Jay loved history and, especially, Civil War history. He named his German Shepherd Traveler, after Lee’s gray horse. Jay was a beautiful, complex, loving spirit, a poet who delighted in making people laugh and feel loved. We really miss him so much, and I like to think that our encounter with Traveler in the special collections room of the library was not so much about Robert E. Lee as it was about our Jay, reminding us to have plenty of fun and keep close to each other.

So. In Jay’s honor, we bailed on the maps and headed over to Perly’s, where our courtship first started. Over curried split pea soup and a Harvey Hudson sandwich we did what we always do at Perly’s: talked about our dreams and hopes and our life together. Hands down favorite date place.

Happy in that special world of being together, we left Perly’s arm-in-arm and headed to our favorite downtown place: Kelly Justice’s Fountain Bookstore. Our book choices definitely reflect the sort of love bubble we were walking around in. I picked out Peace is Every Breath by Thich Nhat Hahn; Bubba chose Harmony: A New Way of Looking at Our World by Prince Charles.

We spent the afternoon touring Shockoe Slip in the witty, knowledgeable, gracious company of Real Richmond , lead by Maureen Egan and Leigh Ann McKelway [who used to be a Horton from Florence, Alabama, where my mom was born].

Mise En Place

Mise En Place

The tour started at Shockoe Slip’s Mise En Place, a private cooking school. Chef Christine, a New Englander, shared the recipe for her empanadas and cracked jokes about learning to make ham biscuits when she moved to Richmond ten years ago.

Off the Hookah, our next stop, surprised me the most of all the stops on the tour. Is it a hookah bar? A sushi bar? A sweet new outdoor dining spot?
Yes, all that in the most OTT way you could imagine.

Upstairs bar, Off the Hookah

Upstairs bar, Off the Hookah


By that I mean, beautifully over-the-top.
Off the Hookah VIP

Off the Hookah VIP

We cruised around the canal to work off some calories, then stopped by the Pipeline Look Out, and watched the herons.

Canal in Richmond

Canal in Richmond

From there, back up the hill to the Urban Farmhouse Market.

Urban Farmhouse Market

Urban Farmhouse Market

They had coffee and homemade donuts waiting!

Apple cider donuts

Apple cider donuts

From there, we welcomed the walk up to the Capitol. Maureen described Richmond’s use of ironwork and pointed out examples of iron ornaments. At the top of the stairs, she gave us a good history of the building itself. I had no idea it used to be brick red then later mustard yellow.

Iron embellishments downtown

Iron embellishments downtown

Throughout the tour, Maureen shared notable moments in Richmond’s history. She encouraged everyone to learn more about the Richmond Slave Trail and told the story of the blacksmith, Gabriel, who turned Patrick’s Henry’s liberty or death slogan on its head by raising an army of 1,000 fellow slaves, as well as artisans and free blacks determined to march into Richmond under a white flag with the words, “Death or Liberty” inscribed in red. Before heading over to Sin e` Irish Pub, we paused near the site where the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom was signed into law in 1786.

Virginia's Religious Freedom Statute, First Freedom Center

Virginia's Religious Freedom Statute, First Freedom Center

At Sin e`, which we learned means ‘this is it’ in Gaelic, we sampled bangers and sliders and fried pickles.

Tastiness at Sin e`

Tastiness at Sin e`

Check out this wild ceiling mural at Sin e. Maybe it depicts the legend of Beowulf.

Wicked lovely celing at Sin e

Wicked lovely celing at Sin e

Our tour ended at Bistro Bobette. Earlier in the day, Bubba and I had pressed our noses against the window there and decided we’d like to try it, so we were excited to get a sneak peek and can’t wait to go back for dinner.

Bistro Bobette

Bistro Bobette

We don’t play tourists very often, but we should. We covered a lot of ground Saturday – The Library of Virginia, Perly’s, Fountain, Real Richmond, the James River – and were reminded why we love Richmond, and why we should make it a priority to get out into the community, out of our routine a little more.

For more information about Richmond cuisine and culture tours contact:
http://realrichmondva.com/
Tours@RealRichmondVA.com
(804) 840-5318

RAMS Win!

Mom and I are headed home from Houston now – somewhere in Louisiana on Route 12 East. We had a great trip to the NCAA Final Four. March Madness has come to an end and, truthfully, I’m looking forward to getting back to Richmond and – starting tomorrow – digging in my garden, walking my hound dog, and spending time at the river with my family on days just like today.

From the get-go the only suitable Sunday headline for VCU could be: RAMS Win! They played hard and smart and gave Butler a good battle. The team never let the fans down with their heart, effort, and energy. And the fans returned the favor: filling Reliant Park with a singing, cheering, clapping wave of gold. In the press, I had read how having VCU and Butler in the Final Four would be bad for business because mid-major schools can’t turn out the fans like the big boys. Really? All 45,000 Houston hotel rooms were booked, and at the game they announced that the 2011 Final Four attendance had broken all prior Final Four attendance records.

By the time we get back, we will have driven 3,000+ miles. I’ve made many road trips in my life and, by far, this one was the best yet. When I look back on this weekend, these are the moments I’ll remember:

  1. How the toll-booth operators cheered us on to Houston on our way out of town.
  2. All the people all the way – on the highway, in the Starbucks, on the streets in Houston – who saw our VCU shirts and stopped us to talk about the team, the school, our city, and this great run. People asked questions about VCU, shared a memory of Richmond, and over and over I heard strangers say, “I love Richmond” or “I was just in Richmond. Great town!”
  3. The drive along I90 through the Mississippi Gulf Coast, literally, practically in the Gulf Coast and Route 10 through Louisiana. Right off hand, I cannot remember a sunset that could rival how comforting and inspiring it felt to watch the big orange sphere disappear in a purple sky behind Lake Pelba.
  4. The hospitality of people in Houston. My cousin let us crash at her place and a good family friend rolled out the red carpet to make sure we got a good meal, some cold beers, and easy transport to Reliant Stadium.
  5. Rolling up into the Front Porch Pub pre-game to find the place full of Butler fans! Our waitress, Courtney, was so patient and amazing. The best part: when the Butler crowd started trying to out yell VCU but Wiz Khalifa’s Black and Yellow came on and put a stop to that business.
  6. My cousin, Matt, came from Phoenix and his buddy, Darin, came from San Francisco. My west coast cousins feel more like brothers than cousins and I’m always happy when I’m with them. Maybe one day we’ll all live in Hawaii together.
  7. My favorite Ram, #42 TJ Gwynn, sat right in front of us. He’s so polite! Of course, he is from North Carolina and that’s just how they are grown down there. I almost asked to take a picture with him, but then I would have had to break my rule about not asking celebrities for pictures.
  8. Being among the VCU fans at this history-making Final Four and knowing that the whole city of Richmond was there, too, decked out in black and gold, cheering on these students.
  9. At the start of the Kentucky -UCONN game, I was listening to the VCU post-game press conference with one of those little game radios you wear on your ear. A reporter asked Jamie Skeen, “Now that this is over, with Butler being a mid-major, will you root for Butler to win the whole thing?” Jamie answered, “No. No way I’m going to root for a team that just beat me. I will not root for them, no. I’m just being honest.” That’s exactly how I feel.
  10. Our Virginia-Arizona-California contingent went into the stadium hoping for a VCU-Kentucky final. While I was bummed to see Kentucky lose, it was truly a thing of beauty to watch Kemba Walker play basketball in person. And there is some solace in knowing that UCONN’s #3, Jeremy Lamb, is genetically associated with VCU. His dad, Rolando Lamb, played in the NCAA 1984 tournament when I was in college, and VCU was in the Sun Belt Conference.
  11. In the hunt for a cab back downtown, we probably walked three miles. It was awesome, swimming against the sea of 76,000 people trying to catch the light rail. That Saturday night walk will go down in my book of top 15 walks in my life.
  12. My family and friends have been so enthusiastic about Mom and me making this trip. Nobody thought we were crazy and everyone helped us, encouraged us, and seemed to get it that this is just what we do: Get in the car and go! My sis spotted us hotel rooms and the GPS that found the Starbucks in Opelika, Alabama. Judith and Bub and my Aunt Mary all kept tabs along the way, making sure we were okay. My Facebook friends checked in on us and cheered along with us.

So, thanks everybody for making this weekend a wonderful time with my mom in support of our school and our city. I can think of a lot of athletic events that have inspired me, none more than the whole season of the 2010-11 VCU Rams. I’m going to take Michael Paul Williams’ call to action to heart and carry forward the city pride instilled by the Rams. Their season has inspired me to recommit to my own pursuit of excellence and reminded me to never give up and keep on believing.

We’ve just pulled into the Mississippi Welcome Center, even here they are still talking about VCU, still cheering for the Rams. Now, short break to change drivers and keep on getting it home.

Rams on the Road

Shhh….hey, Richmond. I know you’re sleeping. We just got to Atlanta and will stop here for the night. Mom and I have had a great trip so far. Our first important business was to get black and white shakes from the Hardee’s in South Hill.

I’ll tell you what, Ram Nation is on the move to Houston. We stopped for gas in Charlotte and ran into about three cars full of Ram fans. Lots of hooting and hollering going on when we all saw each other’s Black and Gold. A local guy shouted over to us, “Hey, I used to play ball with Jamie Skeen every day at the Y!”

All the way through North Carolina, South Carolina, and into Atlanta we’ve seen so many Virginia cars decked out, heading to the Final Four. So, we’re up and out early in the a.m. I miss you already. Sleep sweet!

Road Trip

Hey, I’m dashing this post off, fresh and organic, straight from my brain to my blog. Highly uncharacteristic of me. Normally, I ruminate [thank you Terry Price for reminding me of this delightful word] for a good long little while before pressing the publish button. No such luxury today. First of all, it’s the last day of March, and I set a goal for myself to blog every week, at least once a week. If I don’t post today, I miss my goal. Secondly, (and I’m feeling extremely and increasingly nervous about exposing my raw, mistake-ridden command of grammar to the world by not allowing time to edit) Mom and I are leaving Richmond to drive to Houston in t-minus 59 minutes.

WE’RE GOING TO THE FINAL FOUR! Yep.

So, if you know me, you know that basketball season is a big season for us. Home games are date nights for my husband and me. Bubs and I share a bbq and split some MnMs and a blue gatorade – every game. That’s actually a winning combination. They have never lost a game where I ate a bbq and MnMs. Not once. We go to games with my mom and step-dad every week from November to March. Mom and I always take time off to attend the CAA tourney together, too.

If you know me, you know I’m a VCU alum. A proud VCU alum. Here’s the part where I tell you that VCU changed my world and my worldview. I think I’m a pretty smart person with a good work ethic, a creative work ethic. I had a less than mediocre academic record until I got to college. VCU accepted me provisionally. As a freshman, I could take only 9 credits my first semester and was required to take the 0 credit college math, just to get me up to speed. Not pretty, but true.

At VCU, I found out that I love cities. I love history. I love to write. At VCU, I sat next to little old ladies and strippers in my Russian classes and beautifully proud, out transgendered students, too. There we all were, reciting Russian poems together with Professora Dunn. Helping each other. At VCU, other students held me accountable for growing in academic pursuits and in life. VCU changed me and made me a better, deeper, more compassionate, more interesting and interested person. I’m lucky my state has such a school and, even when VCU rejected my application to study creative writing in the MFA program, the school helped me grow.

So. If you know me, you know I love Richmond, Virginia with everything I got. Like VCU, my city has treated me right. And if you know Richmond, you know we deserve to feel good about this city. You know that this Final Four is about more than basketball. To me, it’s about the thing that sports and music and art and literature can help do sometimes. Bring people together, create a common cultural experience, redefine how we think of ourselves, and how we treat each other.

We’ve been jonesin for change and goodness and a new day in Richmond for an awfully long time. Tasks forces and papers and speeches all designed to help us out of a 250 year funk do help. The Folk Festival helps. Center Stage helps. That squirrel who makes absolutely no sense in relation to baseball or the region really helps. Our river helps. And so do the 2010-11 VCU Rams.

I’m not saying basketball can make our problems go away. Basketball won’t change the fact that ours is a region of great economic disparity. A trip to the Final 4 will not solve our damn cooperation problems that have kept us behind other cities. Ok. I mean Charlotte, if you want to know the truth. Nope, not saying the VCU Rams can solve everything.

Going to those games every week though, does help me find a little more something to keep on trying and keep on smiling and keep on coming downtown. I sit beside my husband, whispering and giggling and singing along with the pep band and I relax. We watch pretty young things dance to PYT, and we smile and clap because even dance team members work hard at their craft and deserve praise. I work on manuscripts or read inspiring books by Stacy Adams during half-time. We ride home as a family through our beautiful city, all winter long, happy to have had a little bit of a break from the burdens we carry.

In a recent RTD column, beloved Richmond columnist, Michael Williams wrote about our Rams’ success in the tourney, “You cannot overstate the impact on our community psyche. We’re on a natural high. The region, if only for this bright shining moment, has shed defeatism and divisiveness. We see ourselves as winners.”

That’s it. Williams also challenged us – this means you and me – to keep this goodwill alive. Let this story serve as the spark, so we can finally, shine out.

Ok. I gotta finish packing. My boss let me off work. My mother-in-law, God bless her for real, gave me $100. My cousin who lives in Houston is letting us crash at her place. My cousin from Phoenix is meeting us there and we’re bringing him a Final 4 shirt, even though he was/is/whatever a Jayhawks fan. My friend Nylce gave me a pair of bird earrings to wear. Bubs and Judith are staying behind, while Mom and I take our road trip. We’ll be home Monday in time to watch the Championship game in Richmond, together.