Endorsements! Portrait!

Picturing God has received a couple of beautiful endorsements thus far, from fellow writers for children & families. I am honored by their kind words!

“Colorful, richly textured, and wildly creative, Picturing God is a delight. Ruth Goring’s visual and literary exploration of many names and metaphors for God will open readers’ minds and hearts to that Word who is love. I love this book!”

Jennifer Grant, award-winning author of Maybe God Is Like That Too and Maybe I Can Love My Neighbor Too

“We need more books that help children envision God in ways that go beyond an old white man with a beard. Picturing God provides beautifully illustrated and poetic images that are straight out of scripture. I smiled along with every page.”

Traci Smith, author of Faithful Families and Prayers for Faithful Families

RuthGoring 2018 portrait

Last year my friend Katherine Vincent Lamb painted this portrait of me. I don’t know yet whether it will appear in the book–there’s an “about the author” blurb on the back page–but I love it, so I’m sharing it with you.

To be honest, there is a certain terror involved in releasing one’s art & writing into the world. Endorsements are gifts, calming me & saying, We are with you–your words & art are worthwhile. And what can I even say about an artist’s desire to paint me?

Orchard Keeper writing residency

In April I was privileged to spend a week in eastern Tennessee, not far from the historic Cumberland Gap. The poet Denton Loving has launched an unusual writing residency based in a small house he owns on a country lane. (That lane is literally just one lane wide—I hadn’t been on a road that narrow since my childhood in Colombia!)

road

It’s a magical part of the country.

The unusual nature of this residency is the solitude. Denton is available to answer questions & solve problems—he’s a wonderful host—but there’s no wifi, so communication with the outside world is iffy (WhatsApp worked quite well for me, though) and there are no other writers or artists to chat or share meals or work with. The quietness is wonderful for getting work done! I revised my current poetry manuscript, wrote two poems, revised one picture book manuscript, started revising another and discovered that it’s really TWO stories, made thumbnail sketches for a wordless picture book, journaled a lot, read a novel. Then there was the drive home, nearly nine hours of thinking, when my picture book ideas exploded and became a series of eight or nine books!

interior

The little house has a delightfully retro feel.

About meals: I wanted to minimize effort, so I brought ingredients to make a big pot of veggie/bean soup. I also brought granola, fruit, tortillas, cheese, & soy milk.

I was out and about for a while each day. The house is on an enticing wooded hill, and spring was much further along in Tennessee than in Illinois—everything was green, fresh, blooming.

Long walks were part of my agenda for the residency. The hill woods are actually crisscrossed with fencing, so a few days in, after I had accomplished all the writing listed above, I drove off to Cumberland National Historical Park. Having gotten a quick orientation from a nice young woman at the visitor center, I drove up to Pinnacle Point, from which you can see parts of three states: Tennessee, Virginia, Kentucky.

Pinnacle Point

Then I drove down to a trailhead to go to the Gap itself. That involved a pleasant, leisurely hike of about an hour roundtrip.

Gap

If you’re a writer & your heart yearns toward mountains, as mine does, you might want to apply for this residency! You can do so here. Tell Denton I sent you!

Books, children & donkeys

Have you watched videos or read about schoolteacher Luis Soriano’s biblioburro mobile library–books he mounts on his two donkeys & takes to children in remote regions of Magdalena Department (province) in Colombia? He named his donkeys Alfa & Beto, the two halves of the word alphabet in Spanish. (Fun bonus: the word literacy in Spanish is alfabetización. The biblioburros are definitely a literacy project!) See a delightful interview with him (with subtitles) at the link above.

Biblioburro

Photo from Wikipedia.

A two-year-old cousin of mine is currently entranced with the bilingual picture-book story of Soriano & his donkeys, Waiting for the Biblioburro by Monica Brown. I highly recommend it!

The work of literacy, of getting adults & children equipped & inspired to read, is work for social justice. Books open up our life possibilities, stimulate us to become better people & to respond to injustice, wake us up to the world’s beauty & pain. Sometime I’ll try making a list of books that have changed me. Today I just celebrate Luis & Alfa & Beto & all the children whose lives they are touching.

 

 

You of all people

Like most writers, I hate rejections–those polite “doesn’t meet our needs at this time” emails. Another one of them came yesterday. I have cultivated a thick skin, but that doesn’t mean I don’t care.

Then there are the prizes, which always seem to be won by someone else–usually somebody younger, which is objectively not surprising since I’m in my sixties. They have an edge of genius I lack. I’m mediocre.

Or sometimes: They have a spouse or partner whose income & presence allow them much more time to write & revise & learn than I have, being single.

There are also “self-rejection” moments when my struggle to make a poem find its path seems to be failing. Should I just give this up? Maybe I’ve reached the limits of my capacity.

Most of the time I manage to keep my eyes on the actual prize: making this poem or story better, trying a new subject or style, uncovering & strengthening the inherent rhythm of a piece.

But sometimes I really need encouragement from someone else. From June 2011 until her death in November 2015, Helen Degen Cohen was a poetry mentor to me, though we didn’t name the relationship in those terms.

Helen

Helen was brilliant & restless & insomniac & loving. She was a cofounder of the splendid RHINO Poetry annual, & she did win a number of distinguished prizes, residencies, & grants. She invited another poet, Susanna Lang, & me to form a critique group with her.

And one day, when I was beset by those doubts about the value of my work, Helen responded, “You of all people should not worry about that.”

Really? Of all people?

That in itself was a prize. Helen knew my work, understood what I was trying to do, & found it important.

So rejections come, but I keep writing. Our stories & poems & art can be part of something bigger than fame & recognition. And I want to be one of those “you of all people” encouragers who notice others’ work, affirm it, name what’s important in it. We really do need each other.


  • Thus far there’s one posthumous collection of Helen’s work, My Life on Film, and more are in the works. We’re going to have a big launch party for My Life on Film Sunday September 23, 3-5 p.m., at Facets Cinematheque–put it on your calendar if you’re in the Chicago area!

Helen cosmos flowersHelen adored gardening. This is one of her own photos.

To my loneliness

My spiritual director asked what colors I would use to paint you.

Indigo, brightening in places to cobalt. The deep poignant blue of a summer sky at twilight, what I used to call Maxfield Parrish blue.

Variegated with rich greens for life and fruitfulness. And pricked with reds and oranges, sharp but beautiful cuts.

Mostly I live in solitude, not loneliness. But the painful moments of aloneness come, and they no longer frighten me. You have become a kind of friend.

You are a hollow place inside me, and I meet God in that very emptiness. You are sorrow and loss, you are longing, hunger.

Without you, what art would I make, and who would I be?

You can never say it all! In which I am interviewed

Darcel Rockett interviewed me for the Chicago Tribune.

The conversation was long and lively, and of course half of what I said is left out of this interview, which is nevertheless generous and so so encouraging.

So let me add a bit here. I’m part of the SCBWI-IL Diversity Community, and it’s important to us not just to populate the pages of kids’ books with more children of color, but also to boost and encourage authors and artists of color! Agents and editors of color too, for that matter–the publishing world in the USA, which I’ve worked in for most of my adult life, is still disproportionately white. We white folks should not be the only gatekeepers. And we need the voices of people of color (POC, called #ownvoices in current lingo) to inform and enrich the lives of our kids.

Also, diversity includes not just variety in skin color but also varieties of abilities and orientations.

It’s a privilege to see the many creative projects that are blooming among my fellow writers and artists! I feel so lucky to be part of the Diversity Community.

And I’m STOKED to have this introduction to Adriana’s Angels in the Tribune!

In which I battle fear, carry a chicken upside down, & revel in a prize

First the prize (if I’m not mistaken, the chicken story is the “dessert” of this post). Last week we learned that Los ángeles de Adriana took a silver Moonbeam Award in the Spanish Book category! I am overjoyed.

silver_moonbeam_medal

Here’s info about these awards:

Presented by Jenkins Group and IndependentPublisher.com, the Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards are designed to bring increased recognition to exemplary children’s books and their creators, and to support childhood literacy and life-long reading. Awards are given in 42 print book and five e-book categories covering the full range of subjects, styles and age groups that children’s books are written and published in today.

As our society has gotten more complex and growing up has become more complicated, children’s book authors and publishers have risen to the occasion, creating books that not only celebrate the joys of childhood, but also help kids and families deal with its challenges. The Moonbeam Awards will recognize and reward the best of these books and bring them to the attention of booksellers, librarians, parents and children.

Now for the chicken.

* * *

Sometimes our creative companions are not writers, musicians, or painters but those who struggle alongside us for justice. Their acts and words, and even the conflicts we have with them, press us to see more truly, to shed the facile.

That last night in Puerto Lleras, Jiguamiandó, we wandered dazed in the darkness. Paramilitaries had invaded the settlement a few hours earlier, haranguing the community about its supposed support of left-wing guerrillas and feigning a firefight in the adjacent rainforest. After they took their leave, Alba,* a human rights worker, conferred with the community leaders; it was decided that evacuation would be necessary the next day.

As the adults began packing and continued their anxious deliberations, a few children wandered to the guesthouse porch where I was sitting. I had noticed that tempers were flaring; amid the tension few parents had energy for reassuring their children or even explaining the situation. I couldn’t help much with the looming practical questions, what to take and what to leave behind, but I could offer warmth. So the children and I talked a bit about feeling afraid.

“When things are scary like this, we need to hold each other,” I remarked and invited them to come closer. Two immediately climbed onto my lap, others leaned against us, one girl sat on the floor and wrapped her arms around one of my legs. We stayed that way for an hour or two.

A commotion broke out by the schoolhouse; adults and teens gathered around a young man who had fallen in a seizure, flailing and crying out as he hallucinated the paramilitaries’ return. As soon as he calmed down, a girl succumbed to hysteria and began shrieking. The children and I stayed on the porch, huddling close, throughout it all. Finally their parents retrieved them for bed.

for blog 10-11a

The next morning, more holding.

The next morning Alba and I arose early; she got ready to go downriver and muster boats from the extended community to aid the evacuation. Soon the bobbing light of a candle approached me, and Amparo* asked for my help. Her hens and rooster were in a chicken house on the outer edge of the settlement, closer to the paramilitary base. Would I accompany her and her two sons to retrieve some of the chickens? Now, in the dark, they could be caught, but if we waited till daybreak they would lose their drowsy compliance.

Amparo’s candle, her sons’ large flashlight, and my miniature light threw shifting, uncertain shadows around us as we followed a narrow path through the abandoned outer area of the settlement. At the chicken house, Amparo and the boys went about catching the fowl amid protesting squawks and confused flapping. Expertly Amparo crossed the wings of each across its back, then laid it on the ground.

There was nothing to do but accept the proffered hen, taking hold of its feet gingerly as it hung upside down.

When she had trussed seven chickens, each boy picked up two of them. She looked at me appraisingly, then asked, “Will you carry one?”

There was nothing to do but accept the proffered hen, taking hold of its feet gingerly as it hung upside down. Amparo hefted the last two, and we retraced our steps, the hanging chickens disoriented and silent, shadows sliding ominously around us, fears of the paras’ reappearance pressing at our minds.

My chicken was heavy; her ankles were firm and ribbed horizontally. When we got back to the guesthouse, I was glad to release her.

for blog 10-11b

A different way to chicken-carry.

Amparo would have snorted in derision if I had suggested that together she, her boys, the chickens, and I made up a creative group. We were in survival mode; this was not a gathering for leisurely contemplation. But it was a group convened by love. In that hurried predawn walk Amparo’s chickens were rescued, and with them her dignity and some ability to provide for her sons. We found our way together in the dark. And so had the children and I the night before, huddling for reassuring touch amid the chaos, the frantic cries, memories of gunshots and threatening words.

Artists, like other human beings, need community to survive. The otherness of our communities keeps us grounded in reality: the hard facts of incompleteness, sin, terrible injustice, wrenching failure. But deeply real too is the flashlight beam showing us where to walk, our thin voices singing “Cristo me ama” (Jesus loves me), the weight of dangling chickens, books, or art supplies we carry awkwardly, the skin-on-skin comfort of human nearness.

———
*Names changed.