The Power of One Writer
Back Yards, Ethiopia and Children's Books

Story power rippling on

A new year always seems to be a time to pause, raise my head, and look around.  Get my bearings.  Figure out not only what kinds of visions and resolutions pull me forward into the next year of my life but also where I’ve been–and perhaps don’t wish to go again!

Ethiopia celebrates the turning of the year in September when the rains are over and yellow meskel flowers dot the fields, so Jan. 1 meant nothing to me growing up–in fact, nothing until I happened to have a baby on Dec. 31.   In those days, we were often in Kansas for Christmas.  Jonathan felt cheated not to be with his friends for his birthday.  A New Year’s Eve birthday tends to get swallowed by Christmas.

Two years ago, I flew to Chicago on New Year’s Eve so that I could do my first Lanie signing in the Chicago American Girl store on Jan. 1 and introduce my character to the world.

Even though I knew the American Girl Doll of the Year was a Big Deal, I was unprepared for what it would be like to see a character that had been born in my brain and my fingers all huge and sprung to life.  I was stunned to find that families had waited for hours in the Chicago cold for the doors to open.In the daze, I felt the flutter of monarch wings in the air, sending hopeful bits out into 2010.  A few days ago, I read this article about Lanie readers and knew that those monarch wings did, indeed, have some power.

That’s the thrilldom of writing.

It’s pretty agonizing, crafting a novel.  For me, anyway, it’s a series of missteps, stumbling along through the haze, laying down path and ripping it up again when I turn out to have gone somewhere unfortunate.  Right now, I’m mourning the fact that I won’t be teaching at the Vermont College MFA residency this January (because I have international speaking this spring and also want some space to get my own writing done for a few months) where at least I get to have the sensation of groping through the fog with others crazy enough to have a passion for this tough journey of writing fiction.

I will get to have an Ethiopia Reads board retreat in Denver, though.  Just as it’s precious to have fellow writers around for the journey, I’ve learned that a huge part of my satisfaction as a volunteer is fellow volunteers.  2011 was a year of getting to know Stephanie, an artist who travels to Ethiopia once a year to do art with kids in the Tesfa schools that will now also have libraries and literacy projects, thanks to families like the amazing Angelidis family in Seattle.  Stephanie and I were agreeing that getting to share the art forms we’re passionate about makes all the volunteer hours a joy.  (Well, okay, it makes MOST of the volunteer hours a joy.)

Readers love to share a story that has made their hearts go pitter pat.

Have you ever said to a friend, “You HAVE to read this book”?

Have you ever giggled with a friend as you shared a story?

Have you ever been part of a book club?

Have you ever given one of your favorite books as a present to someone else?

If you’re a reader, I’m sure you have.

That’s the pleasure of Ethiopia Reads (

In 2012, I know there will be new volunteers, new donors who open new libraries and help ship books and provide the funding for professional development so that authors and teachers in Ethiopia get to grab hold of new skills to share books.  I can’t wait to get back to my own stories and to also see story power floating out into the world, rippling on.

2 thoughts on “Story power rippling on”

  1. Jane,

    Happy New Year! It’s been an amazing 2011 for Ethiopia Reads and despite the gloom and doom you and the tireless volunteers made a difference, thank you. Like you, I also contemplate at the start of a new year the possibilities of making changes in my life and the life of others. I am looking forward to see you here in Dubai in February and hope we can use the opportunity to spread the awareness about Ethiopia Reads work.
    Chat soon!

    • It has been so inspiring to see the community of Ethiopians, adoptive families, general readers who love books so much they’ll keep funding book love, book spread even in these tough economic times!


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