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

The not living by bread alone

The area of Pittsburgh where my daughter lives while in graduate school fascinates me.  At first when I heard “Mexican War streets,” it sounded scary.  Later, I realized the streets are named for generals and battles and settings of the Mexican War of 1846-1848.  (Henry David Thoreau wrote Civil Disobedience in response to the Mexican American War, according to my daughter, who knows.)

Not that these streets aren’t a tiny bit scary now.  But, as I wrote in an earlier blog, my mom and dad lived in this part of Pittsburgh as a young married couple, and my older sister was born in the hospital down the street.  I like imagining my mom pushing a stroller down the very sidewalks I’m now walking upon.

I also love walking by the old houses and other buildings that don’t look bland and as if they could be anywhere.  Pittsburgh isn’t the muscled, gritty city of steel that it once was.  Now it’s more like a shiny pool of higher education institutions.  But the story of the city’s character and history is told in its architecture.   Stroll the streets and read it.

Probably every other person who was an avid reader as a child shares my fascination with turrets.  I’ll never live in a house that has one…but that doesn’t stop me from gazing up at them and imagining myself curled on a window seat with sun blossoming in the window and an open book in my hands and a cat purring.  Ahhhhh.

Last time I was here, I was just a visitor and a tourist.  I went to the National Aviary and the Andy Warhol museum and Frick Art and Historical Center and slurped up the sight of a few grand old churches.  This time, I had a chance to share the story of Ethiopia Reads and of Lanie’s gardens and of my author’s journey with some great readers and question-askers at Ellis School.  I got to eat lunch at an Ethiopian restaurant owned by a man whose family sold the land for Good Shepherd School in Addis Ababa (the school where I got to experience my very first library and learned to think of myself as a writer).  We talked about that land and the people who were kids with us–Wayne Lehman, Kathy Head–in Ethiopia.

Once again, I got to feel the joy of the title a friend gave me…the Queen of the Ripple Effect.  Old buildings become filled with new products, new ideas, new people, new visions.  Old connections and friendships become a chance to talk about the painful things but also the hopeful things going on in Ethiopia today.  I get to think about the way people and countries and cities make tough choices about what’s worth investing in and where true greatness lies.

It feels so right and satisfying to be able to show those girls at Ellis School the pictures of girls getting a chance to go to school in Ethiopia, today.  I loved talking to the fourth graders about their writing–and about how I hope kids in Ethiopia will soon be writing their own stories of their lives and dreams.  My hope, always, is that we educators and readers will draw courage from knowing that we are part of a vast team…that we are part of a team that invests in knowing and caring that people do live by bread but not by bread alone…that lots and lots of us do what we can to share the true treasures of our lives, the stories, the books, the ideas, the dreams.

Pittsburgh is where my dad got a chance to think about and work on the ways he was going to put his new-found dreams and ideas into action…which led him (not long after) to Ethiopia.  How rich it feels to be back here thinking about those things.

Next?  California (Bay Area and LA) to work with some of the other people on my team.  Readers…writers…artists…thinkers…we are not alone.

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