Tuesday, March 20, 2012


Dear Mr. Nelson,

All my mothers are white - the Anglo-Saxon Eve of European emigration crossing the Atlantic for as many reasons as there were crossings.  I have borne white children, but I have borne them American, and therein lies a kaleidoscopic identity louder than white.  

I am a harassed, homeschooling mother in a small library in Lexington, Virginia, carrying a baby, watching a toddler, trusting two older children to keep themselves alive among the shelves.  There is a book on display - Heart and Soul - with a woman on the cover so dark, so fierce, so determined I cannot pass her up.  I slip her and her little black baby into my bag not knowing what she will pull from us, what she will give to us over the next month.

We have read so many books.  We have learned so many important things from so many authors, but you are the first to whom we all knew we must write and say "thank you."

I grew up in the Southwest and Mountain west United States.  The history of African Americans has always felt like a story removed from me - separated by a continent, an ocean, another continent.  Having recently moved to Virginia we are feeling the tide of African American history come in around us.  Here we are immersed in the ongoing story.  Here we become part of the narrative, and you are among our first guides.

While the geographical parallels of our new home and the tortured slaves in your book settled upon my son, he cried and pleaded with me to go home, back to Utah, away from a place where these things could happen.  I can tell him there are nearly two hundred years between us and this story.  I can tell him the pages that follow offer some resolution.  But I cannot tell him that some divine panacea distilled upon the American heart making true brothers of us all.  Every heart is converted and committed to a prismatic humanity in their own single moment.  

This child, my child, this nine-year-old, white Jonah is in the midst of that moment.  He can now shed some of his own skin and try on something more human, more universal, because you taught him a little about how to respect a human being, be they any color at all.  You taught my six-year-old Caroline that no soul should be standing under the whipping tree.  And honey, you taught me that I can be brave.

Thank you for this story.  Thank you for the paintings you gave us to go with your words.  Thank you for all the things we will now see, the places we will go, the things we will read and learn because we first read Heart and Soul.
Your Sister,