Sue Monk Kidd at Watermark Books



Sue Monk Kidd spoke in Wichita Thursday night. She was at Watermark to promote her new book, “The Invention of Wings.” It is a story of the “Struggle in the human spirit for freedom,” she says. It is historical fiction based on Sarah Grimké, an abolitionist who was born into a slave-owning family in the 1830s.

Kidd says she has always been interested in these topics. “Gender and race matter deeply to me,” she says. She is a product of the south of the 1950s and 60s and says she graduated in the first integrated class at her high school. “I feel a responsibility to be a witness to it,” she said.



She said her hope is that the reader will feel this story, to feel enslaved and to feel women with very few rights. Her favorite line in the novel is, “Press on, my sisters.” She said she was reminded of the Julius Lester quote, “History is not just facts and events. History is also a pain in the heart and we repeat history until we are able to make another’s pain in the heart our own.”


Asked about the conversation she has had about slavery while on tour, she said it was still a very difficult topic. “Slavery is ground zero for racism,” she says. And it’s hard for people to discuss it, to accept what it means in our history. “Slavery is America’s original sin,” she said. “It is an American wound.”





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Kansas Poet Laureate Wyatt Townley Spoke at the Hutchinson Public Library

20150227 091wKansas Poet Laureate Wyatt Townley spoke at the Hutchinson Public Library Friday, February 27.  Townley’s theme was “Coming Home” to poetry. Her presentation weaved together the words of many poets, including Langston Hughes, William Stafford, Emily Dickinson, Tess Gallager, Billy Collins and others.

She encouraged people to memorize poetry. She said when she started her journey as poet laureate she realized she knew everyone’s poems except her own. She says she is always working on memorizing something these days.

“You will always have it. It will house and shelter you,” she says about poems you carry in your memory. “Come home to poetry,” she said. “Let poetry come home to you. Poetry’s porch light is always on.”

Townley said people often get bogged down in wondering what a poem means and she says that’s not the way to approach it. She says no one knows what poems mean, including the poets.

She said her favorite explanation of what poetry is comes from Emily Dickinson. “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.” She says poetry is nothing to solve, but something to experience. Townley says one of poetry’s greatest gifts is consolation. “Poetry renders our solitude communal,” she says..

One of the parts of her presentation that spoke most directly to me was about finding beauty in life. She related a story Kim Stafford had told her about his maternal grandmother. She was having a very difficult pregnancy and the doctor prescribed an hour of beauty a day. Townley said she thought that was brilliant and encouraged those gathered to devote at least a few minutes every day to beauty – that it would be life-changing. Stafford’s grandmother, of course, was able to bring that baby into the world and the baby eventually became the wife of poet William Stafford and the mother of Kim Stafford.

Wyatt Townley is a widely published, nationally known poet and a fourth-generation Kansan. Her work has been featured on National Public Radio’s “The Writer’s Almanac” with Garrison Keillor, in US Poet Laureate Emeritus Ted Kooser’s “American Life in Poetry” column, and published in journals ranging from “The Paris Review” to “Newsweek.” She has published three collections of poetry: “The Breathing Field” (Little Brown), “Perfectly Normal” (The Smith), and “The Afterlives of Trees” (Woodley Press), a Kansas Notable Book and winner of the Nelson Poetry Book Award.

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The Myth of the Power of Young

Often in the last few years I’ve been involved in conversations where “young” has been extolled as the most virtuous and sought-after quality for a group, project or organization. This is often said in a group that includes me and two or three other people who do not fit the very quality of “young” that is being sought. As best I can tell, we are supposed to be flattered that we are “included” in the young discussion and have no concerns that when we’re not present the things that are being said about other people over 30 who are not currently present are not being 20130117-033wsaid about us when we’re not around. You’ll forgive me if I’m skeptical of that.

I believe age to be no more an indication of the quality of someone’s character and worth than their skin color. I have grown incredibly weary of this infatuation with only wanting the input of the “young,” however that is defined.

My reaction these days is to simply walk away from whatever project it is. It’s the same mentality as a racist would exhibit – being judged on an arbitrary factor that has no real bearing on how valid a person’s input is. I’m not comfortable with that. At all.

You’re essentially telling me that my ideas and my input are not welcome because I’m over 30 or whatever cut-off you’ve set for “young.” And when you, yourself, reach 30 or 40 or 50 or whatever it is, will you then step aside because your ideas are no longer valid? That is the question I can never seem to get a real answer to. That’s when it’s mentioned that anyone is welcome to the group. Of course, that’s not really true for groups that have an age cutoff until it applies to their members who have reached that age cutoff.

This “young” conversation happened on Thursday, Friday and Saturday of this week in different groups about different topics, although there was some overlap. On two of those days, I was taken aback by the public berating of people who were not in attendance and deemed to be not “young” and therefore not valid. Goodness knows I’ve been guilty of that from frustration before, too. And this situation offers much opportunity for frustration, including from me, too. But, I hope I remember how unflattering it is the next time a situation arises when I’m tempted to air my grievances in a public setting. My frustrations in one of these cases has nothing to do with age, and I bit my lip to keep from sharing. It would have been cathartic, to say the least. But I’m not sure it would have served any real purpose.

It caused me to reflect on each of these circumstances, and I realized that in every case the things that have been created, that are thriving, that are inspiring people to want “young” people involved – all of them were created by people over 40 – most by people over 50. None of the “young” people who are so desperately sought have created a meaningful product. Some have done it in conjunction with someone else with more age and connections, but none by themselves. Forgive me for being results oriented, but what is the point, then? Why not just seek people who are inspired and passionate and enthusiastic regardless of their age? What is “young” bringing to the finished product? I contend it’s not “young” that’s bringing anything of value, but it’s the character and passion of the person who may or may not be “young.”

I’m afraid that most of what I have heard in the last few days were complaints about young people not being involved in the things created by others. And, yet, the last time I was involved on the board of one of these organizations and a “young” person was added to the board she was downright rude to the director and the rest of the board in trying to push through her ideas, many of which had gaping holes of logic in them. When it was suggested we investigate possibilities of some of her thoughts, she threw a little hissy fit and stormed out. I was not impressed. She was well-respected locally for being a “young” go-getter. Sorry, but this is not the way to get things done.

What she accomplished was made that board very, very, very hesitant about ever inviting anyone else like her onto the board. And I can’t say I blame them. Guess what? They don’t want input from “young” people now. So you wonder why you can’t get them interested in welcoming you? Thank those who pushed getting a “young” person onto the board in the first place with no thought to whether or not the person had anything of value to contribute. Those pushing “young” people created a circumstance where it’s far less likely to ever happen again because the only quality they deemed important was age. Is that fair? No. But it’s as fair as just wanting a “young” person in the mix. You got what you wanted. The experience was incredibly negative. It will take a lot of effort to overcome that.

Sometimes people who’ve been around for awhile know something won’t work because they’ve been down that road. I’m always up for trying new things that make sense. I’m not interested in going down a dead end I’ve already traveled. And I’m unclear why you’d want to try and do it if there’s valid evidence it isn’t workable. If there’s a new idea, lets go for it. If it has already failed, why keep banging our heads? Lets find a different way.

I’ve been serving on boards since I was in my 20s. As I have gotten older, I have tried to be a mentor to young people who wanted to be involved in the community. Some are better suited than others. Just as some 60 year olds are better suited than others.

It’s always wonderful to partner with people on projects who come from different backgrounds and have different circles of people to draw from. One factor in that may be age, but it’s only one factor. Why get so bogged down in it? It’s the same as saying I only want to partner with blonde people.

Being “young” does not automatically mean a person has good ideas. Being older does not automatically mean a person has nothing to offer. Judging people based on age is exactly the same as judging them based on their race – it’s meaningless. It’s not a flattering position to be in – for anyone – of any age.

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Winter Strawberries by Pat Mitchell and a Sneak Peek of the Reno County Museum Exhibit

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When I took the painting off the wall I spotted the words I had forgotten were there. “Winter Strawberries” in my friend, Pat’s solid, sturdy, printed letters.

20150208 049wThis painting has hung above my living room mantel for almost 14 years, the entire time I’ve lived in my house. I removed it recently to loan it to the Reno County Museum for an exhibit they’re doing about my dear friend, Pat Mitchell. Pat was a local historian, artist, collector and all around creative person.

She painted this from a photograph she took of the tea table at her Little Bigger Studio when she was having me and our friend, Sondra, down for tea. The three of us gathered re20150208 019wgularly for tea. I treasure those memories.

I teased Pat about the strawberries in the tablecloth, saying it would have been easier to paint a solid color table cloth. She laughed and said there wasn’t any challenge in that.

In 2001, I was in Kentucky with my mom who was very ill when I got a phone call telling me that Pat had been found dead in her home. It was the only time someone has ever seriously asked me if I was sitting down before delivering news. She had died of an apparent heart attack, long before her time. She didn’t even get six decades on this Earth, but she did so much in the years she had.

She was a true r20150208 016wenaissance woman. In addition to being a fine artist, she was an exceptional historian. She created what is known locally as “The Hutch Files,” cataloging and cross referencing many thousands of newspaper articles. She published two books featuring historic postcards. She wrote and created so many things it’s impossible to name them all.

20150208 001wAside from her presence and spirit, which were her greatest offerings, the gifts Pat offered to those of us lucky enough to call her friend were always personal and lovely. One Christmas she gave me an ornament on which she had painted the house where I lived at the time. One birthday she gifted me with a painting of me with my cat. Aside from events, it wasn’t unusual for an average day to bring something in the mail, such as her father’s oatmeal cake recipe written out in her trademark penciled printing. They weren’t “things,” they were little bits of Pat manifested in things she could share even when her presence wasn’t possible. She taught me the wisdom of sharing personal gifts.

This painting had always hung in Pat’s home or studio, and I had always loved it not only because of the subject matter, but because it was a tangi20150208 018wble reminder of a moment Pat, Sondra and I had shared.

After my mother’s death, less than a month after Pat’s, I returned to Kansas and Sondra and I began to process the losses we felt. We were sitting in her back room, drinking tea and talking about Pat when she said, “I want that painting she did when she was having us for tea.”

Once I knew Sondra wanted it, I immediately decided to not say a word about wanting it myself. Sondra, being an action person, got up and went to the phone and called Pat’s son and left a message she’d like to buy the painting. He called back in a short while and generously offered to give it to her. He and his family were headed out, but said they would leave it on the porch for us. Sondra and I jumped in the car, drove about 30 minutes to his house, where w20150208 017we retrieved the painting, the teapot and the sugar and creamer set.

It was then that Sondra told me she had gotten the painting for me. That she knew I loved it and she wanted me to have it. Needless to say, I was touched.

So, that’s how Winter Strawberries came to live with me. It is not only a daily reminder of Pat’s creativity and friendship, but how generous people around you can be just because they’re wonderful people. I’m forever grateful to Pat’s son, Terry, to Sondra, and to Pat’s spirit that this beauty graces my life and reminds me of a treasured friendship.

Today I dropped off a couple of additional items to loan the museum for the exhibit. The curator reminded me it was Pat’s birthday – February 20.

They are just starting to put together the exhibit and gave me a little preview. It’s going to be amazing. I’m so thankful they are honoring her memory and so happy I can share some of the beauty Pat brought into my world.

Now… a little sneak peek of the exhibit!

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P is for…

20150209-010wA few years ago my friend, Matthew, and I decided to visit the Printing Museum in Peabody, Kansas. In reality, we just decided to go to Peabody, and everything else that happened came about as a result of that decision.

We found ourselves peering into the locked door of the printing museum on a Saturday morning. Before long, a woman across the street asked if we were interested in seeing the museum. We said, “yes,” and a few minutes later a man came and unlocked the door so we could look around. She had called him, telling him he had customers.

We looked at the various items, many of which are no longer in use anywhere, and I bought this piece of type as a reminder. P is for Patsy. P is for Peabody.

We also went down to the library – one of the few Carnegie libraries in Kansas still in use as a library. It’s a beautiful building and they have a treasure in the basement – some of the original books that were seed books for every Carnegie Library.

These little bits and pieces of life remind me of moments. Matthew and I were blessed to share many times together. This was one of those ordinary days that we often long to have more of when it’s no longer possible.

Appreciate yours.

P is for perfection. P is for possibilities. P is for passing time. P is for people you love.

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Brown V. Board of Education National Historic Site Dedication

On May 17, 2004, I traveled to Topeka with a bus load of others to be present at the dedication of the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site. It was a huge event, with a number of national speakers, including President George W. Bush.

Because the president was in attendance, security was tight. Thousands of people attended, and the folding chairs filled quickly. I ended up sitting in the dirt, near the media corral, to allow those who were less physically able to have the chairs. It was not the most comfortable day I’ve ever spent, but it was certainly a memorable one.

Jesse Jackson came over to speak to the media. Elijah Cummings was inspirational. Fred Shuttlesworth was amazing.

Most interesting to me were my fellow attendees. I looked to my left, at the rows of people sitting in the sun, many dressed in their Sunday best, complete with hats, and I knew there were a million stories there to be told. I was no longer part of the media at that point, but I desperately wanted to grab a microphone from one of the media who were nearby and say, “Here, let me get you a real story.” Unfortunately, most of the stories I heard were feeds of the speakers, not the real stories of the people who were attending.

The site had just been reworked and it was barely beyond a construction zone when the dedication happened. With all the foot traffic of the day, the soft ground was shifting in places. Because I had willing sat in the dirt, I was getting an up close and personal experience with it.

As I leaned over to allow someone to pass, my hand connected with something slightly below the surface, something that had escaped being rake20150209 008wd up and discarded after reworking of the school building into the historic site. My hand closed around it, and I pulled out a piece of tile. It has sat on a shelf in my house since then, a tangible reminder that history is happening every moment.

On the bus that day I passed around a notebook, asking people to write down what that moment meant to them. I’m so thankful to have those memories.

To see more about the dedication:

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I Need to Get the Hint

20130617-006wFor most of my adult life I’ve been involved in the community where I was living. I’ve served on boards, I’ve volunteered for activities, I’ve offered my brain, my hands and my heart to projects. I think most people I’ve engaged with over the years would say I’ve been a positive force in those endeavors.

In the last couple of years, I have repeatedly offered my brain to an organization whose mission I really believe in. The offers are received positively, but follow up never happens. I continue to give money, speak highly of their work and encourage them from the sidelines. But, I’m beginning to question why I’m doing that.

They know their business better than I do so there’s no point in questioning why they do not believe I have anything of value to offer. The real question is why I continue to try to offer help. Would it not make more sense to devote my energy to an organization who actually wants my involvement? Of course it would.

Why do I continue to try and involve myself where I’m obviously not wanted? What is that about? At some point, I should take the hint. Maybe the time is now.

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20140915-029wI tell a lot of stories. Sometimes it’s in print, sometimes in sound, sometimes in person. But they’re all important. It is an honor to tell stories. I am blessed.

When it works the way it’s supposed to, it seems effortless. The focus is on the person and their story. But the road to that spotlight often requires wandering down many weedy paths on the way. My job is to put the effort into making it look effortless.

There’s an art to interviewing and it’s something I consider myself especially good at. However, it’s incredibly time consuming. So, depending on the story, sometimes I start with email to get some sense of the story, and then use my interview time to focus on the heart of the story. Finding the heart of the story is key.

Stories are funny things. Everyone thinks they know what a story is. In reality, when they’re close to it, few people can actually see the story. They get bogged down in details and numbers and history and things no one cares about except the people intimately involved. They’re not the story. The story is the people and how they’re affected, engaged, moved, etc. It’s my job to get beyond all of that junk and to the story. Sometimes I’m more successful than others. I confess sometimes I give up because the effort is too extreme and there are always other stories to be told.

Most of the time, even though they may not recognize their own story, people are willing to engage with you in a way that helps you tell it. But occasionally people put up roadblocks that I’ve learned are indicators they are unwilling to participate in a way that will actually result in me being able to do my job. When that happens, I know we are all just going through the motions, and there’s no point in putting tremendous effort into it. I’ll just end up bloody from beating my head against the wall.

That’s not a conclusion I come to casually. But experience is a good teacher, and more than three and a half decades of telling stories makes me aware there’s a point at which you just have to cut your losses. It always breaks my heart just a little bit because I know the world is missing out on a great story. But I can only hope someone more suited to telling it will come along and the story will get another chance.

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What Business Do You Want To Be In

20130526 048alALWhen considering business opportunities, there’s a basic question few people seem to ask themselves that affects everything in the business.

What business do you want to be in?

If you’re not clear about what business you want to be in, it’s easy to get sidetracked into associated businesses. I’m fortunate enough to do a lot of different things in my business, but with each business track, I know what business I’m in.

For example, I do social media management for authors, museums, companies, etc. Recently a friend asked me to convince her boss it was important to have a Facebook page. I politely declined, because that’s not the business I’m in.

I’m in the business of helping people who already understand why social media is important to use it. It’s a very different business. I don’t want to spend my time trying to convince people why they should be doing it with the hopes they’ll eventually hire me to do it. Why would I bother? Plentiful potential clients already exist. I’m not in the business of creating more potential clients. I’m in the business of serving the ones who are interested in using these tools.

You can argue that’s callous. It’s not. It’s just business. Convincing people is the business someone else wants to be in. When you work for yourself, all you have to sell are your time and your expertise. I don’t want to waste my time on things that are not the business I’m in.

That’s not to say I never speak about social media. I do. In fact, I love to do that. But, I don’t do it to create potential clients. I do it to serve another business I’m in – public speaking.

Being clear about what business you’re in is critical to moving forward effectively. Once you are clear, it’s easy to make decisions about what fits into your business model and what doesn’t. You’ll not waste your time on things that aren’t about the business you want to be in.

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Christmas Love and Memories


Today was the annual Gingerbread House Decorating Day in Hutchinson, Kansas, where I live. It’s sponsored by the Downtown Development office and the Hutchinson Recreation Commission and offers ample opportunity for cuteness overload, as you might imagine.

I met this young lady today when I asked if I could take a photo of her gingerbread house her mom had put down while they were waiting to visit Santa. She came over and talked with me while Santa was finishing with the folks before her. She’s a charmer, just as you would imagine from this photo.

I am so thankful the community provides opportunities like this. We can see the excitement on her face, but imagine what it’s like to be experiencing that. I was thinking tonight that this was probably a magical day for a lot of kids. They got to decorate a gingerbread house, then see Santa. That’s a lot of fun for one day, and it was all provided free.

Memories were made today that will be with the adults these children will grow into forever. Pleasant associations of gingerbread houses and communities and families and places and traditions were formed. What a tremendous gift a community can offer to its citizens.



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