Fishing for readers

  • November 12, 2009
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For authors, publishing a book is a little like dropping a fishing line into a pond. We never know who will take our bait.

When I wrote Motherland, I imagined telling the story to a good friend whom I have known for decades. I wished she could have come with me on my trips to Germany. Instead, I tried to give her the experience through the book.

I couldn’t have guessed who else would join me on my journeys to Germany…like the students at Haverford School for Boys. While giving a speech in the school auditorium, I looked out at the sea of white shirts, colorful ties and peach-fuzzed faces and told the young men, “I didn’t really write the book with you in mind, but I’m glad to have you.”

I was even more stunned to learn of readers at the Ellsworth Correctional Center for Women in Union Grove, Wisconsin.

“The women really relate to your mother’s story,” the education director of the prison said. Then, she informed me that the Center’s next selection for the all-prison book club was Motherland.

“I’m honored,” I said, trying to figure out how the women identified with the story. Finally, I asked, “What exactly do they relate to?”

“Since they are incarcerated,” she said, “many prisoners have given their young children to relatives who can raise them in a more stable environment. They identify with your grandmother’s painful choice to send your mother to safety in America.”

For a Motherland-related assignment to meet her GED requirements, one prisoner composed the following letter to her daughter explaining why she gave the girl up for adoption:

You are truly a gift from God and I do want you in my life. I want to be a mother, but I know I am not ready at this time and would not be able to provide you with the lessons you need because there are so many I do not know myself. I am giving you up for adoption because I love you and want you to have the very things I cannot provide for you. Please remember always I love you very much and that is why I did this.

With love – and regret,

Your Birth Mother

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