The true meaning of poetry is love…and having dedicated several blog posts to the late Virginia Hamilton, I felt it only fitting to
(somewhat) close this series with an interview with her husband, and well known poet, Arnold Adoff. So instead of recreating
our e-mail interview, which was in traditional Q & A format, I wanted to capture the essence of Virginia through the eyes of Arnold Adoff.
His gift of poetry and his love for Virginia are next….
Virginia was a conservator of her own time and place(s) as well as of her cultural and literary heritage(s)
so: she was the young girl polishing tomatoes to sell at the roadside stand in front of her house…
and she was the young girl playing at her grandfather’s knee in the family house across that street….
and she was always the (college(s) student and researcher….always needing to read and research and discover…
(later on she would evolve her own versions (intellectual underpinnings) of the Hegelian Triad (the known, the remembered, the imagined….)
Her intellectual curiosity was boundless…and her ability to teach herself (astronomy for "The Planet of Junior Brown…" economics and political theory and history for the biographies of Paul Robeson and Web Dubois)was extraordinary….
Her mind was ordered and her focus sharp over the long runs in the making of that balanced fiction and realities which was unique….
When I went over to her apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan for the first time (full bookcases and an empty refrigerator) the walls were covered with portraits of Gertrude Stein and Richard Wright and the "James Brothers….) and the High God Faulkner…looking down on the rocker as she began to read his stories to me….
But she was always the woman… as well as the woman working: superb mother and loving wife…devoted daughter and really, always that nonjudgmental love for her family and their stories and histories…and for her children, Jaime and Leigh….
And you must know: that the travel and speeches and working with young people around the country… and conferences and conventions.. and the accepting of awards…
always meant the n e e d for some new dress…some silk tunic from a little shop on the west side of Manhattan….
some starting of a work day with time spent digging in catalogues…before the digging into the souls of her characters….
Virginia was a wonderful cook and loved to eat and she carried forward the culinary traditions of her mom….and each fried corn or mac and cheese or honey-dripped baked chicken…was a novel unto itself….
Each afternoon….early on in NYC apartments, and after 1969, when we had built this house on the last remaining acres of the family farm….
and we were not on the road…
We would sit by the fire in the winter…or on the deck in the warmer seasons…or in front of her desk(s) in one of her offices….
she would read to me…new chapters of a novel…or an outline for one of the folktales…the biographies…
and we would sip herb tea and share our views of the world///of this racial lookout/outlook…or that political stance….
And why was M.C. Higgins really sitting on that pole and of Sarah’s mountain and the necessities and dangers of speaking the truth(s)and of showing young readers (and their older allies…) just which emperor is not wearing any clothes…and, indeed, why the need for an emperor in the first place….
Sometimes we would play the old Robeson 78’s or my beloved Mingus…sometimes it would be Billie or Sarah or some sassy Dinah Washington….(although Nina Simone did delve deepest into our hearts….)
Virginia’s books were manuals of survival…for young African American readers as well as for kids of all races and places….(gender and geography are forever intertwined with race and generation….)
She coined the phrase "liberation literature" to describe her books…all of her books….
and the phrase "parallel cultures" in her attempt to over come the negative and false (common) use of the term "minorities"…. as in the news report one morning that" the student population of the LA city schools is now majority minorities…."
(We are an insane and destructive nation with institutionalized racist language and cultural presentations which go beyond the exclusionary racism of our pop culture….our re-segregated schools…once again: separate and unequal…)
we always talked about the futility of trying to fill empty bellies with our books….
of housing and social justice and the economics of this economic inequality….the need for equality in pay for women and men…the presentation of the faces and voices of all the parallel cultures as true American art and writing and books and books and books….
And with it all…she was fiercely American…this was her country and she always labeled herself as…American…and African American….both….(not ever using the "-" between African and African American…which does (if you think about it) add a tinge of second classness to the citizenship….
Virginia wanted to achieve the highest level of the "making" of art…pieces of art…which could be studied and understood and admired…and u s e d….(think of Ellison’s Invisible Man….think of Faulkner’s as I lay dying…think of the making of Americans by Gertrude Stein….)
And by the time the breast cancer had reignited…after 8 years of remission…and all the chemo had been done…and it was the Christmas of 2001…Virginia had finished her final novel…"Time Pieces,,,"(which was published by Scholastic posthumously in 2002…)
(And she had fulfilled her obligations on the last multibook contract…) (two more picture books have been published since her death in February of 2002 and two more are in production at Scholastic books….)
she was tired….
kind of like her race had been run….
(But I also know that after a bit of rest….and perhaps a beach or two…on Culebra or Argeles-Plage….) some idea would have grabbed her…(perhaps even this collection of her non-fiction…) and she would be back at that desk looking out at the Osage Orange Hedge…and calling me in for oranges and herb tea and a little Australian licorice or a few of my very own peanut butter cookies….