Subscribe to SLJ
Follow This Blog: RSS feed
Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Heavy Medal Finalist: Loving vs. Virginia

Loving vs VirginiaLong List Title: LOVING VS VIRGINIA ( (Titles on our long list will be included in our online conversation and balloting, alongside the short list titles.)

The book is subtitled: A Documentary Novel of the Landmark Civil Rights Case — a “documentary” “novel,” not a “verse novel” and not a nonfiction.  So, I read it as such.  I didn’t treat reading the shorter sentences as reading poems.  Instead, I read Mildred’s and Richard’s alternating POV sections as their inner thoughts (and sometimes dialogues, too), to get directly to the emotions, the relationship, and the events as they unfold.

What Powell delivers are strong emotions, an intense and urgent relationship, and historically significant events.  Combined, these contribute to a powerful account of a civil rights milestone that has seldom (or ever?) been retold for young people.

I appreciate how Powell effectively creates the two voices for Mildred and Richard.  Mildred’s lines tend to be much shorter, almost breathless, conveying a sense of urgency and yearning.  Richard’s lines tend to be longer, lingering, and more deliberate.

On page 88, Mildred’s says:

I’m thinking
the girl in back of me
the boy in front of me
can smell
my fear
my difference.
They’ll know.

I’m in trouble.
What
What
What am I going to do?

On the facing page (page 89,) Richard says:

I drove up to Rays.  He’s got my DeSoto up on blocks,
says, Wanna race this heap?
     Take off the bumper, lighten it up?
     Percy and drive it. over at Sandbridge?
     You in?

I said, Yeah, sure.

His place looks more junkyard than anything else.

I also find the plotting quite effective. Powell would end a section with unanswered questions — like when Richard learns about Millie’s pregnancy for the first time — and then makes the readers wait for what happens next — like when readers need to be with Mildred for two whole pages (3 months) where she gives birth before we find out what Richard would do next.  Just two pages — not too long, but enough to maintain the suspense and tension.

There are many other positive aspects to make this a worthy title on our Long List with five reader nominations.  There are also concerns raised by readers and scholars which might impact on whether the book would receive the necessary number of votes to warrant a medal or an honor.  (See Doctor Debbie Reese’s comment and link when we announced the Long List.)

I now invite Heavy Medal readers to weigh in on the literary merits of this title and also whether the issues pointed out by Dr. Arica L. Coleman in her review of this title should enter the Heavy Medal/Newbery Conversation — especially when we consider that the current official Newbery Manual contains the following from the Diversity and ALSC Media Award Evaluation segment:

As individuals serving on committees evaluate materials according to the criteria outlined for their specific charge, they should strive to be aware of how their own perspectives and experiences shape their responses to materials. Every committee member brings unique strengths to the table, but every committee member also brings gaps in knowledge and understanding, and biases. Committee members are strongly encouraged to be open to listening and learning as well as sharing as they consider materials representing diverse experiences both familiar and unfamiliar to them.

 

Share
Roxanne Hsu Feldman About Roxanne Hsu Feldman

Roxanne Hsu Feldman is the Middle School (4th to 8th grade) Librarian at the Dalton School in New York City. She served on the 2002 and 2013 Newbery Committees. Roxanne was also a member of 2008-2009 Notable Books for Children, 2015 Best Fiction for Young Adults, and the 2017 Odyssey Award Committees. In 2016 Roxanne was one of the three judges for the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards. You can reach her at at roxannefeldman@gmail.com.

Comments

  1. For everyone’s convenience, here’s the direct link to Dr. Coleman’s review:

    https://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/2018/01/arica-l-colemans-review-of-patricia.html

    • Thanks, Debbie, for posting the link. I read through Dr. Coleman’s review and must say that the information provided by Dr. Coleman definitely made me re-evaluate the effectiveness of this title. For one thing, it is true that I was puzzled when reading the part about how the second child Mildred had was her and Richard’s first child — I went, ‘huh? I thought Sidney was there first child…” I didn’t stop to consider it more until I read Coleman’s article and found out that Sidney was Mildred’s son with another person (unnamed, unresolved, not even really mentioned in the novel.) I’m interested in Heavy Medal readers’ responses to this book and the additional information we are made aware now.

      • Yes! For me, the word “documentary” in the title suggests readers will get information they can use as as fact. I assume the word “novel” right after is meant to signal that the content should not be considered as fact. “Novel” also creates the space for invented thoughts and dialogue. That’s a sticky space for me, especially when the person’s identity is so complex.

        On page 18 of the book, it is 1952, and Mildred thinks of herself as “part Indian.” That’s the first time readers see her thoughts on who she is. What I wonder is: did 13 year old Mildred really think of herself as “part Indian”?

        On page 115, it is June of 1958 and she writes Indian on her marriage application. There is evidence of that.

        On page 181, it is Summer of 1963 and she writes to Attorney General Robert Kennedy that she is “Negro and Indian.” There’s no copy of her letter to Kennedy, but there is one of the letter she wrote to the ACLU. There, she says “I am part negro, + part indian.” For sure, Powell chose to change how Jeter described herself.

        The final dated entry in Powell’s book is June of 1967. The next pages are about her death and then a “Loving Vs. Virginia Time Line” that starts with December 6, 1865 (13th Amendment) and ends with her death on May 2, 2008.

        The Timeline tells us that this is a book about Civil Rights. That’s the common narrative of the Lovings, and Powell stayed there. Doing so, however, once again ignores Mildred’s Native identity and contributes to the miseducation of children who read it.

        In the 2000s, Mildred firmly stated that she was Rappahannock. They have been working to get federal recognition for years! One barrier they’ve faced is people who look at them and say “you’re not Indian” because of their physical appearance. They are one of many tribal nations that has faced that accusation.

        In 1993, for example, Donald Trump fought with the Mashantucket Pequot tribe (it owns Foxwoods Resort Casino), saying in a congressional hearing, that “They don’t look like Indians to me.” Just a few days ago, Congress finally approved recognition of the tribal nations in Virginia, including Mildred’s–the Rappahannock Nation. But, it needs a signature from the president. I wonder how that will go, given what he said in 1993?

        My primary concern is that most people in the US know very little (if anything) about Native peoples, our sovereignty, and our work to maintain and assert our status as sovereign nations. Her identity as a citizen of the Rappahannock Nation mattered to Mildred Jeter Loving. It should matter to every citizen of the US.

        What if Powell’s book had not ended in June of 1967? What if she had gone on and given us Mildred’s thoughts (or dialogue) about sovereignty, about Black Indians, and about the Rappahannock’s efforts to become federally recognized? (I hesitate to suggest that she do that because I agree with Dr. Coleman, who questioned the authenticity of the voice Powell gives to Jeter.)

        I strongly urge Heavy Medal readers to get a copy of Dr. Coleman’s book. There’s a lot to learn from her in-depth study of the Lovings, and other cases, too. Ignorance on these matters hurts all of us. If you know anyone who is teaching Powell’s book, encourage them to get Coleman’s book so they can help readers get through Powell’s book in a more informed way.

        And keep your eye on news regarding the six tribal nations in VA whose recognition is waiting for a signature from the president!

      • Forgive me Debbie if this is a terribly naive question, but is it possible that Mildred went with “Indian” on her marriage license in an attempt to exploit a loophole in the law (being Indian meant she was “part white” according to the “Pocahontas Exception.”) She quickly points to the license on their dresser when their bedroom is invaded as proof of their legal marriage.

        I am wondering if her ancestry is something that took her awhile to identify with. As you asked, was she really thinking of herself as part Indian at 13? She did write it on her marriage license just 6 years later… It’s possible she identified more strongly as Rappahannock later in her life.

    • Mr. H. — It isn’t a naive question.

      I think it points to the things we cannot know because we can’t ask her if she thought of herself as part Indian when she was 13. We are asked to go along with what Powell gives us. I think we do have evidence of statements she made later in life that tell us she a full understanding of her Rappahannock identity and what it meant to assert it.

      I am wondering if we can say that—absent anything in the story that points to citizenship–Powell (and Alko, too, in the picture book) and news media (then and now), are conflating culture with citizenship.

      They aren’t the same thing. Was she conflating the two, when she was 13? When she was 18? I don’t know but that’s what I see us being asked to accept. That’s a huge ask, for me.

      • I will say, the one thing that I am questioning about this title, is the decision to tell their story in first person. I hadn’t really thought about that until reading through the article you linked above. In fact, I can’t remember ever reading a novel that takes a real character from history and tells their story in the first person like this. That would be like Heiligman writing from Vincent’s first person point of view. Does anyone have any examples of this being done that I just can’t think of?

        I think Heiligman’s approach to Vincent and Theo’s story is an example of maintaining an intimate approach to a nonfiction topic without assuming too much as a first person narrator.

      • “Africa is My Home” by Heavy Medal reader Monica Edinger is told from a first-person viewpoint of a real-life enslaved (then rescued/freed) young girl, Sarah Margru who was on the Amistad, grew up in New England, went to school in Oberlin, and then finally returned to Sierra Leone.

      • Sheila Welch says:

        In response to Mr. H’s questions about Powell’s use of first person:

        Point-of-view is an essential element of the book, and the author decided from the normal range of options — with first person being the most up-close and personal. Powell slipped inside the minds of her two main characters in order to bring today’s children a glimpse of a sweet love story that helped change the law of the land. If reading novels helps children develop empathy, I would suggest that books written in first person may be the most effective and maybe that ‘s what Powell wanted.

        I tried to do some research into other such books but had no success; maybe I was wording my questions incorrectly. Anyhow, the ones below came to mind as books about a real character from the past but not necessarily famous who tells his or her story in first person.

        COMANCHE OF THE SEVENTH ( A HORSE STORY) by Margaret Leighton
        The first “person” just happens to be a real horse who survived the battle at Little Big Horn, and the book, published in 1957, is not very accurate but children who love horses will love it despite its short comings.

        Another book from the horse character’s point-of-view is TRAVELLER, by Richard Adams, published in 1988. Again a horse gives his views on a war. Traveller was the favorite horse of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

        Okay, these next three are about people telling their own stories but written by today’s authors.

        THE WATCH THAT ENDS THE NIGHT: VOICES FROM THE TITANIC by Allan Wolf, published in 2013, gets inside the real characters who were on the ship. (Recommended by my daughter, a middle school library director)

        I, JUAN DE PAREJA by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino won the Newbery in 1966! It’s based on the real-life portrait that Velázquez made of his slave Juan de Pareja and is told as though by Juan himself.

        This one will bring back memories of disagreement although it never had a chance to be in the running for any awards. It’s title is A BIRTHDAY CAKE FOR GEORGE WASHINGTON, written by Ramin Ganrshram and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton and the first person who tells this story is the young daughter of Hercules, Washington’s head chef. Both Hercules and Delia were slaves belonging to the first family.

  2. Leonard Kim says:

    Dr. Coleman’s review does not affect my assessment of this book for the Newbery.
    The section of her review titled “The Bad” is devoted to the concept of “documentary novel.” She faults Powell for not giving a “clear definition” of the term, then assumes a definition, then questions the choice of included documents and the “gross oversight” of not including documents she considers “a must.” While it’s clear what Dr. Coleman wants from an acceptable treatment of the Lovings, it’s not clear to me that Powell’s different choices should render a book “not recommended.” When I read the term “documentary novel” I have my own idea what that might mean, which is not the same as Dr. Coleman’s assumed definition, so I guess I don’t have the same problems she does with it. She focuses on the documents, I think the “novel” aspect is just as important, in fact more important as far as the Newbery is concerned where only one criterion out of many is “presentation of information.”

    In the next section, “The Ugly,” Dr. Coleman decries Powell multiple times, as far as I can tell, for being a novelist: “her fictionalized narrative. . . reflects her own interpretation,” “the first person narrative is a cautionary tale,” “the author’s biases and assumptions are imposed on the speakers” “Powell imposed a family history. . . based on assumption.” To my mind, I would expect nothing else from a novel like this, and I don’t see how being a work of Powell’s imagination as opposed to a work of Coleman’s scholarship qualifies as “ugly.”

    Coleman writes Powell’s assumption that Mildred had slave ancestors is “inaccurate”, writing “there is no evidence that the Jeters were descended from slaves.” In the past year, I have dived into the topic of genealogy and I don’t consider the inability to identify a slave ancestor as evidence against the assumption that Mildred was descended from slaves. I would be interested to see Mildred’s family tree –perhaps Dr. Coleman has published it somewhere?- and could be convinced of her conclusion, but expect one might also be able to point to branches where slave ancestors would be expected, even if their identities are lost to history. At any rate, I view the choice of the word “inaccurate” as going too far. I appreciate Mildred’s American vs African ancestry is a fraught topic, even for her and for her family, but short of a DNA test of her children, I feel this is less a question of fact than identity.

    Coleman writes how Powell “erases Mildred’s Indian identity.” When I read LOVING VS. VIRGINIA, my own reaction was to be impressed by how much Powell emphasizes it. Coleman actually writes that it appears “on several occasions throughout the text” but suggests Powell’s treatment is “casual,” “at once acknowledges and erases,” and treats “Mildred’s Indian heritage as mere honorable mentions.” All I can say is that was not how I responded. The example (“Yes, I’m Indian. / Yeah , I know.”) chosen by Coleman as “awkward” and “bizarre” and “not providing Mildred adequate voice to explore her self-identity as an Indian woman”, I thought was moving, lovely, clear, and well-placed.

    The next section is “The Uglier” which, when it comes down to it, is an age appropriateness argument. Coleman finds the handling of teen pregnancy, sexual and gender dynamics, and racial pejoratives “unconscionable” “offensive” “egregious” and “unacceptable.” Coleman’s language is not what we on Heavy Medal would use when discussing such issues in books like THUG and others, but I actually recognize her concerns. On my first read, I wondered whether this was age-eligible. I am not sure, but I finally voted for it on Goodreads when Mr. H stated he would give the book to some of his fifth-grade students.

    Dr. Coleman herself writes in “The Good”: Powell’s splendid writing style shines through in this work. The prose is lyrical with a flow and pace that makes the reader glide from one page to the next.” I think my disagreement with her overall assessment stems from 1) her review was not written with the Newbery criteria in mind, 2) a disagreement over how “pertinent” the information criterion is to this book – I think it’s less pertinent to a poetic, first person novel than you might think; My wife and I have been watching The Crown, for example, and having to accept factual liberties and clearly imagined inner lives of real people is just part of the deal, 3) Interpretation of the theme and concept – clearly Dr. Coleman disagrees with the interpretation and even what the theme and concept should be. My own approach is to accept what Powell chose to be her themes (the book is essentially Romeo and Juliet, which is perhaps one reason why people find the story so compelling) and then appreciate how her realization is distinct and excellent and, yes, distinguished.

    A couple years ago on Heavy Medal, I got into an almost-heated exchange with Nina Lindsay in which I essentially asked what an author could have done to satisfy her other than not have written the book and let someone else write it. I think I used the term “impossible standard” which I regret. Nevertheless, my own opinion is that even if LOVING VS. VIRGINIA does not meet Dr. Coleman’s and Dr. Reese’s standards, they meet mine and I think they meet the Newbery’s.

    • sam leopold says:

      I completely concur with Leonard. I am using it with my sixth graders and they love it. It is on my personal final four for my Newbery choices. Thank you for your in depth discussion.

  3. Leonard Kim says:

    Here is what Powell writes about “documentary novel.” Note there is no mention of documents, though she does use the same Capote example that one of Coleman’s sources does. There’s also a pertinent statement about the age range and what the book *is” conceptually (which I offer to support my Romeo and Juliet opinion as opposed to an identity theme.)

    http://talesforallages.com/why-i-wrote-loving-vs-virginia-book-give-away/

    “So, What is a documentary novel? It’s creative nonfiction. It is factual, but there’s a hitch. Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood was a documentary novel. He interviewed the killer, but the victims weren’t around to talk. He created the scenes to create his thriller. Where Loving vs. Virginia is concerned, it is factual but I write in the voices of (African American/Indian) Mildred Jeter Loving alternating with “chapters” from the voice of (white) Richard Loving.

    Whew, what a gift—to write this story as a documentary novel. Now I could write scenes. Rather than say, the two grew up in an integrated neighborhood where the black, white, and Indian neighbors supported each other and partied together, I could show teenaged Mildred dancing at one of their intergenerational interracial parties with her brother Otha, with Richard looking on. Then Richard offers to drive the family home. In other words, I could show Richard and Mildred falling in love.

    Because this is a book for young adults (twelve and up) we decided it should be a love and courtship story, first.”

    • However, it still does not explain (or in my mind, remedy) the very unclear presentation of Sidney’s paternal origin. It also does not tell me enough about Mildred’s past experiences: whether there was violence visited upon her? whether she was sexually active and thus not the “innocent” young girl Richard – and by proxy, Powell – proclaims? I am not putting any value judgment on Mildred’s actions/experiences — I am merely pointing out that Powell’s handling of this particular “fact” is lacking its full potential. It confuses me as a reader. And it does not illustrate Richard’s character: for yes, this would have definitely amplified Richard’s love for Mildred and his easy-going personality — if the Readers know with certainty and clarity that he is going back to Mildred and is willing to care for another man’s child.

      • Leonard Kim says:

        OK, I understand better now the objection. Thanks.

        You wrote, “I was puzzled when reading the part about how the second child Mildred had was her and Richard’s first child.”

        Where is this in the book? I am going through it and I can’t find it. I agree the book leads to reader into thinking Richard is Sidney’s father. In one her links, Coleman writes this is a “popular myth that Mildred was pregnant with the couple’s first child Sidney.” And this is in reference not to this book but the recent movie which Coleman generally praises, so clearly this is an easy mistake to make. (Actually, Coleman seems to indicate she was the one who debunked the myth – if that’s true, then it may simply be a case of inadequate dissemination of the finding. As a researcher myself, I am leery of faulting people for not knowing the very latest research, especially if it’s my own.) If Powell knew about Sidney’s parentage and included that in the book, then I agree it was presented unclearly, but as I indicated, I need help finding it.

        Regardless, I don’t think we can fault Powell as “unclear” for not speculating how Mildred got pregnant. You ask, “whether there was violence visited upon her? whether she was sexually active” At this point, I don’t think anybody knows. I don’t think Powell knows. I don’t think Coleman knows. I don’t think it’s in the historical record. And so I do think to make up something there goes beyond the boundaries of acceptable fictionalizing. Powell has written on-line what she considers her role as a novelist to be. She makes up dialogue and details of events that she knows happened etc. Even that is based on interviews with the Lovings’ friends and family and film evidence of the Lovings. So I don’t have a problem with her not inventing a rape or whatever in order to be “clear” or achieve “full potential.” Powell still uses the word “non-fiction” in referencing her work.

      • Leonard, this is where I first thought, “What?” when it comes to Sidney’s paternal origin:

        In the “January 6, 1959
        Bowling Green Courthouse” section, from Mildred —

        We are married.
        We have a child.
        We are a family.

        Before this, it has never been stated that Sidney is not Richard’s — although, I do see that (as re-reading it once more) Powell definitely hints quite a few times of Sidney’s non-biological relationship with Richard.

        When Sidney was born, he was introduced to Richard by name, not ever saying, “This is your son.” Richard maintains that “innocence” is what got Mildred Sidney (which also puzzled me when I first read it — because it was really unclear that Richard was NOT responsible for Sidney’s existence. I remember thinking, “No, Sir, YOU are what got her pregnant…haha) Although if we examine closely the timeline, it would be clearer that he wouldn’t have been responsible for this birth.

        There are other lines that now I can see Powell drops in to signal Sidney’s not Richard’s son:

        It’s my duty to marry the woman who is having my child

        I have me a beautiful wife.
        We’re going to have a child.

        He’s yours too (about Donald, the new born)

        and then I go home
        to my baby and little Sidney

        But, there are also statements like in the last part where Mildred says, “Our kids growing up with their daddy and me” and proceeds to describe all three children’s activities. That, again, although in reality shows how generous and loving Richard is, makes for unclear representation.

        So, no, I didn’t start questioning or being puzzled by Sidney’s identity after reading Dr. Coleman’s review — and I didn’t see the movie.

      • Leonard Kim says:

        Thank you Roxanne. I agree the statement, “We have a child” (instead of “children”) would be puzzling, though I completely missed the implication the first couple times. It’s still not quite a direct statement that Sidney was not Richard’s. But I agree with you here.

        I disagree a close examination of Powell’s timeline would have raised suspicion. As both I and Coleman suggest, the book actually leads the reader into thinking Richard is the father. Coleman states “Mildred was already a mother when she and Richard began dating” but states that Powell has their courtship starting in November ’55. Coleman says this timeline “has been adequately disproven” (I’m interested to know how.)

        The December ’55 entry has Richard and Mildred going to the movies (“Best part was my arm around Millie for a couple hours.”) The very next entry, May 1956, they have a clandestine midnight meeting. Read literally, it doesn’t say they had sex that night, just a run through the woods, but I think it can be inferred (“Richard pulls me into his arms and I snuggle under his chin. The night is cool but we are steamy.” “We’re still breathing from all the running and because we are JUST breathing. Until we’re breathless. And gasping.”) In January ’57, she gives birth to Sidney, so I think it’s clearly possible to read the May 1956 entry as being about Sidney’s conception. And so I agree this is a failure on the Information criterion, but I’m not particularly bothered by this beyond that.

        By the way, the 2015 picture book, also referenced by Debbie: The Case for Loving, by Alko and Qualls, simply states Sidney is one of their children.

  4. Elisa Gall says:

    I think coming to a shared definition of what a documentary novel is, and what a successful one looks like, is probably the first thing a committee evaluating this text should do. This year’s committee will hopefully be examining all types of books and be practiced in asking “how do we look at early readers, historical fiction, graphic novels, or “x type of book” through the Newbery lens?” For me, a documentary novel is not nonfiction but rather a subset of historical fiction. This means I’m more willing to forgive dialogue and plot points that don’t have documentation – BUT when information is presented, it needs to be aligned with what is known/researchable, and in a style that is clear to understand and appropriate for the story and intended audience. I am sure that there are parts of my thinking that some of you might agree with and some of you might push me to reconsider – talking it out, asking questions, & trying to understand others’ opinions and expertise is all part of the process. The critical reviews linked in this post and comments might not have been written with the Newbery criteria in mind, but the committee has a responsibility to listen to the opinions and expertise of other readers (as Roxanne pointed out) and make the connections to the criteria themselves. To me, the questions bubbling up are: Is the fuzziness around Mildred’s identity a sign of poor delineation of character? Is this narrative approach appropriate for this complex story? Can a documentary novel really be “excellent” if pieces of information vital to the story and characters are left out (or at best, not clearly depicted)?

    • Elisa, agreed. I would definitely hope that the Newbery members (if they do discuss this title) would try to answer this question: “Does casually mentioning Mildred’s Indian identity, or even having Richard raising the question when they sign the marriage certificate, but then completely dropping any further exploration in the narrative, demonstrate an excellence in character delineation?”

    • Leonard Kim says:

      I disagree with the notion that Mildred’s identity is treated in either a “fuzzy” or “casual” fashion. Coleman quotes Powell, “Daddy and Mama are both part Indian. We are also descended from African slaves. And their owners.” That seems pretty unfuzzy to me. Coleman doesn’t claim this is fuzzy either, but instead tries to cast doubt that Mildred was descended from slaves.

      I confess I don’t really understand Coleman’s critique. I’ve now read Coleman’s essay on the Lovings in her book as well as the excerpt she posted online of her other essay in Virginia Women. She describes how inconsistent previous writers have been in acknowledging Mildred’s Indian ancestry at all. I can understand that argument. But Powell does not do this. So instead Coleman asserts that Powell’s saying Mildred is Indian “on several occasions throughout the text at once acknowledges and erases Mildred’s Indian identity as the aforementioned example demonstrates.” I’m sorry, but as a non-scholar, I don’t see how one can both acknowledge and erase. Nor can I see how the aforementioned example “Daddy and Mama are both part Indian” demonstrates this.

      Regarding the exchange over the marriage paperwork. Yes, I completely agree that it requires suspension of belief to accept Richard asking, “That’s what you wanna say?” at that particular moment. So why does Powell do it? I think the only reason can be to *further emphasize* Mildred’s self-identification. To give her the opportunity to then unequivocally state “Yes, I’m Indian.” I don’t see this as casual at all. And yet Coleman gives this as a specific example where “Powell does not provide Mildred adequate voice.” I think Powell is including and giving voice to something Mildred and her family stated only much later, and thus could all too easily have been omitted. In 2004, Mildred, in an interview with Dr. Coleman, denied having any African American ancestry whatsoever, a denial Coleman calls “astonishing”, differing from previous statements, and Coleman devotes much space to explaining why Mildred might make such a statement. It’s seems to me if there is an erasure concern raised here, it should be in regards to Indians erasing African identity, an issue Coleman explores in her book: “an open acknowledgement by Mildred Loving, a Rappahannock, that affirmed an Indian identity and also her Black ancestry, may have proven far more troublesome to the Rappahannock leadership. Given the unabashed anti-Black sentiments expressed by the group, it would not be a stretch to imagine that Mildred may have received a stern warning from tribal leadership to refrain from acknowledging her own Black ancestry as well as that of the tribe’s or risk being ostracized by the Rappahannock tribal community.”

      Finally I think while this is definitely of interest, it doesn’t have central bearing on the book and its reason for being. Regardless of her ancestry or self-identity, Mildred was considered “colored” from birth, and that’s the central conflict of the book. I don’t hold Powell to an obligation to have to go beyond that. Certainly other treatments don’t (Coleman decries many examples of viewing Loving vs. Virginia through a strict black/white lens.) But Powell does. She uses the facts of Mildred’s ancestry and self-identification to add depth and richness and nuance to her characters. I stand by my initial assertion that LOVING VS. VIRGINIA is, along with VINCENT AND THEO, the outstanding “delineation of character” example among this year’s contenders.

    • I learn a lot from reading comments like those in this Heavy Medal conversation about Mildred Jeter Loving.

      There’s an effort to say that what I (or Dr. Coleman) bring to the discussion is beyond the bounds of Newbery criteria. There’s an effort to say that the three different mentions of Mildred’s Native identity are sufficient or “good enough” and that they don’t matter anyway because Powell is writing “a love story.”

      I don’t know who most of you are, but if–ten years after your death–someone wrote about you and gave 3 different mentions to an identity you fought very hard for–wouldn’t that bother you?

      Wouldn’t it bother you to have that person make up your innermost thoughts for how you thought about your identity as a child?

      Would it bother your mother to have someone making up your inner most thoughts?

      Wouldn’t it bother you that your descendants–who are citizens of a tribal nation that has just won a decades-long fight for recognition– be assigned to read a book where their identity and your identity is downplayed in favor of a love story?

      And, saying the obvious, we’re talking about a writer reaching beyond the present day and beyond that writer’s own racial identity into the identity of someone for whom the historical record is already very cloudy because people looked at her and said “you are black”.

      For sure–if someone messed with my identity and thereby messed with my kid/grandkids and their identity and OUR hard-fought battles to maintain our tribal nations status as a sovereign nation, and to try to help people understand who we are, I’d be furious. And if you all said “well, that writer is trying to tell the story of you and your white husband and how you fell in love” — well, I’d be rude. I would probably cuss, too.

      Most of the conversation feels like a perfect example of White Privilege.

      • Leonard Kim says:

        Since this is in reply to my post, I think this is directed at me. Debbie, I am sorry that my comments anger you.

        If someone were ever to write a novel about me, I think the fact that I am Korean (not White) need only be stated once, especially if the focus were on my marriage with my wonderful, Irish-descended wife. Though I have experienced my share of blatant racism and self-struggle with identity, I would not hold a novel responsible for including such things if it didn’t fit in with the overall concept of the book. If the writer were as fine as Powell, I would have no problem with an author of any race making up my innermost thoughts about my Korean-ness or anything else. That’s just me, and I recognize we are different people.

        Debbie, I would be grateful if you could educate us on tribal nation citizenship and the evidence that Mildred and her descendants were Rappahannock citizens. What I know is mostly through Dr. Coleman’s work, from which this is only inferred within a conjectural explanation for Mildred’s late disavowal of any African ancestry. If there is evidence that Mildred more explicitly associated herself culturally with or was a citizen of the Rappahannock tribe, more than descent, then I agree omitting that in Powell’s book would bother me, and I would appreciate being pointed to those citations.

      • I thought all night about how to (or whether or not to) respond to this. You may have replied to Leonard, but most of the comments you cite from this thread can be attributed to ME, so I felt compelled to.

        If someone were to write a story about my life, long after I’m gone, there are many angles to take. They could write about my wife and I’s love story. They could write about my journey into fatherhood. They could write about my career as a teacher. All three are very important parts of who I am today.

        I know you (Debbie) asked these questions rhetorically but I felt it important to respond as if you didn’t because I think it serves my point. Mildred and Richard’s love story IS worth writing about. I do not think Powell “messes” with Mildred’s identity by choosing to focus on her and Richard’s love story. If someone were to write a book about Mildred’s identity and research and include all the different topics you mentioned above, they would be free to do so without focusing on her and Richard’s love story. And I have reason to believe that any descendants of hers could fully appreciate both works.

        Your comments however, lead one to assume the only thing about Mildred worth writing about is her race. So likewise, I’m not sure how she would feel about that.

      • Leonard and Mr H,

        The information about her identity is from Coleman, who interviewed her, but it is also in other places. Her grandson especially insists on Rappahannock, her brother, and her sister in law saw that, too.

        This isn’t about race. It is about her citizenship in a sovereign nation and how she spoke about her identity. That mattered to her and I think it could have been dealt with much better than we see in this book. I’m wondering what either of you have read (or understand) about citizenship and sovereignty of Indigenous peoples in our respective nations. Most people of the US don’t understand what that is and why it matters.

      • Leonard Kim says:

        Hi Debbie,

        Thank you. I had already read both what Mildred said in the interview with Coleman and what the grandson said. When Mildred said, “I am not Black. I have no Black ancestry. I am Indian-Rappahannock,” I thought she could have been talking about race and ancestry, not necessarily citizenship. She used the word “ancestry” within that statement. How does one differentiate between statements about race/ancestry vs. citizenship? And yes I do not have knowledge about citizenship and sovereignty of the Rappahannock, which is why I specifically asked you to educate us on the subject in my previous comment. Are there records showing Mildred was a citizen of the Rappahannock tribe? Or does citizenship not work that way? The internet says the Rappahannock has 500 enrolled members. Is that synonymous with citizen? Is there a way to determine whether Mildred was, or her grandson is, one of these members? I am interested to learn and thank you in advance.

      • They’re all different in citizenship requirements and language used. Member and citizen mean the same thing, but how a nation determines its citizens varies. You can call their tribal offices and ask. Some nations will disclose that information; others will not. Personally, I would assume she was referring to her citizenship.

  5. Powell’s idea of a documentary novel was defined for her by her editor as creative nonfiction. Or at least that is what is written on her blog that Leonard linked to above. That is good enough for me.

    I understand, that when discussing the less effective parts of certain texts, we will undoubtedly explore ways in which the text could have been more effective. But to wish the text was something entirely different is unfair to the writer in a Newbery discussion. Powell set out to write a love story, first and foremost. That’s what we should be discussing. Obviously, race and civil rights played a part in that love story and she has a responsibility to present that information accurately when it comes up in her narrative. I would argue, from everything I have read, that she has presented that information as accurately as she needed for her story.

    To explore some of Elisa’s great questions from above:

    1) Is the fuzziness around Mildred’s identity a sign of poor delineation of character? I don’t believe so. First, because from the information we have been presented with, I think one could assume Mildred herself may have been fuzzy about her own identity during this time in her life. Furthermore, in Powell’s story Mildred is a girl in love. Her character’s actions stem from the love she has for Richard and the unjust in the law they are fighting. Her race is accurately referred to multiple times.

    2) Is this narrative approach appropriate for this complex story? I guess the answer depends on how complex of a story Powell wishes to make it. I don’t think Powell set out to create the complete history of Mildred and Richard Loving. I think she set out to showcase their love story for a child audience in an artful way. Making this story too complex by getting into all kinds of subtopics would actually make her delivery of their love story less effective for the intended audience, in my opinion.

    3) Can a documentary novel really be “excellent” if pieces of information vital to the story and characters are left out (or at best, not clearly depicted)? What information that is vital to Mildred and Richard’s love story has Powell left out? Are you referencing Sidney? I don’t have the text in front of me but I do not remember being confused about this at all. Leonard mentions above that Powell leads the reader to believe Richard was the father but the way I remember it was that Powell handled this situation very carefully, explaining that Mildred became pregnant and Richard taking Sidney in as his own was just further evidence of his love for Mildred. I need to revisit this because I seem to be remembering this part of the text differently than others.

    • FWIW, from reading through Leonard and Roxanne’s conversation about Sidney, I am obviously not remembering this part of the text. I do not know why I had in my head that I knew Sidney was not Richard’s. Maybe I’m confusing this with another story or text.

      Since there seems to be a lot of confusion on his parentage from many different sources, I’m personally ok with Powell’s somewhat glossed over, murky version of the events.

  6. Anonymous says:

    This is one of smartest, in depth, and positively unemotional book conversations I’ve read in years. Kudos to all the participants. For what it’s worth, the comments of Mr. H. and Leonard Kim are most compelling. An historical fiction children’s book is not a lengthy non-fiction study by Frances FitzGerald, but it may influence a child at some point to pick up a FitzGerald, a Taylor, or a Mathews. Stuff will be left out of an historical fiction children’s book the way a composer leaves material out of a concerto that might be found in a symphony. Certainly some readers or listeners with heightened sensitivities may be looking for a particular kind of missing material and strongly feel its absence, but that doesn’t mean what is left out wrecks the work of art. Quite the contrary In fact, it may help the artwork find its proper shape.

  7. Mr. H, there are lots of historical fiction first person novels about real people–“I, Claudius,” “The Other Boleyn Girl,” “Island of the Blue Dolphins.” Although those are trying to be fiction rather than biography. I also thought of the picture book biography “Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom.” The narrative is third person but there are conversations between her and God. So there are imagined parts, but it is still a biography. Which I feel like is what Loving v. Virginia is going for. (And what your imagined version of a first person Vincent and Theo would be.)

  8. I really liked this book. It’s beautifully designed physically and I thought the verse format was very effective at giving us flashbulb impressions of their lives and feelings and relationship.

    I did expect a documentary novel to have more documentation in terms of letters and photos–more of a scrapbook effect. Thank you for the link to the author’s definition, Leonard. I think her own definition fits what she does well, essentially minimally fictionalized narrative nonfiction, sort of bridging narrative nonfiction and historical fiction like the Harriet Tubman picture book bio I mentioned.

    I was surprised there weren’t really photos of Mildred and Richard though and that the photos and other things were mainly general civil rights stuff rather than specific to the story. But I thought it still worked as a way to add context. I did think the photos of the schools comparing the white and black schools were a little misleading. They were certainly emotionally effective, but I was a bit annoyed that it didn’t give any location information on them or details other than the date. The black school was from the 40s and seemed to be rural and the white school was from the 50s and was obviously suburban. There’s a big difference between the early 40s and the 50s in terms of overall prosperity and of course there were regional differences. So I’m sure there were still lots of white schools in the early 40s in rural areas that were one room and heated by a stove too. Since the book is about a specific community, it would have been more helpful to see pictures of the actual schools Mildred and Richard went to. (Of course, I don’t know if those are available.)

    I did definitely read it as Richard being Sidney’s father and was surprised that he was then such a jerk about it and took so long to meet the baby when he seemed like a nice guy otherwise. I assumed it was just showing that they weren’t perfect. But if he wasn’t the father, that does rehabilitate him and is interesting. But it sounds like that is a fuzzy question and Coleman’s evidence doesn’t seem that conclusive (how would you know that the conception so exactly? A month seems well within the wiggle-room).

    And I agree that she makes pains to point out Mildred’s Indian side, although I did think that scene when they’re getting the marriage license was kind of weird. But I agree that that seems to be evidence that the author wanted to emphasize it, not diminish it. Although I guess I kind of get what Coleman’s saying since it seems like Mildred’s just deciding it on the spot. I did assume that she was actually black and just thought she was part-Indian, but I don’t think that’s the text’s fault (although that exchange may have been a trigger for my thought process.) On Skip Gates’ PBS ancestry show “Finding Your Roots,” they’ve had several black guests who thought they were part-Indian but the genetic testing shows they aren’t at all. And Professor Gates said that’s a common thing. So that’s what I was bringing to the text and why I assumed that. But I think the text talked as much about her racial identity as it made sense to within the story it was trying to tell.

  9. Leonard Kim says:

    I should clarify that I do think the book’s use of timeline to suggest Richard could be Sidney’s father is wrong. According to Coleman’s book (which is in Powell’s bibliography), Sidney’s social security application lists Richard as “step-father.” Coleman also writes, “Her first love, according to Central Point informants, was a Black man who fathered her oldest son Sidney Jeter.”

    On another topic, I wasn’t dismayed by Richard’s statement about Mildred’s “innocence.” The context is that he knew that getting arrested could be a consequence of getting married, and he didn’t think she really appreciated that. In that sense she is “innocent.” The analogy with “what got her Sidney” is, I think, referring to what he views as another instance of Mildred not sufficiently appreciating the possible consequences of her actions. I would hazard that is generally true of teen pregnancy, and the sense of the word “innocent” is the same and appropriate in both instances. It bears remembering through all this that Richard is 6 years older than Mildred and his attitudes towards her as imagined by Powell didn’t strike me as false.

  10. Thank you all for sharing your thoughts and perspectives regarding this book. I have just a couple further responses:

    1. I do not consider this book is “Just a Love Story.” The title is a loud declaration of a landmark case that is about racial tension and the Civil Rights movement in this country. The inclusion of other historical milestones also makes it clear to me that Powell did not set out to merely tell a love story or even a tale of resilience or persistence. She chose a subject to illuminate an important moment of our country’s racial history.

    2. Given that ALSC has updated and inserted the diversity clause in its Award evaluation manual and ask that “As individuals serving on committees .. they should strive to be aware of how their own perspectives and experiences shape their responses to materials. Every committee member brings unique strengths to the table, but every committee member also brings gaps in knowledge and understanding, and biases. Committee members are strongly encouraged to be open to listening and learning as well as sharing as they consider materials representing diverse experiences both familiar and unfamiliar to them.” — I would think that the days of “we’re purely examining books by literary elements and don’t care about their social implication or sometimes historical inaccuracies” are over. Yes, this is a “literary” award — but the organization that administers this award has decided that it also needs to carry certain social responsibilities.

  11. Does the Real Committee have a system for evaluating the accuracy of nonfiction and historical fiction or other nonfiction-ish books? Or do they more assume they’re accurate unless someone raises concerns?

    • Steven Engelfried Steven Engelfried says:

      Great question Katrina. In my experience, there’s no established system for evaluating accuracy. The 15 committees have different backgrounds, experiences, and knowledge. They’re highly aware of the importance of accuracy. In addition to their reading, they’re paying attention to reviews, discussing books with kids and colleagues, and following up on potential concerns they might note with research and more conversations. But that doesn’t cover everything, and can still be impacted by the make up each year’s committee, which of course has 15 completely different individuals each year. Things could be missed. We hope they’re not.

      • I was surprised when some recent Newbery Committee members told me they were instructed not to read any reviews. I think the idea was that they all came to the table with only their own thoughts, but I have always found reviews and the like invaluable in helping me evaluate books. Especially when something is pointed out that I hadn’t seen, such as in this case.

  12. That sounds like the work of a rogue chair, Monica.

Speak Your Mind

*