Book signing, May 15 with author Becky Birtha
Becky Birtha is an author who serves Pendle Hill in Information and Program Registration. Her latest book, Lucky Beans, is a children’s story illustrated by Nicole Tadgell and published in 2010 by Albert Whitman & Co.
On Saturday, May 15 Pendle Hill will host a Bean Lunch in Main House at 12:20 and hold a book signing at the Bookstore in the Barn from 1:30 to 3:30. To sign up for the Bean Lunch, please call (610) 566-4507, ext. 139.
Shirley Dodson interviewed Becky Birtha April 14.
Becky, when did you start writing stories?
BB I started writing stories as a young elementary school student. I kept a notebook which I called “The Big Book of Make-Believe Stories.” I wrote down stories that I heard other people tell, including “The Three Bears,” “The Three Little Pigs,” and “The Proud Little Grain of Wheat,” which I believe was written by Frances Hodgson Burnett. A little bit later, probably when I was in third or fourth grade, I started writing my own stories. I was always working on novels and I would write chapters for these never-ending novels. One, called “Malcolm’s Family,” was about a boy who was the only son in a family with four or five girls. I read a lot and my mother said that she could tell what books I was reading by the style of my writing.
What motivates you to write?
BB I have all these stories, some of which I’ve carried around in my head for years, and I keep adding new ones. I want to write them down and get them to children. As a child I loved books and as a former teacher I know how important reading is. I’ve worked with children in the inner city and I know they need more stories and books that are relevant to their lives. I write both for myself and also because I want my stories to be available for the children who need them.
How did your latest book evolve? Is there a personal story behind it?
BB Lucky Beans grew from family stories. The main character is based on my father and the mother in the story is based on my grandmother. I took two true stories and put them together. My father said that during the Depression of the 1930s the family didn’t have much money and they ate beans every night, while my grandmother said that she prepared a different recipe for beans every night. The second story was about a contest where the prize was a sewing machine. To win you had to guess how many beans were in a big jar. I changed the family story a bit; my grandmother did enter a contest like this, but it happened before she had children. In Lucky Beans the boys strategize how their mother can win, and they figure she has a good chance because she cooks beans every night.
How does your writing reflect your spiritual life and values?
BB My values can be summarized as the Quaker SPICES – simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality, and stewardship/service. My two children’s books (Grandmama’s Pride and Lucky Beans) are about African-American families and touch on issues of racial justice. My books for adults, including Lover’s Choice, also concern social justice issues. Writing is part of my spiritual practice. I’ve kept a journal since I was eleven. My poetry probably reflects my values most; it’s been anthologized in a number of books. I think my Quaker values come out in my writing through honesty about who I am and what I believe.
What are the challenges of combining writing with a full-time job at Pendle Hill?
BB It’s a challenge to combine writing with any full-time job. There are several advantages of working at Pendle Hill: (1) the Bookstore is here; (2) I’ve connected with other artists and writers who are at Pendle Hill as staff, students, and sojourners; (3) I’ve also taken part in some of Pendle Hill’s many weekend workshops and short courses related to writing; and (4) I’ve made connections with children’s educators and have been invited to speak in schools.
If someone asked you what it takes to be a good writer, how would you respond?
BB Persistence, in everything. Persistence in work and craft. Persistence in learning technique through reading and taking classes, persistence in believing in yourself and putting the focus on your writing regardless of the response you’re getting from the publishing world. The quality of your work isn’t measured by whether you’re getting published or not. Support and encouragement from family and community don’t hurt either.