Author Profile: Maria Paidan

Out of NowhereAuthor of Out of Nowhere

Maria Padian’s title Out of Nowhere offers perspective on how members from a Franco-American long-term community react to Somali new arrivals in their Maine hometown. At the center is Tom, a high school senior, who, despite making cultural blunders and being confronted with conflicting views from his family and surrounding community, is constantly willing and open to learning about his Somali classmates. We’re immensely grateful for Padian’s work on this title and for all the support that she has shown for I’m Your Neighbor, Portland.

VISIT Maria Paidan’s website for more about the author and Out of Nowhere

JOIN US at the Portland Public Library on August 2nd to celebrate this title

On Writing Out of Nowhere

I grew up in a family where the conversation at holiday dinners was a blizzard of accents. The food combinations were a bit unusual (Spanish rice served with Irish soda bread?) and often, at odd hours, the telephone would ring. My mother would answer those calls from distant relatives by speaking very loudly and slowly into the receiver, to accommodate the poor reception and delays from transcontinental lines.

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Maria Padian signing copies of Out of Nowhere at the I’m Your Neighbor, Portland launch

All four of my grandparents were immigrants, and their stories were woven deeply into the fabric of our third-generation lives. They were maids, butchers, bar keepers and bus drivers. They arrived in New York City with little besides youth and optimism, and relied on their churches and their contacts from “back home” to get established. They didn’t send their own children to college, but my siblings and I went. They worked hard to build new lives and create opportunities for their children and grandchildren, most of whom went on to realize educational and economic success.

A day does not pass that I don’t recall them with grateful admiration.

So it was with great interest that I followed the arrival of new immigrants to my now-home state of Maine: Somali refugees, fleeing civil war in their own country, and resettling in unprecedented numbers in the city of Lewiston. Recalling my own grandparents, I wondered how these newcomers would fare. My relatives struggled despite having many affinities with the dominant culture: they were white, they were Christian, they were literate, half of them spoke English. How, in a post-9/11 America, would black, Muslim, destitute, people fare? Most did not speak English and many couldn’t read, even in their own language.

I suppose it’s no surprise that the stories that interested me the most were those from young people. As a Young Adult author, I’m naturally drawn to teens and adolescents: I love their passion and their candor. And as I met people from both Lewiston and Portland, both young and old, and spoke with them about receiving these newcomers or being these newcomers, I found that repeatedly my conversations with teens were uplifting and energizing and revelatory. My conversations with adults, except for a few cases, were dispiriting, political and cagey.

The fact is the immigrant story is written by the young, and while we adults can bluster and argue and finger point and pigeonhole all we want, our children and grandchildren are the ones who will get down to the business of living together and redefining what it means to be an American. At some point I decided I didn’t want to speak with adults any longer: I wanted to write a story about teens, from their perspective. It took a little searching and a few false starts, but I was finally fortunate enough to meet young people who not only had the command of English to tell me their stories, but also had the courage to trust me with their stories.

The resulting novel, Out of Nowhere, is inspired by anecdotes told to me by those young people, as well as accounts I’ve read about refugee communities elsewhere in the United States. I used recent historical events in Lewiston, Maine as the scaffolding for the plot, but the characters in the book are fictitious and much of what transpires is an amalgam of what I’ve heard, what I’ve studied, and what I’ve imagined. It would be a mistake to comb through these pages in search of actual people and things that really happened. Instead, I hope readers will come away with a greater understanding of what it means to be a stranger in new world as well as to receive a stranger in an established world.

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Author Profile: Reza Jalali

“The project offers a unique opportunity to read multicultural literature while learning about your new neighbors. It humanizes New Mainers and helps us to understand who they are and why they are here.” –Reza Jalali

Reza Jalali is a teacher, writer, and community organizer. Originally from Iran, he has lived in Maine for over two decades. When not working at the University of Southern Maine or playing soccer for fun, he writes stories, which especially delight his children. Moon Watchers is his first children’s book, which tells the story of a modern Muslim family celebrating Ramadan. This title gives readers of all faiths an inside look of how one family celebrates this holiday.

JOIN US at the Portland Public Library on August 2nd to celebrate this title.

MoonCov4On Writing Moon Watchers

A sky watcher, Reza believes we each have a star named after us. He continues to search the night sky to find his and those of his family and friends. Reza remembers his own childhood Ramadans this way:

Some of the happiest memories from my childhood in Iran are from the time when my family observed Ramadan. In bigger cities the signal to stop eating and start the fast would be announced by the boom of a single cannon, but in our town (before people got alarm clocks) men from the neighborhood would go around beating the ground with their sticks, reminding us that it was time to finish our pre-dawn meal. My mother, always the storyteller, told me that in the old days, those fasting would check the time in the evening by carrying outside two strings of cloth—one black, another white—to see if they could be told apart in the waning light. When they looked the same, it was time to break the fast. I was a moon watcher as a child, fascinated by how the moon seemed to follow me around. (Afraid of being teased by older boys, I kept this to myself.) Even now, I chuckle when I catch a glimpse of the moon following me around as I walk outside under a full moon in the Maine night sky. I hope our children, Azad and Setareh, will have their own stories of Ramadan and will share them with others one day.

Author Profile: Frederick Lipp

Frederick Lipp (right) with author Maria Padian (left) and Kirsten Cappy (center_

Frederick Lipp (right) with Maria Padian (left) and Kirsten Cappy (center)

Frederick Lipp describes the inspiration for Bread Song as an “Aha!” moment. This children’s picture book captures members of the Portland community helping a young Thai immigrant overcome his fears of learning a new language. It is a wonderful portrait of the welcoming environment and diverse backgrounds that makes up Portland.

VISIT Frederick Lipp’s website

JOIN US in celebrating this book with the author Fred Lipp on July 24 at the Portland Public Library

 

On Writing Bread Song

While minister of First Parish in Portland, my favorite stop was for a cup of coffee and a lemon poppy seed muffin at Standard Bakery. Early one morning in search of a picture book story, I asked the owner, “Alison is there something so unique, like a secret in the bakery that you can share with me?”

Without hesitation she answered, “All bakers know the secret of what’s called the “Bread Song” – when we take the newly baked loaves out of the oven at dawn, they snap, crackle and wonderfully sing!”Bread Song

Before the sun was up the next morning, I attended this life changing concert, and found my calling for what became Bread Song. Twenty-five steps from Standard Bakery was a Thai restaurant. I knew that for many new neighbors coming from around the world that simply speaking in English was an unsurmountable task that made the walk into an English speaking bakery an emotional challenge.

I wondered about the impact of a new neighbor hearing the bread sing, and how it would loosen the tongue of a child so to feel more at home in a strange land.

“Aha!”

Salman Rushdie knew this secret when he wrote, ”My book celebrates hybridity, impurity, intermingling, the transformation that comes of new and unexpected combinations of human beings, cultures, ideas, politics, movies, songs…Mélange, hotchpotch, a bit of this and a bit of that is how newness enters the world…My book is for change by fusion, change by conjoining. It is a love-song…”

Author Profile: Anne Sibley O’Brien

Author/Illustrator of A Path of Stars

122832435“As the population of Greater Portland grows more and more diverse, all of us who share this city are being given an extraordinary opportunity: to actually contribute to creating the kind of community we want to become. My dream is that this project will challenge us to stretch and grow as we explore our commonalities and differences; to discover ourselves in each other; and  to make room for all of us to live together as true neighbors.” –Anne Sibley O’Brien

Anne Sibley O’Brien has been indispensable in her role as the Community Adviser for I’m Your Neighbor, Portland and co-creator of “I’m Your Neighbor Books.” Her children’s picture book A Path of Stars, which she is both the author and illustrator, has been honored by the Asian Pacific American Association and was named a 2013 Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People. She is also the illustrator of another I’m Your Neighbor, Portland featured title, Moon Watchers written by Reza Jalali. A Path of Stars tells the story of a Cambodian American girl who helps her grandmother Lok Yeay find peace and happiness after receiving tragic news that brings back memories of fleeing Cambodia as a refugee.

VISIT Anne Sibley O’Brien’s blog “Coloring Between the Lines” for reflections on race, culture and children’s books

JOIN US at the Portland Public Library on August 10th to celebrate this title

Anne teaching students how to draw a lotus flower, an important symbol in Cambodian culture, at Canal School in Westbrook, ME

Anne teaching students how to draw a lotus flower, an important symbol in Cambodian culture, at Canal School in Westbrook, ME

On Writing A Path of Stars

When approached by the Maine Humanities Council for the New Mainers Book Project, Anne Sibley O’Brien remembers writing in her journal, “Who am I to undertake this, to presume the ability to know, to understand, to represent?” While O’Brien’s background of growing up in Korea gave her a connection to Asia, she “knew that my own experiences and perspective weren’t sufficient to tell an authentic Cambodian-American story.” Instead she hoped that by immersing herself and being on the receiving end of the Cambodian American experience, a story would come through her.

O’Brien read many books of Cambodian survival stories, including First They Killed My Father, A Blessing Over Ashes, Children of the Cambodian Killing Fields, and Bamboo and Butterflies. Much of her research also came from her friends, Veasna and Peng Kem, who related their personal stories and experiences in Cambodia and their escape during the war. She gathered research about the effects of trauma with a specialist in torture and genocide and learned how it was often the third generation who “begins to dig” and tries to revive the memories suppressed by the the first generation. With this information, O’Brien began to find the bone structure of A Path of Stars.

For the illustrations, Anne studied reference photos, most notably Kari René Hall’s photo essay, Beyond the Killing Fields, for Cambodian faces. She also watched Cambodian dance and listened to Cambodian music. She noticed that gold was a reoccurring color in Cambodian culture; from the dance costumes to the statues to Cambodia’s environment, which led to her decision to do gold underpainting. She also noticed rounded qualities and an undulating line in Cambodian culture such as in the written language, Khmer, art and the dance moves and tried to incorporate this aspect in her illustrations.

Author Profile: Terry Farish

Author of The Good Braider

Braiderhires“Tom Haines, international reporter for the Boston Globe wrote about his work, “I have sought to document intimate moments of humanity…By writing about such scenes I hope readers might find not difference of land and lives, but a more personal understanding of our common experience.”  The I’m Your Neighbor, Portland books also document intimate moments about the lives of newcomers to Maine. My hope is that a community reading these books will feel curiosity and begin to imagine each other’s lives with interest and feel safe with one another.” –Terry Farish on I’m Your Neighbor, Portland

I’m Your Neighbor, Portland could not be a success without our Immigrant Literacy Adviser Terry Farish. She is also the author of featured book The Good Braider which follows a refugee named Viola in her journey from her village in South Sudan to Portland, Maine. Here Farish talks about her experience and inspiration in writing The Good Braider.

VISIT Farish’s blog “The Good Braider” for more about South Sudan and her research on the book.

JOIN US at the Portland Public Library on July 11th to celebrate the title.

Terry with author Maria Padian (right) at the I'm Your Neighbor, Portland launch

Terry with author Maria Padian (right) at the I’m Your Neighbor, Portland launch

On Writing The Good Braider

Terry Farish’s involvement with the Sudanese community began at the Reiche Branch Library in Portland, Maine, where she worked in 2001.   She worked with families from countries around the world including children and teens from Sudan. She remembers talking with one boy from Sudan and asking him about the food that he ate and instead of trying to describe it, he invited her over for dinner where his mother could cook for her and she could experience it for herself.

Farish originally started out researching and writing a non-fiction book about Sudanese teens in the U.S. but after many years of writing nonfiction, she turned to fiction, after beginning to write scenes in verse. After talking to people in the Sudanese community, she saw that the parents worried about their children who became Americanized quickly while the parents wanted them to keep their cultural identity.

Farish researched the history of Sudan and neighboring countries, including the impact of colonialism. She also researched the civil war that was taking place in Sudan.  Some of her sources included The Shadow of the Sun, The White Bone, Me Against My Brother,  and Voices of the African AncestorsFor more resources, see Farish’s “The Good Braider” blog under Researching South Sudan.

To understand the Sudanese culture, Farish turned to the Sudanese community in Maine. It was in their living rooms and kitchens where she collected oral histories of the families. She saw the expectations a family has for the  daughters, and the power of the mother in the family – all of which helped her create the mother-daughter relationship between her character Viola and her mother. She witnessed the ritual of braiding and learned the significance of the braids to the girl as part of her identity and culture. She also used specific details that were real for many Maine immigrants, such as the experience of going to an ESL class and working at Barber Foods in Portland.

Remember to save the date for I’m Your Neighbor, Portland’s celebration of The Good Braider!