Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Herman Melville and Me

I'm writing a new book that I never in my wildest dreams thought I would write. It is a biography of Herman Melville. For kids. You might be thinking, why for kids? And I might say, because Herman Melville had an incredible life and most kids don't know about it. And I might add that kids love interesting characters with extraordinary lives. And Melville is such a character. I used to love reading biographies when I was in elementary school. I never read one about Melville. Sure, I heard of Moby Dick when I was little, most kids have heard of Moby Dick, who hasn't? But there is so much more to Herman Melville than Moby Dick. My hope is after reading this biography of Melville, a new wave of Melville fans will emerge.

I have never considered myself a biographer, but my co-authored book, "A Free Woman on God's Earth" is the juvenile biography of Elizabeth "Mumbet" Freeman and writing it with my co-author, Ann-Elizabeth Barnes was a joy. We added flesh and blood to a person very few people ever heard of. We want Mumbet to become a household word and now, more and more people know about her. Is it because of our little book? We like to think so. Our job was to get her story out into the world in a very accessible way and I think we did that. From there, it takes on a life all its own.

So now, Melville. Sometimes is feels like a Herculean task. There are so many Melville scholars and so many scholarly biographies of this, the greatest American writer, possibly ever. So what I am doing is a little daunting and I'm slightly intimidated by what has come before me. But I like to think that no one has done what I am presently working on. I know of no biographies of Melville for children. Perhaps mine will be the first. And this excites me. And scares me a little.

I'm the very first Writer-In-Residence at Herman Melville's home in the Berkshires, a position that I never dreamed of obtaining. But sometimes in life, we are lead to places and people we never dreamed we would go or meet. I love my position at Arrowhead. I love sitting in Herman Melville's chair, looking out his window and writing from that place. It inspires me. From Arrowhead, my colleagues and I have created a wonderful program for children we call "Inspired by Melville." It's a writing program for students, third grade to high school. And it was from this program that the idea to write his biography for children came. There was not one I could bring on my school visits. We have graphic-novel versions of Moby Dick, we have abridged versions, even pop-up versions, and I bring those with me, but like I said, there is way more to Herman Melville than Moby Dick. And I want kids to know about the person he was.

I've got to get back to work.