Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Women of...Wednesday: Tribute to Elizabeth Yates

What inspired you to want to write for kids? For me, it was reading Amos Fortune: Free Man by Elizabeth Yates with my 4th graders. After reading the novel, I knew I wanted to be able to make historical figures come alive as Miss Yates did.

There were steps to the process. First, I had to convince myself I could be a writer. Then, I had to start writing, and keep writing--a lot. Eventually I sold my first book. That year, my middle child was a fifth grader. His teaching team arranged a field trip to Peterborough, NH. They would meet and talk with Elizabeth Yates and then hike through Shieling Forest, the woods Yates and her husband had purchased and given to the state of New Hampshire. I volunteered to chaperone. I wasn't going to miss the opportunity to meet my inspiration.

Miss Yates was wonderful with the kids. I got to thank her for writing the book that had helped me choose my next career and we posed together for a picture. She autographed my copy of Amos Fortune. I was so excited to tell her that I'd just sold my first book. When it was published, I sent her a copy and a thank you note for the kind words she shared in the inscription she'd written. She invited me to visit her.

By this time, Miss Yates had moved to a retirement community in Concord. She lived in a lovely little condo and kept tomato plants by her back door. The neighbors, she said, were wonderful and knew not to disturb her in the morning because that was her writing time. She was well into her 80s and still devoted her mornings to writing! I will never forget the visit. Some years later, when she passed away, I attended her memorial. Turns out there were many, many people like me who had been inspired by and encouraged by Elizabeth Yates. The woman who had no children of her own had nurtured hundreds.

Last year, I got to return the favor in a way. I wrote her profile for Women of Granite: 25 NH Women You Should Know so that others would remember her. It was a pleasure to do so.



Thanks for sharing this, Mur! (And for sharing your dirty little secret on Monday!)

Sally said...

Nice story and nice reminder that we should thank our mentors!

But you should totally put up your picture of the two of you . . .