Correspondance with Suzanne Fisher Staples 7:29 p.m. 2003-04-10

These entries are from last summer:

July 26, 2002

I finally finished Haveli, the sequel to Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind by Suzanne Fisher Staples. I actually found her website, and wrote her an e-mail:

Dear Suzanne-

I just wanted to write and thank you for writing Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind and Haveli. I was fascinated by them both, once I got over the deaths of childhood pets ;-). I went to your website and read the interview about your being a writer of adolescent books. You said that you just wrote books, and were happy that they appealed to adolescents. I agree. I think that both books make a fine read for any age.

I am a teacher of English to Speakers of Other Languages, and have an in-law that is currently working as a military attache in Pakistan. His wife and children had joined him, but returned after the bombing of the American church. I don't know whether it was this that made me choose Shabanu to read, but I am glad I did. I love the books on tape, and even had to drive around the block to finish an important part before I got home.

I am going to attempt to share parts of the books with my Advanced ESOL students, although I am curious as to how interested the boys will be (maybe I am not giving them enough credit, but I believe that these are books that touch a deeper chord with girls and women.)

I read a review on the Internet made by another educator, and it's only caution was that the stories, having been written ultimately by an American woman, might contain some sort of bias. Such as- would a young girl really be as independent and rebellious as Shabanu (and Zabo, for that matter), or are the majority of the women forced to comply with arranged marriages and the like?

I teach in Georgia, and love teaching ESOL because of the exposure to so many cultures. I have to remind myself constantly that my values are not shared by all.

Now I think I have to buy the books, and maybe even Shiva's Fire. I didn't look to see if that one is on tape.

As I read the interviews with Suzanne, which described her routine:

"I write on a computer in an office in my house with my dog (a standard poodle called Bogey) beside my chair for about four or five hours a day. I revise constantly. Each day when I sit down I revise the earlier part of the chapter I'm working on, and try to follow threads backward into the book to make them conform to the revision. When I am in my normal workaday mode I sit down at about 8:30 a.m. and write until lunch time. But often I am struck by an idea and rush off to the office to work it out. That may be at four in the morning. When I get stuck sometimes I take a legal pad and go out into the woods and just write out random thoughts. Often it gets me started in a new direction. I don't have to seek distraction -- My life is a distraction. I have just divested myself of a considerable career in community work to finish a book. (At the same time I vowed never to get so involved again!)"

I think that I would like to write a book some day. I have looked into writing before, so it is something that interests me. I think that I just wonder if there's anything that I would write about that would be interesting, or sell. I know that it's a self defeating attitude, but it comes up anyway. I think that I would like to write about horses, of course, or about my experiences in France. But I'm not sure. I think that journalling is a good thing, and if I could get into the habit of writing those "morning pages", I could unlock something.

I received a reply on July 29, 2002:

Thanks so much for your email. I'm so glad to hear you're thinking of using

"Shabanu" with ESOL students. It may be true that it strikes more of a chord with girls and women than it does with boys and men -- but I've had great responses from male readers. I was once invited to a Jesuit school in New Orleans where the brother who was head of the English Department chose it for his 8th Grade literature/cultural studies class. They had such great questions and brought a whole different perspective to it.

But the most touching reaction I've had from men was in Jamaica Plain, a very rough Boston suburb where I visited a lockup for boys. This was a Pen project called "Readers and Writers" in which I volunteered my time and my publisher gave the books and the teacher got these boys reading. All of them were incarcerated for committing violent crimes, and so I was really surprised that they chose "Shabanu" for them to read. Afterward a great big 18 year-old came up to me holding his copy of "Shabanu" clutched to his chest. He said to me: "Miss, this here is my first book I ever read and I loved it!" That may be the single greatest payoff I've had as a writer.

As for the reviewer who warned against a cultural bias on my part because I'm an American -- I lived and worked in Pakistan, including the Cholistan Desert over a period of seven years. I suggest this educator/reviewer has a bias against people whose culture he or she doesn't know very well. I was surprised at first by the personal power women in rural Pakistan enjoy within their families. In part this may be because everyone -- men and women -- have to work to provide a living for the family. I met many men who valued their wives as equal partners and many women in cities who ran companies and supervised male employees. That doesn't mean there weren't situations in which women were treated badly. But I learned not to make broad generalizations. Cruelty was much more often a product of lives proscribed by poverty and ignorance than it was a predisposition of the Islamic faith.

I think the greatest thing each of us can do to work toward peace in the world is to keep an open mind and heart -- particularly when we're thinking about people of another culture.

Thanks again for writing. I'm sorry it took a while to write back to you - I've been staying away from the internet, trying to get some writing done!

Sincerely,

Suzanne Fisher Staples

Now that was great!!!

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