Today’s interview is with Judith Camille, author of The Long Walk: Slavery to Freedom. Enjoy.
1. Can you tell us a bit about your book, The Long Walk: Slavery to Freedom?
My book is about Clarissa and her son, George Henry who suffer the indignities of bondage––bought, sold, resold, and abused. Although scarred emotionally and physically, Clarissa refuses to accept enslavement. As Clarissa struggles against time, lessons from her grandmother fuel her compulsion to be free. On the trail, Clarissa and her son are rescued by the Underground Railroad passengers. Taking the long walk to freedom, they follow the North Star.
2. When did you first realize you wanted to pursue writing as more than a hobby?
I knew that I wanted to write for children when my sons left home––one to college and one to high school. When they were young I told them stories to get them into bed and it worked. When they were old enough to express a well thought out idea, they said, “Mommy why don’t you write your own books?” I shivered at the thought of putting another task on my must-do-mommy list. Fourteen years later, I saw characters from my storytellings march across my vision. I closed my eyes. I prayed I was not losing my mind. It was my first day home alone. When the visions vanished, I raised my eyelids. Maybe that was a book, I thought. I wrote a 200 word story that day. I have not stopped writing since. Today I have 75 manuscripts crammed into a file.
3. Why did you choose to write about slavery?
After spending an afternoon with my family discussing our roots I was compelled to write about Kentucky enslavement. As I began to read and research more, the depth of the pain and suffering of African Americans enslaved in North Central Kentucky, and their African ancestors became more concerning to me. Because of my love for writing manuscripts for children’s picture books, I wrote a story about a mother and her daughter who were runaways and had it illustrated. One of those illustrations appears on the cover of my book, The long Walk: Slavery to Freedom, and another on the title page.
4. How much research did you do to make sure you were historically accurate/how much did you focus on accuracy?
I applied for one of my characters to be accepted as a first person interpretive program for the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom, National Park Service, U.S. Department of Interior. I did extensive research to meet their guidelines. The application process took one year. Once accepted, the data gathered became a springboard for writing The long Walk: Slavery to Freedom and its related programs. This alone gave me national recognition. The research continued throughout the writing process and as questions surfaced the research answered them. The title of the interpretive program is The Long Walk: From Slavery to Freedom––slightly different from the book title The long Walk: Slavery to Freedom.
5. You also run many writing workshops. How did you get started doing this?
I conduct writing workshops, because I have found it difficult to find people welling to work with new writers. I always had to study on my own. Overtime, I realized there were other mature women wanting to write and share their thoughts. But there was no network to support them. I lead a critique group for one year, and then I applied for a grant from the Kentucky Foundation for Women. With the grant I was able to conduct an eight week children’s picture book writing workshop (CPBWW). Woman after woman said, “We should come back next year.” In September of 2011 the CPBWW celebrated its 10th anniversary. It is now the Write for Children & Teens: Stepwise Program.
6. What advice would you give someone looking to run similar workshops in their town/city?
If a writer wants to run a program similar to the Write for Children & Teens: Stepwise Program, I would recommend that they…:
Become familiar with adult group dynamics––learn what works.
Know the rules for writing for children, teens, and young adults.
Create lesson plans for the concepts you might present and attach references.
Become familiar with the audiences they plan to write for. Each age group learns and interprets information differently.
Understand what makes illustrations and words work together.
Be prepared to do all the work themselves, even if they have volunteers––don’t get in over their head, and know their limits.
Meet with people who have been there and done that. Invite them to be workshop or conference speakers.
Learn to use the computer and its tools, i.e. Keynote, Photoshop, Powerpoint etc. When they plan to buy their next computer, consider an Apple.
This list has no end. I could go on for several more pages.
7. How long did it take you to write The Long Walk: Slavery to Freedom?
It took me ten years to write The Long Walk: Slavery to Freedom. It was my workshop piece. Whenever I conducted a workshop for the CPBWW, I worked on it. I applied the principles of writing that I planed to teach, ensuring they were understandable and effective.
8. How have you marketed The Long Walk: Slavery to Freedom since its release?
To market The Long Walk: Slavery to Freedom I…:
Accepted invitations to be interviewed on radio show.
Asked to be included on programs of groups and organizations.
Scheduled book signings at local bookstores.
Designed appealing promotional materials.
Visited the city and farm where my family was enslaved, got to know the community people, and did a book signing at the city’s homecoming.
Went back to school to improve my art skills.
Participated in a junior college’s open mike. Afterward, the program coordinator requested that my book by ordered for their library.
When The Long Walk: Slavery to Freedom was formatted for publication, I also had it formatted for Kindle.
This is a partial list and the title of the first person interpretive program is slightly different from the book title.
9. If you could give an aspiring writer any one piece of advice, what would it be?
I would council aspiring writers to not be afraid to make mistakes, or to start over. I would advise them to be persistent, get to know themselves, and continue to make new friends who are positive, supportive, and well grounded in their goals and ideas.
10. What are you working on now that readers can look forward to?
I am working on DUNKER, a young adult novel about an academically gifted athlete smitten for a girl who is also a star athlete, but doesn’t seem to notice him. Coming along with DUNKER is a middle grade chapter book, Wedding Drums and the Tall-Tall Tree. It is a story that takes the reader right into a village, on Nigeria’s west coast, where a young boy is distraught over his sister’s impending wedding that he is sure will take her away from him.
Bio: Judith C. Owens-Lalude is the great-granddaughter of George Henry “Pap” Johnson, who was born in 1850 and was enslaved with his mother, Clarissa. They lived on Ben Miller’s 600-acre farm in North Central Kentucky, now less than an hour’s drive from Louisville, Kentucky, where Owens-Lalude grew up and resides today. After listening to tales told by her family’s closest members about their ancestors, she wanted to know more and visited the farm where her ancestors had been enslaved. She strolled the grounds, reflected at the fireplace hearth where a slave cabin once stood, wandered along the streams and creeks, and photographed the barn and other outbuildings that were a part of her great-grandpa’s and his mother’s daily world.
Inspired to write a book, Owens-Lalude traveled to her husband’s native Nigeria for a better understanding of the history of slavery in the Americas. She wanted to know its impact on other Africans and African Americans, including her family who lived in Nelson and Spencer counties, Kentucky. From her research, and her powerful imagination, Owens-Lalude has written a compelling novel: The Long Walk: Slavery to Freedom.