My Daddy Is a Cool DudePosted July 5th, 2011 by Thomas Norman DeWolf
In 1969, I was an 18 year old mother with a baby on my hip. Like every other parent, I was determined — in spite of the odds against me — to raise a child who was healthy, both physically and emotionally. I was determined to feed his body with healthy food and to nourish his evolving intellect with stories that reflected our culture. To my dismay, there were virtually no books that heralded the stories and images of black people. We were being maligned in every way and most certainly ignored by the publishing industry.
And then there was a blooming. “Black Power” was in effect. Lucille Clifton, Mari Evans and Nikki Giovanni came into the market with books written specifically for black children; illustrated with beautiful black images. Giovanni’s Spin A Soft Black Song was the first book I added to my son’s library in 1971.
Inspired by the creativity of fellow writers and the publishing industry’s apparent change of heart, I wrote my own book: My Daddy is a Cool Dude. My husband, an incredibly talented artist, created the illustrations. The book sold well and was nominated for a Caldecott Medal. I only got one bad review — in the New York Times no less.
It’s been a long time since that day in 1975 of my first foray into publishing. There I was, an African American woman — a “ghetto girl” of “dubious distinction” whose voice was not valued or considered — the author of a book that was published to acclaim by a major publishing house (The Dial Press).
Since then, I have authored numerous magazine articles and other short form material, written by a voice longing to be heard. Yet, writing is something I have mostly done on behalf of others. It has generally been hidden behind the names of clients.
I believe I have talent and I have very definite opinions about a lot of things. I have never been reticent about arguing my point of view when I believe something is right. But this “healing journey” I am on with Tom has challenged some very basic assumptions I hold dear … about race, culture, patrimony — many things I have never been challenged (especially by a white man) to think about. That is because it has always been a fact of life that I am black and that what I think meant little in the vast world of European domination.
Today, I am engaged in process that is difficult and painful. Just like that first book, writing Gather at the Table is an ordeal of conscience. I want to use my ability to express myself in writing… to tell the truth (my truth) … to affect people’s hearts and minds. Because our subject matter is so big and profound, that is a tall order for even the best of writers.
With this book, I am not quite sure how to communicate what I want to say. I am also not so sure about how much I am willing to share about my beliefs and feelings with others. After all, what is written and published will endure in the public domain forever. If I go against the prevailing point of view, I may be ostracized even more than is my historic inheritance.
The one thing I do know is that I can’t change anyone. I can only present what I believe to be true and hope that others will find value in what I say. In the end, people change themselves. On the issue of race and reconciliation, I continue to be intrigued by what inducement is necessary to change the paradigm. I hope we have not gone so far into the abyss of prejudice — my own and that of others — to be beyond redemption.
I have waited 35 years to write another book. I guess it took me this long to realize I have something else important to say. Dare I say it?
Eastern Mennonite University
Harlem Book Fair
Phillis Wheatley Book Award
Post Racial Society
Summer Peacebuilding Institute
Tulsa race riot
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