Writing Home and Beyond
In 2014, Nautilus Press published the memoir, Writing Our Way Home: A Group Journey Out of Homelessness. The book was an intense year in the making. The authors, all of whom personally knew homelessness, selected their writings to include. A hoard of volunteers typed up the writings. Lawyers reviewed the draft to insure the writers weren’t implicating themselves in anything untoward. An artist designed the cover. Finally, Nautilus published Writing Our Way Home. But in truth, the book reached back seven years to the group’s first tentative meeting which, appropriately, took place outdoors.
No book like that happens overnight.
I couldn’t help but think about that experience when I read One Book One New Orleans’ Letters Home.
Origins of Writing Home
OBONO’s 2021 book selection was The Yellow House by Sarah Broom. OBONO filled that year with varied events dedicated to exploring Broom’s book. The avenues OBONO uses to get its designated book into the hands of EVERYONE possible spread into the city. Adult education programs, adult prisons, juvenile prisons, etc. For 17 years, OBONO has believed in the power of literacy. The year 2021 culminated in Letters Home. But such a project is only the tip of a commitment that widens backwards into years of caring about literacy and community.
Students at St. Vincent de Paul Adult Learning Center and YEP Educates have followed in Sarah Broom’s footsteps and written letters to their childhood homes. The salutations read, “Dear Childhood Home.” “Dear House That I Grew Up In.” “Dear House of Love.” Even a letter to Dear Pink House, which resonated with me, the child who lived in “our pink house” in Denver, Colorado, until the night my Daddy Joe suddenly died, killed by an oncoming train, and we left the house forever.
Authors Write Home
Home is a complicated place. It takes courage to write about, and these writers are brave. Like Bobby Lewis writing, “I don’t miss you, but I miss the good times I had at you…Sometimes when I am riding in a car I tell people, ‘That’s the house where I grew up in.'” Others express unadulterated joy, its own kind of bravery, as when La-Toya Jackson writes, “I love my family to the moon and back.”
Many of the memories are full of beauty, such as this description by Edwin Murray: “In the winter seasons when the snow would fall and seemed like it wouldn’t end, we would climb up on the roof, which was the canopy of the porch, set ourselves and jump into the deepest snow drifts that rested against the house.”
Ultimately, many of the authors echo Sarah Broom and come to a place of acceptance and reconciliation, such as Marilyn Byrd: “Well, that’s it. This is Good-bye. No matter what, you were my childhood home.”
I was kindly given a copy of this book by One Book One New Orleans. The book was published in partnership with OBONO, Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, and Tubby & Coo’s Mid-City Book Shop on Anthony Street in New Orleans.
Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, nontraditional memoir, One Book One New Orleans, St. Vincent de Paul Learning Center, The Yellow House by Sarah Broom, Tubby & Coo's Mid-City Book Shop, writing home, YEP Educates New Orleans
I am so happy to see your old abode. Makes me a bit homesick.
Ellen Morris Prewitt
Can you believe how grown up the trees around it are? I took the photo one trip to Jackson when I was driving around Belhaven and took photos of all the houses where I’d lived in the neighborhood. I often do that, drive through Belhaven when I’m back in Jackson. I still love the neighborhood.
I’ve written more than one poem about my childhood home being moved several miles up the road and across the state line. It still seems odd to see it there…
Sounds like a wonderful collection … and what a great prompt for writing! I’ve never written about my childhood home, but not at length. Of course, now it’s a ghost since it no longer physically exists 😉
Ellen Morris Prewitt
It’s a really nice little book. I did a Maker’s Space at an arts festival recently and a group of kids sat down to write. Bc it was “Maker’s Space,” writing prompts were like, “What do you make?” “What is your favorite space in your home?” The kids wrote on their homes—their room, the living room—using lists and illustrations and stories. It is truly a universal prompt.