Day 20: Traci Dant

Traci Dant describes herself as both a fiction writer and a poet. Her work has been featured on NPR’s Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor, and published in literary journals such as PoemMemoirStory and Crab Orchard Review. Her first picture book, Some Kind of Love, was published in April 2010 by Marshall Cavendish.

Dant, who earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Washington University, was born in St. Louis, Missouri. She currently lives in Oswego, Illinois with her husband and two children. On day 20, we present to you the very talented Traci Dant.

 

The Journey

Sixteen years ago I was a first year law student at Duke University. I was at a great school and getting good grades, but I had the nagging sense that I wasn’t on the right path. Something deep inside me just wasn’t comfortable with becoming a lawyer. As my sense of discomfort grew, I decided that instead of focusing on what I didn’t want, I needed to decide what I did want. And the answer was simple – what I wanted was to be a writer.

For me, being a writer meant that I needed to leave law school. Leaving law school meant battling my parents, contending with peers who thought I was crazy, and taking a part time job at a book store until I got accepted into an MFA program. But in the midst of all that chaos, I knew I was doing the right thing.

Ten years after I left law school, my first book, Some Kind of Love: a Family Reunion in Poems was accepted for publication by Marshall Cavendish.

 

The Inspiration

Many books on creative writing contend that you should write about what you don’t know in order to free your imagination. But for me the opposite is true. I feel most comfortable and most inspired by writing about things that are close to home. I may feel this way because my first stories were my father’s oral histories. I was fed daily recountings of what it was like to grow up poor on a small farm in a small town during the days of Jim Crow. When I began writing seriously in graduate school, I found my father’s stories springing up from my keyboard. His stories continue to inspire me to this day.

I am also inspired by the writers I loved as a child. I never get tired of Dr. Seuss, Shel Silverstein, and Maurice Sendak. And I am also moved by the picture books I read to my kids. I read them books written by Nikki Grimes, Jacqueline Woodson, and Kadir Nelson. These are writers who manage to write with great beauty and a great sense of awareness that the books read to our children are sacred texts. The moment where you cuddle with your child at the end of a long day is precious. And the stories that we share with them during that time should be precious as well.

 

The Back Story

My book was born out of a series of fortunate circumstances. In 1999, I crossed paths with Toi Derricotte at the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference. Because of that meeting, I applied and attended the Cave Canem Poetry Retreat for African American Poets. Years later through the Cave Canem Listserve, I connected with an editor seeking poets who were interested in writing books for children. After a year of correspondence, that editor purchased my first book in 2007.

The Buzz

Some Kind of Love: a Family Reunion in Poems was selected as one of 2010’s “Best of the Best” books for children by the Chicago Public Library and received positive reviews from Publisher’s Weekly and the School Library Journal.

Publisher’s Weekly: All opening with the line, “Must be some kind of love,” lyrical yet plainspoken poems describe a large African-American family’s reunion in Missouri, while Velasquez’s expressive oils make the family members feel alive. Though there’s not much sleeping room (“We sleep four boys to a bed. Head to foot and head to foot”), each activity affirms the spirit of love and mutual understanding. Cousins fish with cane poles, Aunt Lois’s two-bedroom house becomes a “space large enough to hold 100 people for a fish fry,” stories are shared and connections strengthened. Even good-byes are cause for celebratory hugs and kisses, driving home the message about unbreakable ties.

School Library Journal: Gr 1–6—In this moving tribute, 15 poems describe the joy of one African-American family’s annual reunion weekend. It begins with the words of Grandma: “Always come home/Come home so I can see your faces./Your brown, your cream, your peach,/your purple, your midnight faces. Come.” The poems take readers through the anticipation of everyone’s arrival, crowded sleeping arrangements, fishing, telling stories, and more until the time to say goodbye. Velasquez depicts this warm, inviting party in oils, and the illustrations are rich with color and emotion. Each selection begins by calling attention to the love that binds this family. A rich celebration of togetherness.—Julie Roach, Cambridge Public Library, MA

 

For more information on Traci Dant, visit her website: www.tracidant.com

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One Response to Day 20: Traci Dant

  1. tadmack says:

    Going from having a kid get into law school and throw it over for writing must be tough, but I know that Ms. Dant’s family is proud of her, regardless of what she does, and her book sounds charming.

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