Even when YOU are part of the story, research can be a challenge. Kathlyn Kirkwood shares a few of the ups and downs she experienced in the research phase of her debut book, AIN’T GONNA LET NOBODY TURN ME ‘ROUND: My Story of the Making of Martin Luther King Day. This middle-grade memoir about her teen years in Memphis in the late ’60s shares how she transformed and became actively involved in the civil rights movement.
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Congratulations to Susan Wroble, winner of SEEKING FREEDOM by Selene Castrovilla!
The Research Roller Coaster by Kathlyn Kirkwood
So you finally have the book offer for your nonfiction, fiction, sci-fi, graphic novel story that you’ve been dreaming, praying, hoping for longer than you care to share. You are elated and excited. You take a deep breath thinking that it’s all downhill from here. Well, I hate to disappoint, but as the Carpenters sang, “You have only just begun.” I’d like to share how the research for “Ain’t Gonna” took me on a roller coaster ride of emotions.
When I look back over the research, three words come to mind, slow, gruesome and exciting. Those who have undergone the process know that research is . . . slow. There are so many avenues to explore and people to talk to; leads that take one down different pathways; and connections that lead you to other resources. I recall vividly my efforts to locate one of the original petitions for Dr. King’s holiday. While my sister had one, she couldn’t find hers, so my only solution was to find another source. I started out with contacting the SCLC – Southern Christian Leadership Council – to see if they had the petitions and would be willing to share. They had donated all of their information to Emory University. So, I reached out to Emory and spoke to a wonderful contact there who did a lot of research on my behalf, but ultimately, Emory did not have what I needed. Next step was the Library of Congress. They couldn’t find anything and they sent me to another organization and they were able to locate a petition, but the individuals who had signed were in New Jersey. It wasn’t exactly what I was looking for, but it was a start. You will never guess where I found the petition – an annual planner in my old college trunk! In the garage!
Seeking permissions was also a lengthy and, at time, grueling process. Case in point, trying to get permission for Stevie Wonder’s lyrics. I spent several weeks emailing various organizations that represent him. The many eye drops used sending and reading emails in an effort to get those permissions cannot be underestimated! And, when I finally l heard from the representative organization, I discovered that the licensing fee was well outside of budget.
But, even though research can be slow and gruesome, there is always excitement. For me, the exciting part was when I would reach out and the response was faster than I expected. An example of that is I had information regarding a quote from Dr. Jimmy Carter. I reached out to the Jimmy Carter Library for the quote, and they provided the information instantaneously. Also exciting was learning new information about the movement that helped me create a complete picture beyond my own experiences. In the case of the march, it was interesting to see where it started – Clayborn Temple – and where we joined, and to learn that Clayborn Temple was actually the hub for the march.
I think it’s fascinating to see how Kathlyn, as an adult writer, learns more about an event she was involved in as a teen and opens up that experience to be even more meaningful. As you can see, perseverance paid off, and Kathlyn’s middle grade memoir released Jan. 4!
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