Latham: We all have a story to tell

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Leaving Gee’s Bend author Irene Latham spoke to students at Straughn Middle School about how the characters in her book came to life. | Kendra Bolling/Star-News

She’s blind in one eye and shoulders a fair share of the work in a family of sharecroppers, but 10-year-old Ludelphia Bennett leaves the rural world of Gee’s Bend in a search of hope for her mother.

But exactly how did Ludelphia Bennett’s story come to be?

Leaving Gee’s Bend author Irene Latham answered that question for Straughn Middle School students Tuesday.

Through research, travel and determination, Latham created her Newberry-nominated novel that tells the story of how Ludelphia found help for her mother in the historic town of Gee’s Bend.

Latham showed students gathered in the library a suitcase with numerous drafts of the book, which she began writing in 2004.

“You have to use your imagination,” she said. “You, the authors, have to tell the characters what to do.”

Latham told students she spent time looking through obituaries, historic photographs and took a trip to Gee’s Bend.

Latham originally discovered Gee’s Bend at a quilt exhibition in New York, while she was traveling there.

“The art world went crazy for it,” she said. “I waited in line to see the quilts, and I fell in love with the quilters.”

Latham told the students about simple life in Gee’s Bend, and explained that it is tucked away into a bend in the Alabama River in Wilcox County.

“The quickest way to get there is on the ferry,” she said. “The roads are dirt. There is only one paved road.”

Latham explained to the students about how she used historical parts of Gee’s Bend, while telling her own story.

“In the Red Cross rescue, they really did bring sugar, flour and shoes,” she said. “But I made up how they knew. I let Ludelphia be the hero.”

Latham told the students that they all have a story to tell.

“It’s your job to tell your story,” she said. “Maybe it’s like Ludelphia and it’s in a quilt, or maybe it’s like me in a book. If you don’t tell it, it will go away.”