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Book Launch: John E. Batchelor to Sign and Celebrate Newest Cookbook CHEFS OF THE COAST at Scuppernong Books

June 2, 2015 from 7pm to 9pm
Help John F. Blair, Publisher, and food critic/restaurant reviewer John E. Batchelor celebrate the launch of his newest book, CHEFS OF THE COAST. There will be light refreshments and an opportunity to have your book signed by the author. The event, which starts at 7:00 PM, will be at Scuppernong Books.  For more information about CHEFS OF THE COAST please visit…See More
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eston e. roberts posted a blog post

Metamorphosos: A Proposed Path to Independent Living

Eston Roberts announces publication of Metamorphosos: A Proposed Path to Independent Living--a re-definition and application of metaphor.See More
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Steve Inskeep on Andrew Jackson and Cherokees--May 31 and June 1, 2015

Steve Inskeep, NPR Journalist, To Talk about Jacksonland at Cherokee Museumfrom press releaseSteve Inskeep will be speaking at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian about his new book, JACKSONLAND: President Andrew Jackson, Chief John Ross, and a Great American Land Grab.  The event begins at 2 pm Sunday May 31 at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian at 589 Tsali Boulevard in Cherokee, North Carolina. The event is open to the public free of charge.   The author will talk, discuss, and sign books,…See More
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Contemplative Photography Companion for the Journey Home at City Lights Bookstore

June 6, 2015 from 3pm to 4:30pm
Asheville author Tina FireWolf will visit City Lights Bookstore on Saturday, June 6th at 3 p.m. to present her book, Beneath the Chatter.  Tina FireWolf will ignite your fire! Join her to hear how a 3 ft. tall corn plant was the sign to go on an adventure to write her book! She will share her personal story and tales from her book that illuminate  life lessons and help ignite us into Everyday Enlightenment. You will leave with a light heart and wider eyes to the world around you. Beneath the…See More
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Montreat College Friends of the Library Annual Luncheon at Montreat College Gaither Fellowship Hall

June 13, 2015 from 12pm to 2pm
"When Real People Become Real Characters" presented by Novelist Mark de Castrique at the Montreat College Friends of the Library Annual Luncheon on June 13, 2015.Book signing follows the presentation.  Public is invited.  Reservations are required.See More
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2015 Author Luncheon at Mars Hill University

May 28, 2015 from 11am to 2pm
Mary Alice Monroe, New York Times best-selling author, will be the keynote speaker at the Friends of Madison County Library’s 10th Annual Author Luncheon where she will share her newest release, The Summer’s End. The luncheon will be held at Pittman Dining Hall on the campus of Mars Hill University on Thursday, May 28 beginning at 11 am. Tickets are $35 each, and proceeds will benefit programs and services for both children and adults at Madison County Public libraries. The cost of a ticket…See More
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Julia Nunnally Duncan Book Signing at The Orchard at Altapass

May 23, 2015 from 12pm to 3pm
Julia Nunnally Duncan will sign her books at The Orchard at Altapass Bookstore on Saturday, May 23 from noon until 3 p.m.See More
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Montreat College Friends of the Library Annual Luncheon at Montreat College Gaither Fellowship hall

June 20, 2015 from 12pm to 2pm
"When Real People Become Real Characters" presented by Novelist Mark de Castrique at the Montreat College Friends of the Library Annual Luncheon on June 13, 2015.Book signing follows the presentation.  Public is invited.  Reservations are required.See More
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Jonathan Kozol's Fire in the Ashes--25-year caring about poorest children

Poor children’s chief advocate reviews his career

by Rob Neufeld

(See voices about poverty in WNC)

 

            The season puts one in mind to read Jonathan Kozol’s new book, “Fire in the Ashes,” his review of 25 years caring and writing about homeless and poor children.

            Not only does this time of year bring to light the anniversary of the birth of a homeless child; it brings to theaters the movie version of “Les Miserables.”

            When the stage musical, “Les Miserables,” premiered in Broadway Theatre in Manhattan in 1987, Kozol was in the area, attending to the residents of the former Martinique Hotel on 31st Street.  The opposite of a miracle, the hotel had been transformed by the city into a nightmarish holding pen for welfare families, a place where guards extorted sex, drug dealers roosted, hunger gnawed, and safety and health went to hell.

            The high-rise was home to 1,400 children, many of whom walked to the theatre district to beg for alms.  The managers of Broadway Theatre had the police lead the children away.

            “People were paying a great deal of money to enjoy an entertainment fashioned from the misery of children from another era,” Jonathan Kozol notes.

 

Child care imperative

 

            There’s a third reason that Kozol’s book is timely.  We hear our president say, in Newtown, that “we bear responsibility for every child,” that caring for our children is our first job, and “if we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged.”

            Kozol’s book reminds us that this mission goes beyond protection from guns.

            Kozol had first written about the residents of the Martinique in his award-winning 1988 book, “Rachel and Her Children: Homeless Families in America.”  Its stories of heroic individuals crushed by impossible odds undercut blame-the-victim thinking.

            “Fire in the Ashes” provides an update to fates.  You end up grabbing on to the survivor stories to keep your spirit despite the carnage.

            In one of his eight portraits, Kozol tells about Ariella Patterson, who with her four boys had become homeless when her house had burned up after a boiler tank explosion.

            She applied for housing for the homeless, and went through a “deterrence system,” being put up in an Emergency Assistance Unit (EAU), sleeping on the floor, crowded with desperate people.  Imagine the Superdome after Katrina.

            “If they left an EAU before the city came to a decision,” Kozol writes, “this would indicate (to officials) that they were not ‘truly homeless’ and were not deserving of additional assistance.”

            After a period, Ariella got an apartment in the Martinque, where she heard a little girl had been raped going to throw away garbage in a bin on the stairway landing.

            Eventually, Ariella got a place in Mott Haven, a haven only for garbage-scavenging rats and child-recruiting drug lords.  The high mark for schools in the district was simply retention.

 

What do you do

 

            Ariella tried to combat the influences by taking her boys to museums, concerts, and restaurants. She got a job, but had no car, and came home late via public transportation. 

            Her oldest child, Silvio, 12, became a thief.  When he stole and cashed his mother’s paycheck, she put him in a group home.  He raged against that system without let-up, and pleaded to come home.  Finally, she let him, hoping he’d been chastened.

            He stole his mother’s pager and, when an older boy took it from him, he fought to get it back, and the boy slashed his face multiple times with a box cutter.  Silvio took it as a badge of honor; his hero was Scarface as played by Al Pacino.

            Silvio went train-surfing with his gang, riding atop the cars and playing chicken, for instance sitting up, facing backward as the train moved.  He ducked one bridge, but a second came up quickly, and a girder slammed him in the head and he was killed.  He was 14.

            Ariella felt powerless to counter the effects of slum childhoods.

            Armando, her second son, had been six when they’d become homeless.  He’d registered less of the Martinque’’s depravity.  But Silvio, “the Invincible,” had been his hero, and, though Ariella cut her work hours and came home earlier, she lost control of him.

            He turned 18, was arrested for selling drugs, and went to prison, where he became a heroin addict.  Ariella got him into rehab, but he started drinking.  One night, in a bar fight, a guy he insulted “stabbed him in the arm, cracked his skull, and cut off two of his right fingers.”

            He went back to heroin, and was in and out of prison.  During that time, he got married and had two kids.  On his last trip to prison, he was pulled away from his three-year-old daughter’s birthday party.  That changed him.

            He stayed home and cared for the children while his wife worked a full-time job, and he worked odd jobs.  Still, their income could not prevent their being evicted from rentals on two occasions.

            Ariella’s two youngest boys have fared better.   She got them into less violent and neglectful schools.  The older one is studying to mentor young people before they get into trouble.  The younger is a serious, quiet, and ambitious student.

            Ariella, with support from an Episcopal foundation, organizes an anti-gun and anti-violence campaign, and gives talks.

 

Belly of the beast

 

            I have taken the time to tell a whole story in this review to highlight the dramatic texture of Kozol’s book.

            His first portrait tells of a woman who accepted an invitation from a doctor in a Montana church community to move out there for a new life.  Despite the risk involved in such alienation, Vicky, the mom, thought it better than the killing fields of Mott Haven, to which she had also moved after a stay at the Martinique.

            The re-do was too late for her teenage son Eric.  The mean streets had sabotaged his spirit.

            One day, Vicky got a call from Eric, who sounded scared.  “Mummy, I don’t feel no good.  I need your help.”  She had him come home, and, unfortunately, he came with his delinquent friends.  They went into another room; and after a while, she heard a shot.  He’d killed himself with a shotgun to his head.

            The doctor continues to wonder if he might have gotten through to Eric somehow.  Vicky never recovered; she got sick with pancreatic cancer, moved in with her daughter, Lisette, and her husband near Myrtle Beach, and died there.  Lisette, a mother of four and a , student on the verge of becoming a paralegal in 2009, sees herself as the survivor.

 

The hero’s path

 

            There are many hero stories in “Fire in the Ashes”—agencies and volunteers (Kozol names the Education Action Fund); poor adults and children with amazingly strong and cheerful characters; and mentors, including Kozol, whose last chapter before the epilogue tells about Benjamin, a young man he made his godson.

            Charles Dickens would pale at creating a fiction as degrading as Benjamin’s childhood, and yet, Benjamin pulls through, thanks in large part to Martha Overall, the pastor at St. Ann’s Episcopal Church in the Bronx.  All of Benjamin’s anguish, Martha told Kozol, “intensified his wish to do as much good as he can within this world in the years that God allows us.”

            But the success stories are the rare exceptions, Kozol stresses.  Every child, he insists, should have the resources “now available to children of the poor only on the basis of a careful selectivity or by catching the attention of empathetic people.”

            When Kozol’s spirits flag, he is sometimes uplifted by his former Martinique connections, who keep in touch with him.  A woman named Pineapple reminded him of how he’d advised her about “picking battles that we have a chance to win…and not getting frozen up and flustered in your mind by things that are too big for you and me to change.”

 

BOOK

Fire in the Ashes: Twenty-Five Years among the Poorest Children in America by Jonathan Kozol (Crown hardcover, 2012, 364 pages, $27)

 

LEARN MORE

Visit Jonathan Kozol’s website at JonathanKozol.com.

 

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Wow!  What a powerful book!  Must read.

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