Sunday, June 07, 2009

Book pitch: would you read Holding on by a Thread?

I've been working on a manuscript for a while now, and I am ready to try out a pitch. Let me know what you think; lots of room for revision.

Holding on by a Thread: The Lives of Refugees (and what individuals can do to welcome them).


Holding on by a Thread is an account of the complicated lives of three refugee families in Fargo, North Dakota. Author Kevin Brooks unexpectedly found himself intricately involved with the lives of a young Sudanese man trying to raise siblings and his own family, a Somali couple largely homebound due to war injuries and limited English skills, and a Congolese family of six with big ambitions to succeed in America, but held back by red tape and limited resources during their first 100 days in Fargo. Holding On shares life dilemmas and complications that should challenge readers to ask, “What would I have done in their situation?” and “What can I do to help these families, or ones like them in my own community?” The global village, now more than ever, can be realized through friendships and individuals’ efforts, rather than television or the Internet, and friendship, Brooks learns, is the key to a global education.

11 comments:

Lee S. Tesdell said...

and perhaps one more question: "What conditions lead families like these to leave their homelands and how can we help them go home if they want to?" I ask this question, because at the end of the day, though we naturally want to help refugees in our own communities, we also believe in fixing the conditions back home that led these families to leave.

David said...

I like it; I am trying to wrap my head about the existing literature it participates in and improves upon (a literature I know little about except by osmosis while living in the Twin Cities).

Is this a book about the immigrants' experiences, much like this one:
http://www.amazon.com/Nuer-Journeys-Lives-Minnesota-Immigrants/dp/0205543324
(Nuer Journeys, Nuer Lives: Sudanese Refugees in Minnesota (Part of the New Immigrants Series) by Jon D. Holtzman (Author), Nancy Foner, but unique in its perspective because it occurs at a kind of second-diaspora stage? Did these immigrants, in other words, arrive fresh to Fargo the way that the Nuer in this book arrived to Mpls, or are these folks relocating from Mpls into Fargo, and so experiencing a second immigration from the micro-community in the urban center to NO community in Fargo? You can use this book as a foil, either way.

Note the way that this book is pitched: as a supplemental text in Anthropology courses. You aren't thinking in that direction, yes? You are thinking a popular essay book, yes?

You're thinking something closer to this in marketing:
http://www.amazon.com/Hmong-Minnesota-People-Chia-Vang/dp/0873515986
Hmong in Minnesota (People of Minnesota) by Chia Vang (Author)
...but this book is all about the refugees, not necessarily about the encounter between self and other.

It's been a long time since I've read a contact narrative (is that the word for what you're hoping to write -- a story about your experience meeting, understanding, and moving to act with the other?). And the ones that stick in my head, I never liked: Mama Lola, Storm in the Mountain -- stories of the researcher, rather than stories of the community. So I may be little help there.

I think your story is more than that, because you don't go native (Mama Lola) and you don't get dismissive (Storm) -- you become a collaborator. And maybe that's why you're positioned to tell us something new.

I will be the first to admit: I don't buy many books about Fargo or African refugees. So I would buy it out of love of Brooks. (If they were southeast Asian, though, it would slip onto our shelf immediately, no matter who you are. Que sera sera.) But, these are the ways that I could see positioning the book.

One last thought: You could segment a portion of the work (the portion about literacy and about creative collaboration with the refugees for purposes of public performance) for a volume in this series:
http://www1.ncte.org/store/books/studies
...which has nice volumes on rural literacy and on literacy and diversity -- you could speak very nicely to those other volumes. If you wanted to segment out a scholarly project in addition to a popular project.
I especially like the rural literacy book, because it includes an anecdote about a woman who walked six miles to get to a library -- that's a struggle for literacy. And it talks about another who checked out a book by a priest that turned out to be a steamy romance -- then struggled to get the staff to remove her name from the checkout card in the back of the book, less her social standing take a hit. It's a small book about the ways that our relationships with books matter.

But now I am writing the sales pitch for someone else's book.

This is an exciting project, one that has your heart and my attention!

Kirstin Cronn-Mills said...

I have lots of thoughts, but they're too long for here--let me know if you'd like them. They're all based on the commercial market as I know it through watching a friend try to sell NF--that may not be your audience, however.

Yes, I'd read it. : )

Linger said...

I'm interested in this subject, and the pitch sparked an interest. I'm wondering if there are any ties to the Lost Boys of Sudan that you could 'catch a wave' on. Could that be in the title, as I am thinking of a broader audience that needs some ground/foundation to stand upon. I suppose it may be a shameless name-drop, but I thought I would mention it for the sake of it.

Also, the pitch has some areas that could be improved upon, such as the following:

"Author Kevin Brooks unexpectedly found himself intricately involved with the lives of a young Sudanese man trying to raise siblings and his own family, a Somali couple largely homebound due to war injuries and limited English skills, and a Congolese family of six with big ambitions to succeed in America, but held back by red tape and limited resources during their first 100 days in Fargo."
____________

I had to review that a couple times. I questioned the use of the phrase "intricately involved" as I felt you meant to state more of a sudden immersion or plunge effect.

I felt the notion that one young man has the weight of so many upon his shoulders should have been more of the focus, rather the nature of the relationships and their heritage (as that latter info could be learned of later).

That's all I have time for now, but this is great! I really enjoyed your article in the HPR, too!

Peace.

Kevin Brooks said...

Thanks for all the comments, friends. I need to get Blogger to send me email notifications; I assume no one is reading my blog, until I visit it two weeks later.

Kevin Brooks said...

Thanks for all the comments, friends. I need to get Blogger to send me email notifications; I assume no one is reading my blog, until I visit it two weeks later.

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