29 Aug

Bartography Express for August 2015, featuring Tamara Ellis Smith’s Another Kind of Hurricane

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This month, one subscriber to my Bartography Express newsletter will win a copy of Another Kind of Hurricane (Schwartz & Wade) by Tamara Ellis Smith.

If you’re not already receiving Bartography Express, click the image below for a look. If you like what you see, click “Join” in the bottom right corner, and you’ll be in the running for the giveaway next Tuesday.

20150825 Bartography Express

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25 Aug

Another Kind of Hurricane and ways to support New Orleans

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Tamara Ellis Smith, featured in the August issue of Bartography Express for her debut novel, Another Kind of Hurricane

Another Kind of Hurricane

— has asked me to share this with you. I’m so glad she did, and I’m happy to pass it along:


lowernine.org is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the long-term recovery of the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, Louisiana in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and the levee breaches of 2005. lowernine.org is working to bring home more Lower Ninth Ward families than any other single organization. A portion of the profits from the sale of Another Kind of Hurricane goes directly to lowernine.org.

Big Class is a nonprofit organization dedicated to cultivating and supporting the voices of New Orleans’ writers ages 6-18 through creative collaborations with schools and communities. Big Class offers a variety of free, innovative programs that provide under-resourced students with opportunities to explore their creativity and improve their writing skills. Readers all over the country are donating copies of Another Kind of Hurricane — as well as other vital books — to Big Class, getting meaningful stories directly into the hands of the community they represent.

Information about both of these organizations — and how you can help — can be found at www.tamaraellissmith.com.


In collaboration with disaster relief organizations and educators, I have developed The Another Kind of Hurricane Project -— a community service project for schools. Students in one school in one part of the country learn how to identify another school somewhere else that needs assistance. They learn how to organize a drive, advertise it, run it and, finally, send needed items. A collaborative art project is woven into the project, exploring community, landscape and meaningful objects. By participating in a reciprocal learning experience, students from both schools can -— hopefully and ultimately -— gain a sense of understanding of how they are similar, and how they are connected.

The Another Kind of Hurricane Project guide invites schools to support other schools in disaster areas by donating copies of Another Kind of Hurricane, marbles, and more concrete relief supplies. It also invites schools to collaborate on an art project.

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24 Aug

In which I give away Don Tate’s Poet — and a little behind-the-scenes info

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One week from tomorrow, you can buy this beauty — the first book that my friend Don Tate has both written and illustrated:


In the meantime, you can get in the running for a copy of Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton (Peachtree) that I’ll be giving away. More on that in a minute.

But first, Don and I thought you might like to know where he got the idea to write this true story about the enslaved North Carolinian who became the first African American to be published in the South.

At one meeting of the critique group that Don and I were in nearly a decade ago (the same crit group, by the way, where Don became one of the very first people to read The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch), I mentioned a story I’d heard on the radio.

I must have thought it sounded like a promising idea for a nonfiction book — one that might be right up Don’s alley — and I let him know that it was his for the taking.

“Well, give, give,” Don said. “I’m taking.”

So, a few days later, I sent him this email:

From: Chris Barton
To: Don Tate
Sent: Fri, 28 Apr 2006 12:14:20 (CDT)
Subject: “Well, give, give. I’m taking.”

OK, then — here’s that story I told you about last

All Things Considered, March 30, 2006 · The University
of North Carolina is naming a building after a slave
who worked nearby and used to come to campus to recite
poetry. Decades before the Civil War, George Moses
Horton was known on campus as a talented speaker and
poet, and students often paid him to create poems for


Barely an hour later, I got this reply:

From: Don Tate
To: Chris Barton
Sent: Friday, April 28, 2006 1:26 PM
Subject: Re: “Well, give, give. I’m taking.”

Ah very cool! Thanks. Just the lead I needed.


Apparently, it was just the lead he needed. But that was only the beginning, because Don then proceeded to pour into this book all the love and effort and patience that it warranted. It shows on the cover, and it shows throughout. Congratulations, Don!

And congratulations in advance to one of you Bartography readers on this fine book you’re soon soon going to win. If you want to have a shot at it, all you have to do is say so in the comments.

On publication day next Tuesday, I’ll pick a winner at random. Good luck!

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17 Aug

See you soon, Mississippi! And thank you, Black History Channel!

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I remember the excitement of the first Texas Book Festival twenty years ago, as well as my more personal enthusiasm two years later when I had the honor of shepherding Mississippi author (with deep Texas ties) Willie Morris around the annual event.

Mississippi Book Festival logo

This week, it’s Mississippi’s turn for its inaugural book festival, and I’m delighted to be attending as one of the featured authors. I hope some of you will be able to attend my panel this coming Saturday at 11:30 a.m.:

Children’s Illustrated Books – Room 113

Presented by First Commercial Bank and the Friends of University Libraries / University of Southern Mississippi

  • Ellen Ruffin, Curator de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection, University of Southern Mississippi, Moderator
  • Sarah Campbell, Wolfsnail, Growing Patterns, Mysterious Patterns
  • Sarah Frances Hardy, Dress Me!
  • Susan Eaddy, Poppy’s Best Paper
  • Hester Bass, The Secret World of Walter Anderson, Seeds of Freedom
  • Lori Nichols, Maple & Willow Apart
  • Chris Barton, The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch

In the meantime, I hope you’ll have a look at the Black History Channel’s review of my book and consideration of the Reconstruction era. In a nutshell, reviewer Rita Lorraine says that The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch‘s “text and illustrations … depict the whirlwind of change, hope, and the infinite possibilities that defined this rocky time in American history.”

I truly appreciate that, Rita. Thank you for sharing my book with your readers.


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09 Aug

Revisiting Reconstruction (Week of August 9, 2015)

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Put simply, white Southerners resisted and then reversed — through legislation and violence — the extension of freedom to their black neighbors. And as Reconstruction neared its end, the U.S. government did not keep up its efforts to protect its African American citizens in those states. It wasn’t until the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s that the nation’s course was put right, back toward equality.

Excerpt from the Historical Note in my book The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers; illustrated by Don Tate)

Here are the most timely and intriguing items about Reconstruction that I found this past week. (What did I miss? Let me know in the comments…)

From The Chronicle of Higher Education:

For scholars of African-American studies, the police killings of unarmed black men in several cities over the past year have been personally searing and unusually powerful pedagogically. …

Each new event has forced scholars to make pedagogical choices. Some have made the incidents the explicit topics of a new lesson or course; others have used them as entry points to teach previously existing material. …

Historians, for example, have linked current developments in Ferguson and elsewhere to the Watts riots of 1965, to Reconstruction, even back to the slave laws established in the 17th-century colony of Virginia.

From the U.S. Army:

In May 1865, there were approximately 1 million Soldiers in the Union Army. A rapid demobilization followed and by January 1866, there just 87,550 occupation troops in the South, and by October 1867, there were a mere 20,117 Soldiers.

The end of the Civil War, the freeing of the slaves, and demobilization did not usher in a period of peace and tranquility, [Mark Bradley, a historian at the Army’s Center of Military History] noted. The institution of slavery and the antebellum way of life had roots that were deep.

Beginning in early 1866, Southern states began passing a series of laws and regulations, known collectively as Black Codes, which restricted the rights of blacks from voting, owning firearms and even gathering in public under certain conditions. Many were arrested for minor infractions and sentenced to involuntary labor. “It was about controlling the workforce and keeping blacks in as close to a position of slavery as possible,” he said.

And from Tom Dillard in the Democrat-Gazette:

I was taking Arkansas history in the seventh grade in 1960 when I was introduced to the history of Reconstruction. My textbook, which I still own, was The Story of Arkansas by Hazel Presson, my revised edition having been published in Little Rock in 1948. Mrs. Presson certainly had no sympathy with Reconstruction or the newly freed black citizens.

Here is how Presson described the creation of the Ku Klux Klan: ‘The people of Arkansas had no legal way of stopping these lawless bands of Negroes, and the horrible deeds continued. In most of the Southern States the carpetbaggers had secured control of the government by unfair elections and had aroused the colored people to villainy. Finally, the citizens of the States formed an organization to try to scare the Negroes and carpetbaggers into being good. This organization was called the Ku-Klux Klan …’

At age 13, I was too young to question Presson’s textbook, but as my study of Arkansas history deepened through the years, I discovered that Hazel Presson was merely one in a flood of Southern textbook authors who painted Reconstruction in starkly biased ways. It turns out that Clio, the muse of history, wore a laurel of cotton blossoms.


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07 Aug

More news from Mississippi (and 51 other states and territories)

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Center for the Book Great Reads

Says the Library of Congress:

Every year, a list of books representing the literary heritage of the 50 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands is distributed by the Library of Congress’s Center for the Book during the National Book Festival.

The pick for Mississippi this year is The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch (written by me, illustrated by Don Tate, and published by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers), for which I’m most grateful. And now I want to get a look at those books picked for all the other states…

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02 Aug

Revisiting Reconstruction (Week of August 2, 2015)

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From my book The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers; illustrated by Don Tate)

Excerpt from my book The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers; illustrated by Don Tate)

Here are the three most notable items pertaining to Reconstruction that I found this past week. Or, at least, two notable items preceded by one blatantly self-promotional one. (What did I miss? Let me know in the comments…)

In advance of this month’s inaugural Mississippi Book Festival, this interview with me from Jackson’s Clarion-Ledger:

Question: Briefly, why did Reconstruction after the Civil War fail in the South? (History seems to suggest that had it not failed, things in the South could have been very different.)

Answer: Reconstruction failed because racists in the South wanted it to fail more than the general population of the United States wanted to see it through. White terrorists and their political allies were firm in their resolve to deny civil rights and social equality to black Americans, and the will of the federal government faltered.

From Ishmael-Lateef Ahmad in the The St. Louis American:

In February 1988 I team-covered a story when then state Rep. Thomas Reed and 13 others were arrested in an attempt to scramble to the crest of the state capitol and remove the Confederate battle flag from atop the dome. They never got over an 8-foot construction fence before they were arrested and taken to jail. Flag supporters celebrated and vowed the flag would never come down. …

At the time, Reed was president of the Alabama NAACP. In 1970 he was among the first blacks elected to the Alabama state legislature since Reconstruction…

And from Will Moredock in the Charleston City Paper, writing about Mary C. Simms Oliphant, 20th century author of the South Carolina state history textbook:

Oliphant’s primary way of dealing with black people in South Carolina history was to ignore them. In her 432-page text are hundreds of illustrations, yet blacks are depicted in only nine. Of those nine, two show blacks picking cotton, one is a 19th-century engraving showing blacks running a cotton gin, while another shows blacks hauling cotton bails on the wharves in Charleston. The only black person identified by name in the entire book is Denmark Vesey, the accused organizer of a failed slave revolt in 1822.

The keepers of South Carolina’s history, archives, and monuments have been ignoring black people for generations. This weekend we begin to correct that with two days of scholarship and observances honoring Civil War hero and Reconstruction reformer Robert Smalls. It is part of the Civil War sesquicentennial observance in the city where that terrible conflict began. The organizers of this four-year series of events are determined to avoid the mistakes of the centennial observance 50 years ago. These events will be dignified and historically inclusive. This weekend’s observance will be a small step toward understanding that war and its aftermath.


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01 Aug

“Prince Valiant soon realized this was a bad idea”

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I felt like making something today, and then several Sundays’ worth of newspaper comics unexpectedly arrived, along with some cardboard, so…

"Prince Valiant soon realized this was a bad idea"

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31 Jul

A reminder to myself (and maybe to you, too)

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This #TenThingsToSayToAWriter contribution by author Jen Malone (Maps to the Stars) —

— was a welcome reminder for me. And a needed one, too.

Each time recently that I’ve heard a favorite podcast include a request for reviews, stars, likes, etc., it’s been at an inopportune time. But it’s also always spurred the recognition that, yes, when my hands (or at least my thumbs) are free, I should support the podcasts and books I love by helping them catch the eyes of other potential listeners and readers.

Reviews do that. And heaven knows that those of us who put things out for the public — to absorb, and to think about — love hearing that we’ve hit our mark.

I always forget, though. I mentally acknowledge that leaving positive feedback is as easy as it is appreciated, and then my mind veers elsewhere. But I’m going to try to get in the habit of doing that favor for others.

Maybe on Fridays.

Definitely on this Friday.

Right now, in fact.

How about you?

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27 Jul

Revisiting Reconstruction (Week of July 26, 2015)

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From the Historical Note in my book The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch(Eerdmans Books for Young Readers; illustrated by Don Tate)

Excerpt from the Historical Note in my book The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers; illustrated by Don Tate)

Here are the most timely and intriguing items about Reconstruction that I found this past week. (What did I miss? Let me know in the comments…)

From the University of South Carolina Beaufort:

The University of South Carolina Beaufort (USCB), in partnership with the City of Beaufort, Penn Center, and the University Of South Carolina College Of Education, will host 30 K-12 teachers from around the country for a three-week summer institute July 12 – August 1, 2015. The institute, “America’s Reconstruction: The Untold Story,” will guide the educators through more than a century of American history—from the final years of the cotton kingdom in the South, through the Civil War and Reconstruction, and up to the modern civil rights era.

The institute is funded as a result of a $200,000 National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) grant awarded in 2014 to J. Brent Morris, Ph.D., assistant professor of history in the Department of Humanities and Fine Arts at USCB.

From Tom Dillard in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette:

Recently a columnist in this newspaper wrote a scathing attack on the post-Civil War period known as Reconstruction. He then made a series of statements justifying his conclusion that “the ugly history of Reconstruction is dawning anew.” We supposedly face a different type of Reconstruction: “This time the culprits seething with malice and seeking to once again crush and conquer the old Confederacy are the Radical Revisionists.”

I guess I am a radical revisionist. For years I have written about Reconstruction in Arkansas, and now more than ever I see it as a great experiment which offered so much but which, admittedly, fell short in many ways. While it failed in guaranteeing the liberty and rights of the freedmen, Reconstruction was the beginning of the modernization of Arkansas–a process which more or less continues to this day.

And from Stephen Kantrowitz at We’re History:

Ben Tillman reminds us that the defeat of the Confederacy was not the end of our reckoning with slavery. We are also living in the shadow of Reconstruction and its overthrow, a war that Tillman and his comrades won. A large statue of Tillman stands on the South Carolina statehouse grounds in Columbia, and prominent buildings on several campuses bear his name, tributes to his power and popularity. To take full account of Ben Tillman is to understand a far more difficult truth: for a hundred years after the Confederate flag fell in 1865, the white supremacy for which Tillman proudly stood was part of the governing ideology of the United States. The slaveholders lost the Civil War, but they and their sons won the battle that followed. Ben Tillman’s career charts the nature and scope of that victory, and his legacies continue to shape our world.

Tillman’s career reminds us that the world of the post-Civil War South was shaped, to a staggering degree, by murder. His service as a “Red Shirt” foot soldier in 1876 included election-day violence aimed at preventing South Carolina’s black majority from voting. A black political organizer approached the polls in November to find Tillman waving a pistol: “If I come any further,” he reported Tillman telling him, “I would come through blood.” Such terror cast the election of 1876 into doubt, installed a Republican president who no longer counted on southern votes, and returned the former slaveholding class to power in South Carolina. Slavery was not reestablished, but through violence and intimidation slavery’s champions and their heirs replaced it with a racial caste system.


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