What’s Past is Prologue
Three inches of rain fell in Los Angeles the day I arrived to celebrate the launch of American Wings: Chicago’s Pioneering Black Aviators and the Race for Equality in the Sky. In American Wings, fellow YA author Sherri L. Smith and I tell the story of four incredible men and women: Cornelius Coffey, John C. Robinson, Janet Harmon Bragg, and Willa Brown, and how they brought about the integration of the Civilian Pilot Training Program in the 1930s, leading to the eventual integration of the U.S. military in 1948.
Los Angeles is Sherri’s home, and she scooped me up from LAX – due to a cancelled flight the day before, I arrived a mere three hours before our first event began! Then she ably whisked us through the rain to Upland, California, where we spoke to middle schoolers at Foothill Knolls STEM Academy and high school students participating in the Black Student Union at Upland High School.
Foothill Knolls STEM Academy, Upland, CA
Everyone was incredibly excited to see us, and we were so grateful to the library staff and booksellers who helped everything to run smoothly: the sisterly team of Katie and Heather Laird (who provided us with seemingly unlimited drinks and snacks), and Maureen Palacios of Once Upon a Time bookstore (who provided books and regaled us with bookseller gossip).
Upland High School, Upland, CA
The next morning dawned clear and fresh and sparkling – surely L.A. is never so wonderful as just after a rain! Coming from winter in Scotland, I was boggled by the profusion of citrus trees and bougainvillea growing not just in gardens but also on the verges of the freeway.
Tuesday’s visit was to another excited group of kids at View Park Preparatory School in the city, where we were delighted by Emma Schultheis-Gerry’s brand-new library of her own creation, focusing on Black interest books and full of cozy nooks for reading.
Library at View Park STEM Preparatory School, Los Angeles, CA
Children’s Book World provided books through their non-profit, Readers & Writers Rock! This was our only school visit on Tuesday, which gave us a bit of breathing space for dinner with our husbands and a game of mini-golf before our final school the following day.
Sherri and E Wein at Castle Park Mini Golf, Sherman Oaks, CA
Wednesday’s visit to the Octavia E. Butler Magnet School was a real marathon, with four full presentations to the eighth graders, and an informal lunch with the Black Student Union and librarian Natalie Daily. The kids really opened up when they were able to talk to us face to face! Books here were courtesy of the Light Bringer Project.
Octavia E. Butler Magnet School, Pasadena, CA
One of the cool things about our talks was how much we refined our double act – cutting out extraneous information, smoothing the transitions, and learning to toss the subject back and forth between us like a ball. When we prompted the students at Octavia Butler for questions, somebody asked, “Are you two best friends?”
In the evening, we did an event at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena (more chairs had to be brought in at the last minute) – mostly attended by grown-ups, this time, and I think probably ninety percent of the packed audience was made up of Sherri’s friends!
Vroman’s Bookstore, Pasadena, CA
Both friends and strangers were a wonderfully responsive bunch. We were particularly touched by the appearance of “Literary Aviatrix” Liz Booker, who’d come all the way from Florida just to hear us talk and who bought FIFTEEN books herself.
The evening ended with an enormous meal attended by friends, family, and fans at a local Mexican restaurant.
Toasting launch day with my aunt Susan!
It was all a fantastic way to launch this book that we’ve been working on so hard for so long. In the aftermath we had a Zoom call to meet with Craig Coffey, the great-nephew of our hero Cornelius Coffey, and I spent a wonderful morning in the Palm Springs Air Museum admiring their display celebrating the Tuskegee Airmen!
P-51 Mustang “Bunny,” dedicated to Lt. Col. Bob Friend and the Red Tails
Here’s a link to the interview we did with Jed Doherty for his Reading With Your Kids podcast.
Here’s a link to Erika Long’s thoughtful Educator Guide for American Wings, published by Penguin Teen.