By Ann E. Burg
Sometimes when I visit schools I bring a beat up old pot filled with trinkets and toys, gadgets and gizmos, photographs and mementoes.
My mother’s sister gave me the pot when I first went out on my own.
She and my mother subscribed to the culinary philosophy if you can read, you can cook.
I could read (I read a lot!) so my aunt was convinced that my watery sauce was the result of an unsuitable pot.
My sauce did improve, but I used my new pot so often that it became worn-out and worthless.
The handles were still intact but the sides were warped and the bottom, rounded. The pot literally rocked.
I couldn’t use it for cooking, but since it had sentimental value, I didn’t want to throw it away.
Eventually the pot became a catch-all for random objects that represented my recipe for writing.
I began to bring the pot with me on school visits.
There’s a small wind-up robot to discourage robot-writing (simply rearranging notes) and colorful streamers which remind me of an after-the spring-rain rainbow (like watercolor streamers hung from the clouds to dry).
There are marbles in a tin (what does the rain sound like to you?), a mini skateboard, some pressed flowers, a wooden doll family.
Everything in the pot symbolizes something–characters, conversations. Research. Memories. Just about everything that goes into writing a story jangles in my
During my presentation, students and I explore each symbol. We even talk about the pot itself.
Together we’ve discovered that things cooked in a pot, unlike those quickly sautéed in a frying pan take a long time to simmer. Flavors blend slowly but in time, the toughest meat becomes tender.
Stories happen that way too.
On January 12, 2010, Haiti suffered a catastrophic earthquake. My pot overflowed with photographs of dazed and frightened people, with non-stop news reports and devastating headlines. Haiti, the Poorest Country in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti, a Country in Ruins.
I realized how little I knew about Haiti, and began to research the tiny island nation.
What I discovered surprised me. Haiti has had a tumultuous but amazing history. It is a country rich in tradition and graced by a resilient and hopeful people.
Soon my pot held Haitian history, Haitian proverbs, and dozens of photographs of pig-tailed girls and wide-eyed boys. I began to understand that the faces lined with worry and scarred by poverty were also marked with pride and resiliency.
For me, writing is about letting my research and reflections simmer together. If I’m lucky, characters begin to emerge. A story unfolds.
You beat the drums and you dance again is my favorite Haitian proverb, one that best captures the spirit of the Haitian people. It’s a proverb which continually rose to the top of my simmering pot and became the defining ingredient my verse novel, Serafina’s Promise (Scholastic, 2013). !
Every writer has his or her own pot ~ what’s cooking in yours?