Every week, I’ll be doing a mini feature on my site (& blasting it on social media) on activists, artists, and educators who are doing important things in the world. Like Levar Burton, the only thing these folks have in common is that I like them, and I hope you do too.
This week’s feature is Alise Wascom.
“I honestly think my memory starts with books–I can’t remember a time before being read to, before reading. My grandmother read the entire Little House on the Prairie series to me. As an adult, and as a mixed Onondaga person, there are most definitely problematic elements in those books, but, the series made me fall in love with survival and the wilderness and adventure and I’ll forever cherish that time spent with my grandmother reading them. I read a lot of historical fiction as a child. A New Coat for Anna, a picture book set post WWII I checked out the maximum number of times they would allow from the library. As I got older, I loved the Dear America series, Witch of Blackbird Pond, Lyddie, The Midwife’s Apprentice, Island of the Blue Dolphins. I don’t read as much historical fiction now, but maybe I should.”
Alise’s work is varied and lush. Thematically, it covers Greek mythology, obsession, motherhood/daughterhood, magic, spiders, off-the-grid communities, wildly blooming gardens, seclusion, the exotic animal trade, dog fighting rings, East Coast mill towns, Northern California hideaways, love, teenage runaways, parental rights in gay families, gas station junk food vegetarians, tree houses, and how a girl picking flowers with her mom ultimately becomes Queen of the Underworld.
Use writing as an excuse to travel to beautiful places, but don’t stay gone from home for too long.
When asked what part art can play in times of political duress, Alise is emphatic:
“Art–music, dance, sculpture, painting–is everything, but, for me, literacy specifically is critical for the health and happiness of people, not just individually, but also collectively, as a culture and as a community. Here in Louisiana, by fourth grade, just 36% of students read and write on grade level. Let that number sink in: 36%. It’s tragedy. It’s a disgrace. I think I would feel completely despondent were it not for the work I am able to do here at the State Library, where I dedicate half the year to the Louisiana Book Festival and the other half to the Louisiana Young Readers Choice Awards, two phenomenal programs which are part of the Louisiana Center for the Book (affiliated with the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress). The main mission of the Center for the Book is to stimulate public interest in reading and books, which, coincidentally, is my personal mission in life. And best of all I get to work with a small but extremely dedicated group of people, who do magical and awe-inspiring things with extremely tight budgets.”
Experience the wild: