Janet Willen

About Janet Willen

 

Janet Willen is author of Speak a Word for Freedom: Women against Slavery (2015) and Five Thousand Years of Slavery (2011), written with Marjorie Gann and published by Tundra Books. Publishers Weekly called Speak a Word for Freedom an “engrossing study of female abolitionists from the 18th century to the present day” and gave the book a starred review. Five Thousand Years of Slavery was named a 2012 Notable Book for a Global Society by the International Reading Association and a Silver Winner in young adult nonfiction of ForeWord Reviews, and it received a starred review from School Library Journal. A writer and editor for more than thirty years, Janet has written many magazine articles and has edited books for elementary school children as well as academic texts and a remedial writing curriculum for postsecondary students.  Janet lives in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Articles contributed by this author
Janet Willen

JANET WILLEN

Author of Speak a Word for Freedom: Women against Slavery and Five Thousand Years of Slavery

4/7/2017 — Remembering Derek Walcott, 1930-2017

I used to read a lot of poetry. That thought hit me on March 17, when I learned of the death of the Nobel Prize-winning poet and playwright Derek Walcott on the island of St. Lucia, where he was born.

It has been years since I’ve read Walcott, but his work was once a constant companion of mine. As I think now about the pleasures of meter, rhyme, and the soaring imagination that good poetry generates, I realize what I’ve missed.

When I heard of Derek Walcott’s death, I recalled a day in 1980 when I opened The New Yorker and excitedly read the title “Jean Rhys” above a six-stanza poem. Only a short time before had I become acquainted with the Dominica-born author Jean Rhys, but I’d been devouring her novels Wide Sargasso Sea, Good Morning, Midnight, and Voyage in the Dark and recommending them to every book lover I knew. And here was an homage to her in a poem by Walcott. I calmed myself and read: (Continue reading)

Janet Willen

JANET WILLEN

Author of Speak a Word for Freedom: Women against Slavery and Five Thousand Years of Slavery

3/7/2017 — Nobel-Prize Winner Patrick Modiano’s Dora Bruder

Last year when the Nobel Prize in Literature went to Bob Dylan, many people responded with the question, Why? Two years earlier when the Nobel Prize committee named Patrick Modiano the recipient of its literature prize, another question was often asked, Who?

Though Modiano had published about thirty works in his native France, he was almost unknown in this country. Only a dozen of his novels had been translated into English, and the publishing house David R. Godine, which had published three of them, sold only about 8,000 copies.

The Nobel Prize changed that, and we readers are the beneficiaries. (Continue reading)

Janet Willen

JANET WILLEN

Author of Speak a Word for Freedom: Women against Slavery and Five Thousand Years of Slavery

books-secret-chord-pb-lr12/7/16 — The Secret Chord: A New Look at an Old Book

The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks has everything — love, hate, jealousy, violence, intrigue, battles, and faith. And why shouldn’t it? It’s a retelling of the biblical story of David, though the word “retelling” doesn’t do justice to Brooks’s success in breathing new life into the three-thousand-year-old character many readers think they already know.

David is familiar to us as the man who killed the giant Goliath, united the people of Israel, played the harp, and wrote many of the Psalms. That’s about all I remembered of him when I opened the book. The novel so intrigued me that I’ve since reread the biblical accounts to see how they differ from Brooks’s. (Continue reading)

Janet Willen

JANET WILLEN

Author of Speak a Word for Freedom: Women against Slavery and Five Thousand Years of Slavery

10/7/16 — You Should Look It Up

samuel_johnson_by_joshua_reynolds_2Kids hate dictionaries. That’s something I’ve discovered over fifteen years of tutoring elementary and middle school kids. If they come across a word they don’t know, they’d rather ignore it than go to the bookcase for a dictionary.

I couldn’t help thinking about that last month when I stopped by 17 Gough Square in London, the home of Samuel Johnson from 1748 to 1759, which is when he and a staff of six were hard at work compiling The Dictionary of the English Language [volume 1 and volume 2]. Visitors are welcome in most rooms, and all the exhibits give a taste of the Georgian life Johnson and his friends led. My favorite spot was the attic, where most of the dictionary work was done. You can sit where Johnson sat and thumb through facsimiles of the dictionary. (Continue reading)

Janet Willen

JANET WILLEN

Author of Speak a Word for Freedom: Women against Slavery and Five Thousand Years of Slavery

8/7/16 — Goodies from My Book Groups

A friend of mine was in four book groups for many years. She couldn’t help herself. Whenever she heard about one, she thought she’d give it a try and quickly found herself hooked.

I’m now in three book groups, so I understand. One is with friends, another is at synagogue, and the third is at a home for seniors. Each group has its own personality, and I wonder how I ever managed with only one.

Without these groups, I’d have missed many a good read and discussion. They introduced me to Harriet Scott Chessman, Howard Norman, and so many more. (Continue reading)

Janet Willen

JANET WILLEN

Author of Speak a Word for Freedom: Women against Slavery and Five Thousand Years of Slavery

6/7/16 — A Cozy and Guilt-Free Escape

I owe a debt of gratitude to public TV because PBS made me a fan of cozy mysteries. I didn’t even know the term when I first met the writer Dorothy Sayers through Ian Carmichael’s portrayal of Peter Wimsey, the upper-crust dilettante who solved murder cases with wit and his trusted valet.

Some people restrict the term cozy mystery to stories that occur in small towns, like Miss Marple’s village of St. Mary Mead, but I think that’s too limiting. The distinction, I think, is what action takes place off the page or off the screen. Cozy mysteries are family entertainment; there’s no graphic violence, no graphic sex, and no reason to cover your eyes. The protagonists’ skills may thrill you as they use their calculating minds and cool instincts to identify the villains, but you’ll never mistake these books for thrillers. (Continue reading)

Janet Willen

JANET WILLEN

Author of Speak a Word for Freedom: Women against Slavery and Five Thousand Years of Slavery

West pf Sunset4/7/16 — Stewart O’Nan’s Novel Take on F. Scott Fitzgerald

It takes a lot of courage for an author to write a fictional book about a writer who’s almost as famous for his life as for his novels. Stewart O’Nan meets the challenge with West of Sunset, a novel about F. Scott Fitzgerald. In O’Nan’s imaginings we’re shown a depth, intelligence, and artistic struggle that meshes beautifully with the outlines of Fitzgerald’s life that his fans know so well.

The 2015 novel is a fictionalized account of the last three years of the famous author’s life. In the opening chapter, the forty-year-old Fitzgerald is no longer the golden boy of the literary set. In poor health and financially strapped, he’s about to leave the East Coast for Hollywood to work as a script-writing hack for MGM. His wife, Zelda, is in a sanatorium in North Carolina, their daughter, Scottie, is in a boarding school in New Jersey, and Fitzgerald feels he has no choice but to compromise his talents so he can pay the bills. (Continue reading)

Janet Willen

JANET WILLEN

Author of Speak a Word for Freedom: Women against Slavery and Five Thousand Years of Slavery

CITR_Salinger_Signet_294px2/7/16 — Another Look at The Catcher in the Rye

I don’t recall how old I was when I first read J.D. Salinger’s novel The Catcher in the Rye–fourteen or fifteen, perhaps. Everyone seemed to be reading it then, and afterward, everyone seemed to adapt Salinger’s writing style. English classes became tedious as student after student read his “original” composition in an imitation of Holden Caulfield’s voice.

All of us wanted to be Holden Caulfield. We wanted to travel through New York as he did — alone, with money in our pockets, and at all hours. We wanted to read the books he liked, drink scotch, and call out the phonies. We liked that he was a straight talker, glib and slangy, a no-holds-barred kind of guy, our generation’s John Wayne.

That was the Holden Caulfield of my childhood. Some fifty years later, I’ve revisited The Catcher in the Rye, and Holden looks very different to me. (Continue reading)