A Conversation With Lesa Cline-Ransome
By Chloe Grant, Read to Them Staff
Happy Wednesday folks! As you’ve journeyed into the first few chapters of Finding Langston, you may have noticed the poetic language and the rich storyline. Perhaps you’ve wondered who’s behind this brilliant series, and it’s Lesa Cline-Ransome! Lesa is a highly decorated author with honors that include the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction and the Coretta Scott King Award Author Honor, both awarded to Finding Langston. As you continue reading Finding Langston, and hopefully other stories authored by Lesa, you’ll realize why her work is so highly regarded. It’s because she’s amazing! Speaking of amazing things, we had the opportunity to chat with Lesa and you can check out our conversation in the interview below!
What was your relationship with reading like growing up?
Growing up, books were a huge part of my life. I was very fortunate to have a mom who loved to read so we often spent much of our time at our local library. I remember that sense of wonder walking the shelves and knowing that I could take home any book in the entire library and all I had to do was show them my library card. I was incredibly shy and I tended to favor stories about girls who were bold and fearless. Books gave me a window into what and who I could be.
How did you find your way to becoming a writer?
Finding my way to becoming a writer began with a diary my mother gave me. I filled it with stories of my life and realized how much I loved writing down the events of not just my life but everyone else’s as well. In school, my English teachers always complimented my writing and when I got to college, my freshman English professor encouraged me to write for the college newspaper. After graduating, I worked for many years as an advertising copywriter, not quite sure how to become an author, but while at home after the birth of my first daughter Jaime, I read the story of a Negro League pitcher named Satchel Paige and wondered if it would make a good picture book. “Satchel Paige” (illustrated by my husband James Ransome) became my very first picture book and the rest is history.
What was your inspiration for writing Finding Langston?
My inspiration for writing Finding Langston came from a few sources. First it was my love of the library and the wonder of stepping into one and having a library card for the very first time. And then I read a life changing book, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson, and it made me wonder how a child migrating from the south to the north, leaving behind all that they knew and travelling to an unfamiliar city, may have been able make a successful transition. Finally it was inspired by my son Malcolm, who is now 24 years old, but was once a sweet, sensitive, 11-year old who loved books and was attached to me at the hip. Creating a story where we see the vulnerability of young black boys in a world where they are often painted as hardened and violent was also what inspired me to write this story.
What can we learn from Langston?
I think that what Langston learns and readers can learn is that we are often stronger and more resilient than we believe.
Finding Langston covers many important topics, and does so in an effective and artful manner. In honor of Black History Month, what kind of conversations do you hope for young readers to have while reading this story?
There are periods in history that have been sorely overlooked or presented in inaccurate and untruthful ways. The Great Migration is often not taught in school curriculums, textbooks or classrooms, yet this period in history forever altered the economic, geographic, social, political, cultural and educational landscape of America and the lives of African Americans.
Understanding this country’s relationship with racism, segregation and inequality is one of the great unspoken truths that must be discussed and confronted honestly in order to make the much needed changes to improve the lives of all Americans.
At just over 100 pages Finding Langston is a compact yet deeply rich novel. How did you manage to set Langston’s story within an accessible frame without sparing any depth?
To date, I have written nearly 25 picture books, often writing about the lives of historic figures in picture book biographies. So writing in a short format is what I was accustomed to. Finding Langton was my very first novel but it actually began as a picture book. When I first submitted the original story to my editor she asked, “Would you consider expanding this into a novel?” My first thought was, “No, I only write picture books,” but after putting aside my fear, I added in more characters, added more details to the setting, provided more historical context and deepened the plot into what became my very first, very short novel.
What is something you hope families get out of reading Finding Langston with Read to Them?
I hope families in particular read about the power of love, acceptance and finding home wherever you land. In Finding Langston we see the grief he and his father endure and it is only through their love for each other and their need to be a family to each other that they are able to find a way to discuss and come to terms with their losses and loneliness. I think what it shows us is that when we have nothing else, we have family and community to see us through our most challenging times.
Langston finds comfort in reading Langston Hughes’s work. How can finding literature you have a connection to, or feel represented within, impact the way a reader interacts with a story?
As a child I didn’t read many stories about girls who looked like me. It was only when I reached high school and began reading the works of African-American authors like Toni Morrison, Alice Walker and Lorraine Hansberry that suddenly I could see myself in literature. Somehow knowing that someone, anyone felt my story and the stories of black girls were worthy enough to put on paper and in print made me feel validated and seen. Reading the stories and experiences of all groups are valuable to everyone and increases our shared connection and understanding of each other.
Just like Langston, we’ve been spending a lot of our time getting lost in stories. What stories have you been getting lost in, and how have you been spending your time at home during COVID?
Much like Langston, I do love to get lost in stories. The stories in books, newspapers and magazines. But also the stories from great movies and the ones I share with my family talking and laughing over great dinners when, for a period, three of my four children were at home during COVID. I love long walks, puzzles and listening to music but mainly I love books. Some recent favorites for young readers: The Only Black Girls in Town by Brandy Colbert, The Snow Fell Three Graves Deep by Allen Wolff, Flooded: A Requiem for the Johnstown Flood by Ann Burg and Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys.
What advice do you have for young readers & writers?
This will come as no surprise, but my advice to young readers and writers is to read. But not just read what you love, read books and articles outside of your comfort zone. Read widely, across all genres to grow your understanding of the world and storytelling. And share what you have read with others. In a world where we often retreat to our phones for comfort and isolation, sharing stories is what binds us.
Perhaps after hearing Lesa’s advice you’ll be inspired to select the next title you’ll crack open after Langston. You could check out some of her recent favorites, read one of her picture books, or arrange a pick up from your local library!