“But, how do you know if an ending is truly good for the characters unless you traveled
with them through every page?
22 January 2014
Imagine my surprise when Kristen Pavese, author of this article begins by responding to the quote above from Shannon Hale's Midnight in Austenland with...
"If only the character in Shannon Hale's novel had heard about Google Lit Trips, she would have known that this is in fact, possible!. Google Lit Trips is a free resource that allows readers to virtually follow the journey of literary characters via Google Earth...These pre-created trips place readers inside the story so they can see for themselves the path that characters have followed and experience the sights they have seen. Pop-up windows at each location provide the reader with different resources that stimulate higher level reading skills - discussion starters, links for further information, videos, etc. These resources bring about a fuller understanding of the text while establishing real world connections the reader can learn about for himself."
Pavese, then points to the Google Lit Trip for Elizabeth Partridge's "Marching for Freedom" as an example that might be quite appropriate in light of our remembrance of the life of Martin Luther King jr.
"The site offers a pre-created trip for "Marching for Freedom" by Elizabeth Partridge. Partridge tells the true story of the children who chose to join Dr. King on the march from Selma to Washington during the Civil Rights Movement in 1965. The trip outlines the 5 day march, giving students a visualization of the path the participants took, where they stopped, and what happened on each day. The pop-ups provide videos that make students feel as if they went on the march themselves – including speeches by MLK and LBJ, as well as a video of the actual marching. Among other things, the pop-ups also include links to documents that will give the readers background information (like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and MLK’s principles of non-violence), discussion questions, and notes from the author."
I must say that when Elizabeth Partridge contacted me to suggest that perhaps the book she was about to publish might make a good Lit Trip, I was stunned to say the least. An actual author contacting me?? Wow! The Google Lit Trips project had reached beyond any expectations I'd ever had for the project.
And, in collaborating with Elizabeth in the months before the publication of her book, the entire title being, Marching For Freedom: Walk Together Children, and Don't You Grow Weary," I found myself up close and personal with a portion of the Civil Rights story that I had not been deeply aware of although I had been convinced that I had known quite a bit about Civil Rights Movement.
When we stumbled across actual video clips of the march posted on YouTube, I was more than intrigued by the mysterious description of the footage reading...
"A powerful and recently rediscovered film made during the 1965 Selma to Montgomery march for voting rights. Stefan Sharff's intimate documentary reflects his youthful work in the montage style under the great Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein. The film features moving spirituals. Marchers include Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife Coretta Scott King."
It was nearly impossible for me to believe that in 2009 there was film to be "rediscovered." And then I noticed that the footage had been posted by "YouTube user: BTSharf, the son of the film's director.and one of the film's cameramen.
I contacted Mr. Sharf: in pursuit of permission to include the footage in the Marching for Freedom Lit Trip. I received this reply...
"Re: requesting permission to use videos 09/08/09
You certainly have permission to embed this video. We would appreciate it. This is a document that should be seen, the more traffic the better.
Send me a link.
As we continued to work on the Marching for Freedom Lit Trip, being able to take the journey of the march and learning more about the "back story" than I had managed to gather even in my own fairly deep following of the actual events in the news, magazines, and television reports at the time of the march, and at the same time learning much more about the Elizabeth Partridge's back story personal journey in researching the "stories behind the story" of the march, it became clearer than ever that creating learning experiences that somehow virtualize the experience of traveling alongside the characters and people in their own life journeys had a way of personalizing the learning experience that is much more engaging and therefore much more informative than can be acheived when the "story" is reduced to the pages alloted for such historically momentous events in history books, or in newscasts, and magazine articles.
There is a kind of access to the truth of the "character of the characters" as well as the "character of the people" if we are able to "travel with them" as author Shannon Hale points out in the quote from her book used by Pavese as a starting point for her article.
And I realized that whether one is reading fiction, historical fiction or non-fiction, there is a bringing together in the same space of the reader and the events portrayed, that is essentially a virtual travel along. And, this engagement makes it possible to not only "know" the events, but to actually "feel" the events, to empathize with the conditions and motivations and dilemmas of choice faced by the characters and people as if we were there walking right along side them.
When Elizabeth and I reached the end of the development of the Marching for Freedom Lit Trip, where we took the reader to "virtually witness" the incredible speech given by Martin Luther King Jr. at the Alabama State Capitol, only one block beyond Martin Luther King's Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, we found a video clip from that lesser known, speech, but perhaps at least as eloquent, as the "I Have a Dream" speech.
Martin Luther King Jr, did not actually name his speeches, but this one is sometimes known as the "How Long? Not Long!" speech. As we brought readers through Elizabeth's retelling of the story while taking them on the long march both in text and in the virtual reality of Google Earth, the video clip is viewed within the context of having "virtually marched alongside" the marchers after multiple failed attempts to begin, having "virtually been there with the marchers" as they were beaten on one attempt to cross the imfamous Pettus Bridge, having marched in peace as helicopters buzzed above and various "law enforecement troops "protected and intimidated" the marchers, having faced the possible dangers ahead as they passed through some of the most notoriously violent and racist areas along the way, having walked past the actual church where Martin Luther King jr was and had been the pastor for 20 years, in a sense having reached the end of the march "virtually exhausted" yet proud of surviving the intimidation and fears, and challenges of the march as though we had been there, it became clear that we were experiencing that speech from within a very different context than when we only read the speech from within the context of the very few pages devoted to the entire Civil Rights Movement in history books or the few days devoted to the entire Civil Rights Movement in history classroom lectures and discussions where hundreds of years of history must be taught and learned in the matter of one or two semesters,, or from within the context of our livingrooms watching three-minute annual newscasts including only the briefest of video excerpts of original coverage of the entire Civil Rights Movement on Martin Luther King Day or from within the context of the recognition that preparing for the all important "test on Chapter ____" in the history text is too often perceived as being the primary value of the brief encounter with importance of information about the Civil Rights Movement.
I can't help but also mention that building a Lit Trip is a journey in itself. As Elizabeth and I worked on the "Marching for Freedom" Lit Trip, she shared her behind the scenes stories that she discovered on her research journey that took her to places between and beyond Selma and Montgomery as she interviewed many of the actual participants to discover their individual and shared back stories. In sharing those with me and with her readers, I was not only reminded of my clear recollection of the events as I knew them, but I also learned how little I really knew about a subject I thought I'd paid particularly close attention to at the time.
Ironically, though President Johnson's greatest legacy may have been his signing of the Civil Rights Bill Act of 1964, I had not seen anything beyond the sound bites of his incredible speech at the time. I realized after seeing that entire speech, that my opinion of President Johnson had been based too heavily upon my concerns that he "was no Jack Kennedy, that he was a hardball politician who appeared to be quite at ease employing tactics I perceived as having questionable ethics as well as questionable motives in order to get what he wanted, and that he was unable or perhaps less interested in resolving the Vietnam war conflict that he had inherited from multiple previous presidents; an earily familiar sounding predicament today.
And while working with Elizabeth and discovering President Johnson's speech in its entirety, I came to realize that in my youth I had not allowed these very negative perceptions of President Johnson to be tempered at least a bit by the side he showed in the Civil Rights work he helped bring to fruition.
In discovering the entire version of his speech online, I came to realize that as a president from the south where remnants of the influence of pro-segregationist Dixicrat party still held signficant sway in the Democratic party, Johnson's speech represented not just a expression of Democratic support for the Civil Rights Movement, but also an act of extreme political and personal courage.
In conclusion, Shannon Hale, speaking no doubt of other matters, nailed a truth about "knowing." We can not know the truth about characters and the universal truths they represent about humanity in the "real world" until we travel with them through their journeys, at least as much as we can in the course of becoming aware of what it is to become not merely human beings but also humane beings. And, in the case of the Civil Rights Movement as well as perhaps all human activity, it is equaly important walk in the shoes of others through both fictionand nonfiction in order to discover what the forces are behind those who become inhumane beings.
Google Lit Trips is the fictitious business name for GLT Global ED, now an official 501c3 tax-exempt educational nonprofit