Texas Transgender Non-Discrimination Conference

Our son Jeremy is a shy man. He would like nothing better than to live his life as the man he has become and never make an issue about being transgender. He even contemplated moving to a new town to get a fresh start after he transitioned, so that nobody would see him as the man who used to be “Emily.” He wanted to do that, but he didn’t; his friendships in Boulder ran too deep. So he stayed. […]

Our Transgender Children

About a month ago, I had a Facebook post go viral. I’d written about my 26-year-old transgender son, Jeremy, and how I miss him. He won’t move back to Texas because here, the laws do not protect him. Not only can he be fired from a job for being transgender, he can be thrown out of his own home. The Department of Justice is trying to fix that, to interpret transgender people as a protected class, but the Texas […]

Atticus Finch – Hero or Racist?

My father was Atticus Finch and I was Scout. I never doubted that from the first time I read “To Kill a Mockingbird” when I was ten years old. Dad was a foot soldier in the War on Poverty, having moved our family from the white suburbs of Boston to an all-black town in the Mississippi Delta so that he could become the medical director of a new clinic, built to serve the poor black population for miles around. […]

Are the Police Our Friends?

A little blonde boy steps confidently out of his kindergarten classroom on the first day at his new school, but he makes a wrong turn and heads directly away from the spot where he’s supposed to meet his older sister for the short walk home. When he never appears, she goes to the office to call home and their mother contacts the police. The little boy, confused by his surroundings, approaches an officer serving as the school crossing guard […]

Is Black Beautiful?

 

The phrase “Black is Beautiful” that swept the nation in the 1960s was heard frequently in my mother’s classroom.  Her students were surprised one day to walk in and see written boldly on the chalkboard, “Black is Not Beautiful.”

When the students, all of whom were black, began to object, she pointed out that black has come to symbolize unpleasant aspects of life.  She didn’t have the brain science to prove it, but she suggested that this may go back […]

Small Worlds and Full Circles

Who is that speaking intently with President Johnson back in the early 1960s?  It’s my uncle, Herbert Kramer.  I’d never seen the picture when I was growing up, but I knew that Uncle Herbie had a way with words and had worked closely as a publicist and speech writer for the Kennedy and Shriver families.  I knew he had penned the motto for the Special Olympics:  “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the […]

Deciding to Write in Dialect

When my mother started teaching, the word Ebonics hadn’t yet been coined; nobody had grappled in the academic journals as to whether to accept it in the classroom or make students speak a more mainstream, i.e., white, speech.  All she knew was that she couldn’t understand her students easily and assumed that if she couldn’t, than neither could others and this barrier in speech would create a barrier in life.  So, without saying that black speech was bad, she […]

What makes a story resonate?

My mother was known for being a storyteller. As she grew older, she repeated the stories more and more, but I still listened. I knew exactly what she was going to say; she’d use the same phrases over and over, with the same inflections. But every time, I enjoyed hearing her. And she enjoyed telling the stories.

So why didn’t it work to just take her stories, write them down, and include them in my book? […]

Fears About Writing About Race

I’m nervous even as I write this first line.  How does a white person write about her interactions with black people in a way that doesn’t offend anyone?  There are so many ways that I can be offensive without meaning to be.  And it’s not just being politically incorrect that scares me.  What’s defined as correct changes over time.  I’m talking about something more personal.  In many cases, I’m writing about people I know, love, and respect, and I […]

Family Reaction to My Writing

Not very long ago, I wouldn’t have been able to write much about my sister Connie.  She’s nine years older than me and I imagine she didn’t find me particularly interesting when we were young.  I know, though, that she liked the letters I wrote to her at college, for she told me she read them out loud to her friends over lunch.  Once I was away at college myself, I realized how precious those handwritten letters were.

I wasn’t […]

How I Became Cyrano de Bergerac

Writing in my mother’s voice came in handy when she decided to seek my father’s input on her journal.  They’d been divorced for thirty years, but she still valued his opinion and denied ever having felt anger at him for leaving her.  When she asked me to mail a chapter to him for comment, I wasn’t surprised.  What did take me aback, though, was the tone of the letter she drafted to accompany the material.  It was an attack […]

My Grandfather was in the Jewish Mafia

From Forever Autumn:  One day during my last year of grammar school, we discovered something about my father that cast a shadow over everything.  It happened during the winter when I was ten and Karyl had just turned nine.  It was a rainy December day and we’d been playing for hours up on the third floor.  Bored with the same old games, we looked in the hall closet to see if we could find anything interesting.  We found a […]

The Story Behind the Book

The following article is being featured on my publisher’s webpage this week:

My name is Jo Ivester. I’m 57 years old and live in downtown Austin. I never thought I’d be a Texan. My early years were spent in Newton, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston, where my father, Leon Kruger, ran his pediatrics practice from an office on the first floor of our home. It was common to do that in the 1950s and 60s. […]

I’m no expert on the civil rights movement.

When people ask me what my book is about, my standard response is to say that when I was ten years old in 1967, my father transplanted our family from a suburb of Boston to a small, all-black town in Mississippi, where he was the first medical director of a clinic and my mother taught at the local high school. And I was the only white student at my junior high.

It’s an important story and one that gets people’s […]

Starting with a Single Anecdote

My mother was lost for days, believing that she had completed something worthwhile and convinced that there was nothing more she could do.  Then we had a breakthrough.  “Start with a single anecdote, one that you find exciting to tell, that you know inside out, that you think will move people.  And rewrite it, providing as much detail as you remember.”

Then I suggested the day that she had marched in Mississippi with her students and fellow teachers in memory […]

My Mother’s Journals

All her life, my mother loved being a storyteller. She had a phenomenal memory and spoke of her children and grandchildren, her nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles, parents and grandparents. She was the historian of the family and eventually, when everyone else from her generation had passed on, the extended family all begged her to write everything down, fearing that otherwise, the stories would be lost.

It wasn’t until she’d been retired from teaching for over fifteen years that […]

Writing in My Mother’s Voice

Sharing a writing project with my mother was a remarkable experience. It allowed our relationship to grow in a way that would otherwise not have been possible. It prompted me to spend over a thousand hours listening while she told and re-told all the family anecdotes. More than that, however, it pushed our relationship to a new level as I constantly asked her how various incidents had made her feel. As we worked together, her stories grew from simply […]

Why did my mother place my father on a pedestal?

It’s great that my mother thought so highly of my father.  Makes me feel good in some ways.  But she did more than think highly of him.  She kept him on a pedestal as if he were somehow better than human.  The fact that he was a doctor just added to that belief.

What bothers me is that her worship of him started with a sense of not feeling worthy herself, which goes back to her childhood.  When we discussed […]

Was my dad a jerk?

When I read over the story of the gnats in my mother’s journal, I’m not sure which of my parents I pity more.  I can understand my father’s perspective.  Here he is in pilot training, risking his life, torn between viewing it as the adventure of a lifetime and being terrified by the stories he hears about what it’s really going to be like.  I can’t begin to imagine what it’s like for a young soldier, twenty years old, […]

Army Wife

My mother was the last of her generation, the only one who remembered events actually happening, rather than just hearing about them.  In this blog, I plan to share with you not only the creative process behind my book,  but also some of the many anecdotes from her full and amazing life.

I’ve selected this first one because it reveals so much about my mother, her insecurities, my father, and their relationship.  The attack on Pearl Harbor occurred during my […]

Fears About Writing

In addition to concerns about my siblings’ reactions to my work, I have the fears that every writer has:  is my book worthy of publication?  I have no doubt that the story is an important one.  It’s worth telling of my mother’s transformation from a woman with tremendous insecurities – one who viewed herself primarily as a platform from which her husband and children could fly – to a confident high school teacher capable of dramatically changing the lives […]

Was it just a line?

While the end to my parents’ marriage was fraught with difficulties, their friendship as teenagers was filled with romance, even if my mother didn’t recognize it as such at the time.  In the following passage from her journal, she describes walking together after rehearsing a high school play.

We ended up spending a lot of time together after school at rehearsals as a result.  At the end of the first day, I was standing outside the building waiting for my […]