Today, we're singing the praises of Leda Schubert, whose picture book biography Listen: How Pete Seeger Got America Singing, illustrated by Raúl Colón, is out now from Neal Porter/Roaring Brook Press!
There was nobody like Pete Seeger.
Wherever he went, he got people singing.
With his head thrown back
and his Adam’s apple bouncing,
picking his long-necked banjo
or strumming his twelve-string guitar,
Pete sang old songs,
old songs with new words,
and songs he made up.
Welcome, Leda! I am thrilled to get to celebrate your work and the release of this wonderful new PB biography. What was the spark that ignited this book?
I always knew that Pete Seeger would die someday, but I also always hoped that he’d be the one to beat the odds. On the morning of January 28, 2014, I turned on NPR as I usually do and heard the announcement of his death. I began crying and couldn’t stop. I cried on and off for days, and I found myself beginning to write. I had had no intention of doing this, since my good friend Anita Silvey was working on a book about Pete already.
Sometimes you have to listen to the voices. Speaking of, do you write in silence? If not, what’s your soundtrack?
I almost always write in silence, except for the pacing of the dogs and the barking of the dogs and the scratching of the dogs to go in and out. Sometimes I can listen to the hum of NPR news, but I absolutely cannot listen to music. Because I listen to music. For this book, however, I listened to a lot of Pete Seeger. Such a surprise. And, of course, I cried some more.
Leda Schubert plays some Pete Seeger.
As one of your former advisees, I have to say you had a huge, positive impact on both my writing and my VCFA experience. But how did teaching at VCFA affect your own writing life?
So many answers here, so I’ll focus on a few. First, teaching reminded me how hard writing can be. My students worked and worked, and I was the beneficiary of their efforts. I loved it. Second, I learned how to talk more effectively about writing, which, in turn, helped me analyze my own efforts better. I had to be able to express inchoate ideas so others could understand them. Third, I was constantly amazed at the richness and originality of my students’ work. Fourth (and I could go on), it was fascinating to see how students went about solving problems. The world’s biggest jigsaw puzzle. Fifth, I realized I had to walk the talk.
What do you think is special about the VCFA-WCYA program?
Everybody reading this post knows the answer already. To me, the most important aspect is the community that has developed over the years of the program. I see students change their lives for each other, I see alums supporting each other’s work for years; I see small and large communities building around friendship and writing. I used to tell first semesters that their lives would never be the same, and in large part I still believe that. Then there’s the program itself: there is no guarantee that writing can be taught to a specific individual, but there sure is vast evidence that the program is doing something right! It’s wonderful to celebrate so many successes—so many that nobody can keep up. I do think people should get my permission before moving here, however.
Ha! Taking note! Thanks so much for stopping by the Launchpad, Leda. Keep singing, everybody!
Leda Schubert holds an MFA from VCFA (class of January, 2006) and was a core faculty member for six years. She lives in Plainfield, VT, the center of the universe, with her husband and two dogs, one of whom is a saint and one a sinner. Visit her online at www.ledaschubert.com.