The VCFA WCYA Launchpad welcomes Gretchen Woelfle, a member of the class of summer 2000 "The Hive". Gretchen's picture book biography Mumbet’s Declaration of Independence was published by Carolrhoda on Feb. 1, 2014.
"All men are born free and equal." Everybody knows about the Founding Fathers and the Declaration of Independence in 1776. But the founders weren't the only ones who believed that everyone had a right to freedom. Mumbet, a Massachusetts slave, believed it too. She longed to be free, but how? Would anyone help her in her fight for freedom? Could she win against her owner, the richest man in town?
Mumbet was determined to try.
Mumbet's Declaration of Independence tells her story for the first time in a picture book biography, and her brave actions set a milestone on the road toward ending slavery in the United States.
Q & A:
What was the spark that ignited this book?
It’s not the first time that research on one book led to another. This time, I was researching Mercy Otis Warren, who dared to speak and write about politics during the American Revolution, for Write On, Mercy! The Secret Life of Mercy Otis Warren (Boyds Mills/Calkins Creek, 2012.) Books on the status of women in 18th century America mentioned Elizabeth “Mumbet” Freeman, a Massachusetts slave. These two women made a complementary pair: Mercy, well-educated, prosperous, white; and Mumbet, an illiterate slave. Both had the intelligence and strength of character to defy convention. Mumbet dared to sue her owner in court for her freedom and won, thereby setting a judicial precedent that led to all 5000 Massachusetts slaves being freed. I love discovering little-known women whose stories should be told.
What nugget of craft advice has been especially helpful to you?
When I choose a subject for a biography, I look for a way to connect with her or him. Reading primary sources may do it. The 175-page online oral history interviews with Jeannette Rankin – for Jeannette Rankin: Political Pioneer (Boyds Mills/Calkins Creek 2007) – gave me that connection. For Mercy Otis Warren and Elizabeth “Mumbet” Freeman, it was visiting the places they lived in Massachusetts. Mercy in Plymouth, Mumbet in the Berkshires. Visiting the neighborhoods and houses where they lived, walking the streets, seeing the same views of rivers and mountains gave me a feel for their lives that books and articles didn’t. Roaming around the City of London was essential for writing my middle grade historical novel, All the World’s A Stage: A Novel in Five Acts (Holiday House, 2011.) Besides, all that travel is tax-deductible!
How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?
What a question! Let me count the ways.
• It vastly expanded my understanding of writing.
• It gave me a credential that impresses editors
• It introduced me to the faculty – some of the best writers in the field
• It took me to Vermont in January and July, an ‘interesting’ contrast to winter and summer in southern California.
• The residencies provided a level of intellectual stimulation and camaraderie that I’ve not experienced anywhere else.
• And perhaps best of all, my class (July 2000) provided me with an ongoing network of amazing writers who have become friends and distinguished colleagues. We’re in touch daily online.
Mumbet’s Declaration of Independence by Gretchen Woelfle, ill. by Alix Delinois (Carolrhoda) Pub date: Feb. 1, 2014
Blog: Interesting Nonfiction for Kids (inkrethink.blogspot.com) Finding Mumbet: http://inkrethink.blogspot.com/2014/01/finding-mumbet.html
PW starred review: http://publishersweekly.com/978-0-7613-6589-1