As we mark the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and major milestones in the Civil Rights movement, Pamela Tuck's As Fast as Words Could Fly (Lee & Low Books, 2013) makes a timely and inspiring read. Based on her father’s real-life experiences dealing with 1960s school segregation in the South, As Fast as Words Could Fly tells the story of fictional Mason Steele, who helps his father by writing letters for him – first by hand and then using a manual typewriter.
Young Mason's typing skills are so good, he enters a typing competition and the chance to represent his new school – a "whites only" high school he's been allowed to attend through a court desegregation battle. Despite the injustice he faces from students and faculty, Mason uses his talents to triumph over racial prejudice.
Pamela's story was awarded Lee & Low’s New Voices award in 2007, which led to the publishing of this picture book, richly illustrated by Eric Velasquez.
Question: Where did the inspiration for As Fast As Words Could Fly come from?
Pamela Tuck: The inspiration to write As Fast As Words Could Fly was sparked by my husband, Joel. He found out about Lee & Low Books offering a New Voices Award, and after reading some of their titles, we agreed that my dad’s story would be perfect to submit to them.
Q: You were the recipient of the New Voices Award for this story. What did winning that award mean to you? And what did it mean for your story?
PT: Winning the award empowered me as a writer. Prior to submitting my dad’s story to Lee & Low Books, I had attended my first SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators) conference in June 2007. I was delighted with all the helpful information from authors, editors, and agents, yet I left discouraged because I didn’t feel that I had the time to devote to my writing that was outlined by some of the speakers. I hit a writing slump and didn’t write for a while. Once my husband persuaded me to write my dad’s story, my hope began to grow. I submitted my manuscript to Lee & Low Books in September 2007, and in December 2007, I received a call from one of the editors announcing me as the winner of their New Voices Award!
I view the New Voices Award as an honorable recognition of my dad’s unrewarded triumph as a youth participating in the Civil Rights Movement. My dad’s ordinary acts of bravery can now be shared with the world and hopefully inspire others. I’m thankful to have his story included where it belongs: in African American history.
Q: What made you decide to write for a young audience? And how did you decide that picture books were your niche?
PT: I am a mother of 11 children, so I had a young audience long before I decided to write for them. I became interested in writing for children after a family night of storytelling. We sat around telling silly stories “off the top of our heads.” When my turn came around and I began speaking, my story unfolded and left my family captivated. I think that was when I decided to write picture books. Again, Joel served as the spark to my children’s book writing journey. We researched the children’s book market, joined SCBWI to learn more about the industry, shared the joy of my first publication contract, and he remains one of my biggest fans as I continue to hone my craft.
Q: What do you hope young readers take away from your story?
PT: I hope readers take away the spirit of hope and aspiration after reading about Mason. Although this story deals with the cold realities of the Civil Rights Movement, I want the rewards of hard work, determination, and perseverance to resonate. My desire is that every child who reads my book realizes that their accomplishments cannot be limited by the opinions of others.
Q: What do you hope to accomplish with your writing? And what will we see from you next?
PT: As a writer for children, my goal is to enlighten and inspire my readers to believe in themselves, embrace diversity, and have the courage to make a positive difference. I have two historical fiction projects in the works: a picture book and a middle-grade novel. I hope both of these projects will be added to my list of published works.