the Growing Table (illustrated by Eric-Shabazz
Larkin), which was published by Readers to Eaters in September, 2013.
Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table is the story of the life of urban farmer Will Allen. He
purchased a couple of city lots in Milwaukee in the 1990s and has transformed
them into a thriving urban farm that raises food for neighbors and restaurants.
He travels the world sharing what he has learned about vermiculture,
aquaculture, and intensive farming with others who want to farm in the city.
inception to copy-edited version, what were the major changes? How did those
changes come about? When did you first begin work on it? When did you finish?
I first visited Will Allen’s Growing Power Farm in Milwaukee in
the fall of 2010. I had wanted to do an urban farming story since early in that
year, wrote a draft or two, and finally settled on the story of Will Allen as a
great story to tell. The work of the story was trying to figure out how to tell
it in a way that would be interesting to readers.
And the final piece was what Phyllis Root calls the “clothesline,” the on-going
spine that all the other parts of the story are hung on. I found that piece
when I heard Will Allen talk about his mother’s table and how people would come
to their house at mealtime and sit around that table. I realized he had
spent twenty years re-creating that table—using his farm for a huge “table,”
that others could sit at and eat good food.
I finished the manuscript in early 2012. But then this year I went back to it
and cut out hundreds of words. So I guess it would be more accurate to say I
finished it in 2013.
did it affect the story’s development?
actual farm. Then I searched the web for everything I could find about Will
Allen. I frequently visited the Growing Power website to learn what was going
on at the farm. I corresponded by e-mail with Will Allen (occasionally)
and with his assistant (more frequently). And earlier this year I read his
book, The Good Food Revolution.
above was a late piece of research but really gave me that “aha” moment
regarding what the story was really about.
Without naming names, tell us who your first readers are (e.g., live-action
writing group; online writing group; editor; agent). When do you share a piece
I don’t share a piece until I have a whole draft. Before that it’s too fragile,
likely to crumble, or evaporate. There’s a “spirit” to a story and it’s a
fragile thing. It has to be nurtured, and coaxed into strength, maybe to
becoming a world that a reader—or the writer—can stand in and walk around in.
And that nurturing and coaxing for me is a private thing.
early readers. And I have a couple of writing friends whose opinions I trust.
If they say, “More work,” I know I need to do more work.
What books do you love to teach or recommend to students?
Because of Winn Dixie is a perfect book, in my mind. I often recommend
students study it for voice, for character, for plot. I love the family feeling
and the words in Phyllis’s Rattletrap Car. I also love Franny
Billingsley’s Big Bad Bunny. It’s a wonderful example of building a
character and a plot with very few words. And the ending is so satisfying.
Marsha Chall’s One Pup’s Up is amazing for the rhythm and romp of the
language. Ron Koertge says we should read a poem before starting each writing
session. One Pup’s Up is a poem to get the mental gears whirring.
What widely-loved or acclaimed book is one that didn’t work for you?
can’t think right now, but I will tell
you of a book I wish I had written. And that is Mary Logue’s Sleep Like a
Tiger. Mary’s text and Pamela Zagerinski’s illustrations combine to make a
During the January 2013 residency Emily Jenkins lectured on “How to Be
Funny,” and one of her suggestions was to “use jolly words.” A good idea even
if one isn’t trying to be funny. Do you have a favorite jolly word?
Lisa Jahn Clough’s character Alicia’s “lugubrious” is a jolly
word about an un-jolly state. I’ve always like to say “appendectomy.”
“Wisconsin” is quite a good word. I once named a character (a cow) Blanche
Can't wait to read Farmer Allen's story, Jackie! Also, thank you for sharing Phyllis's "clothesline!" Best wishes to you as you share Farmer Allen's story with the world!
Thanks Mell. I'm enjoying traveling with "Farmer Will."
I like how you looked for a story to tell on this subject and found this one. I'm glad to see that's possible. So many good stories to tell. This looks like a great one.