Michelle Y. Green - Author
Michelle Y. Green is a writer who likes learning about "holes in history" -- her term for parts of African-American history and culture that aren't well known. Green wrote the true story of a female baseball player in A Strong Right Arm: The Story of Mamie "Peanut" Johnson. She also wrote about a young girl in the Depression era in the Willie Pearl series. Willie Pearl books are fictional, but Green based the stories on her mother's childhood.
RIF: You grew up overseas and moved across the country. Did you get any book ideas with all that moving?
Michelle Y. Green: I counted, and I’ve lived in 23 different places. It’s given me a world view. It’s made me flexible and adaptable.
When you move a lot, you’re forced to make new friends and to make new connections with your environment. It’s the same with stories. When you write, you think “What is it that will connect me with the reader?” That’s how all my stories start. It makes me think about the things we have in common rather than the differences.
RIF: You write about "holes in history." How do you find out about them?
MYG: It comes from being a military brat. I would always come in the middle of the year, so there were always gaps in what I was learning. I was curious about things that I didn’t know. I didn’t know women played baseball. I didn’t know Tuskegee Airmen flew planes in Vietnam, like my dad did. For someone like me who loves history and storytelling, these things are just irresistible.
RIF: A Strong Right Arm: The Story of Mamie "Peanut" Johnson" is written about Mamie Johnson, an African-American woman who played baseball in the 1950s. She was one of only three women to play in the men's Negro Leagues.
The book is written from Mamie's point of view. How did you do that?
MYG: This is a biography that’s written from the first person, which is groundbreaking. Mamie and I had a two-year relationship and I had to gain her trust. I got to know her as a person and as a friend.
Before I started writing, I knew I had to connect with Mamie, this baseball player. So I learned how to play baseball. I played with my son’s Little League team. I used what I’d learned from personal experiences to turn myself into her.
Mamie was a pitcher, so I learned how to throw different pitches. It really helped me with details. The more details, the more authentic a story is.
RIF: Did Mamie like the book?
MYG: When I finished writing the draft, I took the book to her. But she said she didn’t want to read it until it was a real book. When the book came out, she read it. She didn’t make a single change. That’s probably the highest praise I’ve ever gotten.
RIF: What kind of research do you do for your historical books?
MYG: I do a great deal of research – interviews, looking at old photos. Visiting places is very important. I also collect artifacts.
RIF: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
MYG: I knew I wanted to be a writer sometime between fourth and fifth grades. My teacher read the Little House on the Prairie books to us. At the time, I was a military brat living in Germany. I couldn’t have been further from Laura Ingalls Wilder in terms of culture, but we made a connection. I was amazed at the connection through her words across all those differences. I decided I wanted to make those kinds of connections as a writer.
RIF: What advice do you have for kids who want to be writers?
MYG: Be good readers. Read the kind of books you want to write. Laura Ingalls Wilder was my first writing instructor.
Also, find someone who can encourage you. You need someone who’s cheering you on. Have perseverance. Keep trying. All of us have undergone rejection. It’s almost a rite of passage.
RIF: What do you hope kids get out of your books?
MYG: Dreams do come true. The people I write about are ordinary people who have a dream. They get there by hard work, seizing opportunity, and resilience. Dreams are still within our reach.
I had a dream of becoming a writer. Mamie Johnson had a dream of being a baseball player. My dad had a dream of being an airman, at a time when people thought he wasn’t smart enough because of his race. I want to instill a self of hope and possibilities.
Reader Question: Do you get your ideas from your life or imagination? - sent in by Tammy, age 12
MYG: Both. I like to eavesdrop a lot. Part of being a good writer is being a good listener. Be curious when you hear a good story. You’ll want to explore it more. Then you can connect it with something you already care about.
Note: Michelle Y. Green is writing a book about African-American filmmaker Oscar Micheaux. It'll be out in spring 2005
Get in touch with Michelle!