This week, the first session at Amherst College began and our first guest speaker was Sharon Robinson, educator, The Vice Chairman of the
Jackie Robinson Foundation and author of many works of fiction and nonfiction. She has written several widely praised books about her father, baseball legend Jackie Robinson, including Jackie’s Nine: Jackie Robinson’s Values to Live By, Promises to Keep: How Jackie Robinson Changed America, and her new picture book, Testing the Ice, illustrated by Kadir Nelson.
We asked her about her childhood, inspiration for her writing, and for some advice for writers both young and coming to it at any time.
GBSP: What role did literature play in your childhood?
SR: I grew up with a library in my house. It was a favorite spot for reading books, listening to music, and watching TV.
GBSP: Did any parent, teacher, program foster a love of books?
SR: My love of books, classical music, dance, clouds, water, and sunset come from my mother. Together, we communed with nature and shared a love for the arts. However, I was a practical girl who rescued sick birds and dreamed of becoming a nurse.
GBSP: What was your favorite book as a teenager? Which writers and/or artists inspired you?
SR: There were many…the Nancy Drew series; I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings; and The Metamorphosis to name a few.
GBSP: Did you always see yourself as a creative person?
SR: No. I planned on being a nurse. But, I loved writing from an early age. It started with my locked journals…the key to my young heart. I earned praise for my writing ability my freshman year in college. As a sophomore nursing student, my paper for Fundamentals was on the role of existentialism in nursing. That paper earned me an A plus the curiosity of my nursing professors. Who is this girl? Later as a college nursing/midwifery professor, I moved the needle a bit. Publishing was a requirement and I waded into the waters gingerly…a research paper on the role of midwifery in the black community from slavery until the 1940s; a chapter in a women’s health textbook; speeches…eventually a memoir, romance book, and into publishing nonfiction and fiction for children.
GBSP: If you could give one piece of advice to young writers and artists, what would it be?
SR: Writing is a craft that mellows and improves with each new piece. Write, rewrite, write some more, rewrite until you feel good rereading your own work. Then, share it. Don’t talk about writing someday…do it now! Every day. Read. Read. Read…write what stirs your passion not just what’s popular. Try poetry. Attend writers workshops and conferences. Join a writers group. Form a book group and explore literature with others. Experiment with a variety of genres. Embrace criticism as well as praise…we need both.