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In honor of National Poetry Month, today we’re revealing the cover for Lisa Rogers’ debut picture book 16 WORDS: WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS AND THE RED WHEELBARROW, illustrated by Chuck Groenink. The story is a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of that famous poem and releases on September 24, 2019. Find out more here.

Lisa, When did you first get the idea to write 16 Words, and what inspired you?

One summer morning, just before my family was to embark on a dream Italian vacation, I was sipping coffee and reading The New York Times. A photo of a mustachioed man standing proud beside towering sunflowers caught my eye. Thaddeus Marshall, ramrod-straight in a suit jacket, had been identified as the owner of a red wheelbarrow—the red wheelbarrow of William Carlos Williams’ famous poem.

Marshall was a street vendor who raised chickens and grew vegetables in his Rutherford, N.J., garden. And, he was a patient of Williams, who was a medical doctor as well as a poet.

I told my husband that there needed to be a book about Mr. Marshall—and that I was going to write it. But not immediately. I wanted it to be just right. I carefully cut out Jennifer Schuessler’s story, folded into a tiny Moleskine notebook that my oldest friend had given me, and packed it with my sundresses and sandals. I thought about the story, thought about the relationship between Marshall and Williams, but I didn’t write down a word.

Then, on a train from Venice to the Italian Riviera, I took out my little notebook and began to write.

What kind of challenges did you face while writing the manuscript?

Ever since it was published, that seemingly simple 16-word poem has got people wondering just what depended upon that wheelbarrow. Williams had said he was inspired by a scene out of a window—and it turns out that window was Marshall’s. That conclusion was reached by the scholar William Logan, through an amazing amount of dogged research that turned up details like the wheelbarrow’s shade of red and the kind of chickens Marshall most likely raised.

But in telling the story of how Williams came to write the poem, I had to put together my own research so I could see what Williams saw. I combed census records and military records, walked the short distance between Marshall’s and Williams’ homes in Rutherford, and more. Teresa Marshall Hale, Mr. Marshall’s great-granddaughter, had grown up in the family home and told me the bedrooms faced the garden. Then, I distilled all that I had learned and tried to create the emotional story behind the poem’s creation.

What was your favorite part of the writing process for this story?

I loved creating the spare frame of the story. To me it felt like painting. When I paint, I like to layer color over color. I keep going back in and adding a little more. That’s how I worked on this story—slowly, carefully, layering in something else. Like a watercolor, it was important to know when to stop. I enjoyed working with my editor, Anne Schwartz, who gently guided me through this process.

The most incredible part of this process was viewing the illustrations. Chuck Groenink, through his own careful research and prodigious talent, has created a tender and beautiful work of art.

Lisa Rogers is an elementary school librarian and former newspaper reporter and editor. A native of the New Jersey shore, she lives outside Boston with her family and hound dog and is a three-time (soon to be four!) runner of the Boston Marathon. Visit her online at lisarogerswrites.com and on Twitter @Lisa LJRogers.

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My Picture Books

COMING SOON:


illus by Melissa Crowton
Tundra/PRH Canada
June 4, 2019


illus by Ross MacDonald
Disney*Hyperion
October 15, 2019

THREE WAYS TO TRAP A LEPRECHAUN
illus by Vivienne To
HarperCollins
Spring 2020

THE WHIZBANG WORDBOOK
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks eXplore
August 2020

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