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by Tami Charles
When Tara asked me to write a “Success Story” for PiBoIdMo (now Storystorm), I thought to myself:
I get to be one of the cool kids, like Tara!
I AM a success…right? RIGHT?
And then that familiar feeling surfaced:
I have no clue what I’m doing.
Any second now the literary gods will figure this out.
But all writers face this, I assume. That self-crippling doubt. Followed by euphoria. Only to return back to that place of doubt all over again.
C’est la vie!
Growing up, I never knew I could be an author. Sure, I loved to read and write. But it never dawned on me that I could write books like Beverly Cleary or Lois Lowry. While I loved Ramona Quimby and Anastasia Krupnik, they didn’t necessarily reflect me or the friends I grew up with. So, knowing this, I tucked that author dream in my pocket and moved on to become an elementary school teacher. I don’t regret this decision one bit. My students were the ones who helped me rediscover my passion. Thanks to them, I began writing again.
PiBoIdMo came at the “write” time in my life. (See what I just did there?) When I finished the challenge in 2013, I had several ideas and even a few manuscripts under my belt—all tossed into the black hole never to be seen again, naturally. But there was this one story that I kept returning to. Not because it was awful. (Not because it was any good at the time, either!) But because this story helped me realize the type of writer I wanted to be.
“Freedom Soup” is a story born out of love and family tradition. Early in my twenty-year friendship with my husband, his family introduced me to the delicious flavors of Haiti. They weren’t that far off from the Caribbean/Soul/Latin cuisine that I’d enjoyed as a child. Dare I say, I fell in love with Haitian food before I fell for my husband! (He doesn’t need to know that though.)
My husband’s late grandmother, Tí gran, was the one who gave me my very first bowl of Freedom Soup, also known as Soup joumou. As soon as I tasted it, I knew there had to be a story behind that taste of pride, victory, and joy. Seriously, if you haven’t tasted this soup, I suggest you find yourself some Haitian friends stat!
In a nutshell, “Freedom Soup” is written in tribute to the undying spirit of the Haitian people. Today, many people associate Haiti with poverty and earthquakes. But long ago, on January 1, 1804, Haiti made history as the first black republic to free themselves from the bondage of slavery. When slavery still existed on the island, slave masters rang in the New Year by eating Freedom Soup. They didn’t grow the vegetables or prepare the soup, of course. Their slaves did that for them. And for all of their hard work, slaves were not even allowed to eat the soup to celebrate the New Year. After twelve years of uprisings and fighting for their freedom, Haiti claimed their independence from France. Do you know how they celebrated? By eating Freedom Soup, of course! What a testament to their faith and resilience!
Before writing this picture book, I’d received plenty of rejections from literary agents and editors. And rightfully so. I wasn’t writing what spoke to me. I’m so grateful that this story
did. I’m happy to announce that “Freedom Soup” sold to Carter Hasegawa at Candlewick Press. I have so much to be thankful for:
- Following my gut and creating stories that reflect the beautiful cultures in my family
- Tí gran and the wisdom she shared with me before leaving this Earth
- Storystorm for giving me the kick-in-the-butt inspiration I needed to jumpstart the sale of my debut picture book
- For the chance to appear on Good Morning America, where I presented a Thanksgiving version of my Freedom Soup. (Michael Strahan smelled nice and all, but not better than my soup…just sayin’.)
I don’t know how much of a success I am right now, and I’m not sure if I’ll ever feel comfortable with calling myself that. I mean this could all change if I hit Tara Lazar status. Then I can puff out my chest and say “Why yes, I am quite the success, aren’t I?” (in a British accent, of course!)
In the meantime, I’ll just keep writing the stories that matter to me and collecting all the nuggets of wisdom I can along the way. And for the aspiring authors out there, I wish you success and prosperity as you do the same.
Congratulations, Tami. Best wishes for the launch of Freedom Soup in Fall 2019 (when I hope you’ll come back to show it off)…and for a long and prosperous kidlit career!