SEEDFOLKS uses 13 narrators to tell the story of the founding and first year of a community garden in an immigrant neighborhood of Cleveland, Ohio.
The book has been staged, read as readers theater, used with English-language learners, and chosen for countless school-wide, district-wide, and city-wide reads.
"The size of this slim volume belies the profound message of hope it contains."
--Christian Science Monitor
SEEDFOLKS FOR THE STAGE
Schools can now perform Seedfolks as well as read it. My school-friendly adaptation is large-cast (11M, 12F minimum), single-set, and well-supplied with female and nonspeaking roles. It's one-act, technically simple, and at 40 minutes fits into a single class period. The play is a spoken musical of sorts--for a taste, see the opening scene. There's lots of dialogue, action, and new material, including the answer to the question "What happened with Curtis and Lateesha?"
Want to perform it? Contact Playscripts for scripts and licensing info. Please note: Filming without permission and online streaming of filmed performances are prohibited.
Its short length, multicultural cast, suitability for adults as well as children, and availability in Spanish have led Seedfolks to be used in One Book programs around the country. What have communities done with it?
NEWBURGH, NY connected the book to a month-long multicultural celebration of words, art, and dance, with concerts and classes on everything from found sculpture to African drumming. The local newspaper serialized the book in both English and Spanish.
VERMONT used the book as its One-State One-Book choice. There were discussions, dramatizations, readings on Vermont Public Radio, and the participation of dozens of groups--from the Friends of Burlington Gardens to the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Project--in communities up and down the state.
TAMPA, FL gave away more than 15,000 copies of the book and used it in conjunction with Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, encouraging citizens to volunteer in an array of community improvement projects.
RACINE, WI gave away copies of the book, encouraging readers to leave them in public places when finished, posting comments and following the book's journey via BookCrossing.com. Discussions in Spanish, a screening of Greenfingers, writing and virtual gardening at a women's prison are a few of the many activities that took place.
If you're using SEEDFOLKS in a community reading program, please let me know at email@example.com. I'd appreciate it if you'd also drop a line to the good people at the Library of Congress's Center for the Book, who keep an online list of One Book programs. Their email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you'd like help from HarperCollins, you can contact them at email@example.com. Click here to download HarperCollins' teacher's guide to the book.
Books, like rivers, have tributaries. "From Seed to Seedfolks" on the Articles page describes how Seedfolks came to be written. My 2019 book, No Map, Great Trip: A Young Writer's Road to Page One, gives new background into Seedfolks' sources, from the house I grew up in to my mother's tutoring of immigrants to the musical influences that led me to write multi-voice symphonic novels.
Does your school have a garden--or wishes it did?
If you'd like sage advice on starting or managing a school garden, check out Life Lab's cornucopia of resources. This nonprofit group based in Santa Cruz, CA works with school gardeners nationwide, offering videos, publications, webinars, and workshops that have helped thousands of educators bring gardens and farms into the curriculum. Their Food, What?! program gets high school students into the act, teaching life skills alongside gardening know-how. Highly recommended!
Translated as Semillas, SEEDFOLKS has been published in Spanish by Fondo de Cultura Economica. After being unavailable for a time, it's now back in stock and available for order.
SEEDFOLKS is also now available as an e-book on all the usual platforms.
NPR's Backseat Book Club--created for the benefit of young hostages to public radio--made Seedfolks one of its selections. Readers were invited to submit comments, questions, and photos of their own gardens. You can hear my All Things Considered interview with Michele Norris here.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Where did the idea for SEEDFOLKS come from?
I wrote an essay called "From Seed to Seedfolks" that answers that question in detail. It's at the back of most editions and on this website here.
What research did you do to write it?
I looked for community gardens everywhere I traveled. I also visited some close to home, like the Homeless Garden Project (pictured) in Santa Cruz, CA, which teaches the homeless job and life skills along with gardening. Other topics I researched: Cleveland history, Ohio history, Asian vegetables, Haitian cuisine, earwigs, stroke victims, Korean immigration...to name a few.
Who's your favorite character in the book?
I have several. If I had to pick four, they'd be Kim, Gonzalo, Curtis, and Sam.
Why did you write the book from so many characters' points of view?
When I was younger I wanted to write music, not books. I was fascinated when I saw my first symphonic score. That's what I wanted to write, with all the parts carefully woven together. I didn't end up pursuing composition in college, but I did play chamber music and loved being part of a group. When I turned to writing, I found I could bring a lot of what I loved about music into books: rhythm, form, the pleasure of playing with the sound of words, and the camaraderie of chamber music. I AM PHOENIX and JOYFUL NOISE were verbal duets. BIG TALK contains poems for four. BULL RUN had 16 different speakers--my attempt at writing for a verbal orchestra. SEEDFOLKS was next, with 13 voices. A few years later came SEEK, a high school senior's autobiography told through 52 voices.
For writers, multiple points of view have many advantages. They make for variety and unpredictability--two crucial ingredients in good books. It's also dramatic to have more than one story line running at a time and to show the same event from different perspectives. To my knowledge, BULL RUN was the first novel for young readers with multiple points of view. Now the format is commonplace. I've also used it in plays like ZAP (which crams seven plays into one), and in the picture books GLASS SLIPPER, GOLD SANDAL and FIRST LIGHT, FIRST LIFE, which braid together many different tellings of the Cinderella and creation story from around the world.
Are you going to write a sequel?
I'm not a fan of sequels. I like the challenge of writing something brand new, and sequels are rarely as good as the original. But I did turn to the subject of immigration once more in THE MATCHBOX DIARY. It's a different book from SEEDFOLKS--a picture book for younger readers, telling one character's experience, set a century ago instead of in the present. The amazing thing is how little times have changed. Migrant work, the struggle for education, and the fight against prejudice are as present today as they were in my Italian characters' lives.
What was your writing process like on this book?
I probably spent four months or so researching and thinking out the story and an equal amount of time on the writing. That's often the way it is. The invisible side of writing is where the real work happens. I wrote the book in the pre-computer era, with a pencil in a notebook. I'm a slow writer. I typically work 8-10 hours a day and usually only get a page or two written in that time. But those pages are solid. The more outlining and researching you do beforehand, the less revising you have to do later. I write five days a week and sometimes more, sometimes long into the night. If things are falling into place and unexpected scenes are blossoming, what could possibly be better?
Is Virgil a boy or a girl?
It was a fluke that Virgil's chapter didn't contain a "his" or "her" to answer this question. Then again, because the name is strictly for males in my experience, I didn't foresee that the question would exist. Virgil is a boy--though in my stage version he got changed into a girl to help balance the genders in the cast. What is it with this character?
Are you a gardener? What else do you do besides write?
I like growing my own food, but that's been a minor hobby of mine. I've put much more time into sailing, string figures, papermaking, artwork using copy machines, hiking, and musical instruments of all sizes and shapes.