I first heard of poet and novelist Irene Latham a few years ago when my daughter came home from school raving about the novel, Leaving Gee’s Bend. Since then, I’ve met Latham on a few occasions, and it is my honor to recently interview her about her new book Fresh Delicious: Poems from the Farmers’ Market.
Hope: Tell me about your book, Fresh Delicious: Poems from the Farmers' Market.
Latham: It's art and poetry in celebration of the fruits and vegetables found at a summer farmers' market. You'll find tomatoes, okra, pole beans, peaches, watermelon and more — and there are even some easy child-friendly recipes in the back.
Hope: Why did you decide to write it?
Latham: Our local region of the Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators offers a free writing contest each June. I wanted to enter, mainly because each entry receives feedback from a working editor or agent. I had just visited one of our many Birmingham farmers' markets, and I was remembering all the wonderful times I spent with my grandparents in their garden, planting and picking and eating fresh, delicious produce. I started writing, and it was so much fun! I soon had a whole collection!
Hope: Why did you decide to write for children?
Latham: Writing for children allows me to reconnect with the child in me. I can approach a subject with magic and wonder, and even a bit of whimsy. I can use my memories. I can play with words and phrases and images. It's fun!
Hope: Tell me about your publishing journey.
Latham: My first publication came when I won a poetry chapbook contest through the Alabama State Poetry Society. A couple of years later, my first full-length collection What Came Before was published. But all the while, I was playing around with stories and poems for children. Eventually, I wrote and sold Leaving Gee’s Bend, my historical novel set in 1932 Gee's Bend, Alabama. It’s about a 10-year-old girl who sets out to save her sick mother and records her adventures in quilt pieces. It was published by Penguin in 2010, and it changed my life.
Hope: Why do you think your books are so popular?
Latham: Thinking about popularity is a dangerous thing for an artist! It's better for me to focus on the spiritual practice of actually writing the stories that live in my heart. I can tell you that whenever I receive a note from a reader, it's a wondrous gift. I'm so grateful to have the opportunity to connect with people over these stories and poems. I'm a shy person, but I've found that connecting with readers really is the most precious and meaningful part about being a writer.
Hope: What is the biggest lesson you want readers to learn from your stories?
Latham: I hope that my stories encourage others to write their stories — and to go out and really live their lives, to love the world and all who inhabit it.
Hope: What advice do you have for women who juggle raising a family with pursuing their dreams?
Latham: Think of writing like brushing your teeth. Don’t go to bed without doing it! Also, give yourself permission to be a beginner. You don't have to be perfect — just do it.
Hope: What's next for Irene Latham?
Latham: I'll be doing a Fresh Delicious tour this summer — visiting local farmers' markets. I'm hard at work on revisions for a novel that's near and dear to me, and I have three more books under contract — the first of which will come in the spring of 2017.
Hope: Do you have anything else you would like to add?
Latham: "Love. Fall in love and stay in love. Write only what you love, and love what you write. The key word is love. You have to get up in the morning and write something you love, something to live for." — Ray Bradbury
To learn more about Irene Latham, visit her online or on Twitter.