Amy Hill Hearth

New York Times Bestselling Author. American Library Association "Notable Book" and Peabody Award Winner.

'WHY I WRITE'

I was raised in a family that cherishes its elders. Perhaps this is why I love older people and their stories. My paternal grandmother died in 1997 at the age of 101. I grew up knowing that older people are worthy of respect and attention. I understood (in a way that many people apparently do not) that older people were not, in fact, always old. Indeed, they were once young. And middle-aged. And they had many stories to tell.

My mother's family, who were of German descent, came to America through Ellis Island. From them I came to understand the immigrant experience in America, the difficulties assimilating, the longing at times for a home faraway.

Through my father's bloodline, I am a thirteenth generation American. Our ancestors include a Dutch woman who arrived in America via shipwreck on the New Jersey seashore, a female Lenni-Lenape Indian born circa 1700, and a band of brothers who fought for the Colonial Army during the Revolutionary War.

As a child, I recall playing in the converted ice house near my paternal grandparents' cottage in Lake George, N.Y. The ice house had long been turned into a garage, guest room, and storage area, and it seemed to have become a repository of family memorabilia. There were cannon balls and bullet fragments from the Civil War, ancient wedding rings of gold as thin as thread, and photographs of serious and somewhat scary-looking people, but I understood that these were my people, long dead, but mine. Whoever they had been, they had saved these items for me. And so I had a comfort level with history and the past that is probably unusual.

One of the hardships of my childhood - which in retrospect turned out to be a blessing - was that we moved several times. My mother was a homemaker and my father, an electrical engineer, a profession which seemed to involve relocating every few years. The experience of living in Columbia, South Carolina from age 6 to 12 was especially important to me. By living in the Deep South during my formative years, I acquired an ability with language and storytelling that is uniquely Southern.

These are the qualities, experiences and values that I bring to the table each time I interview someone and, later, when I sit at my writing desk, hoping to capture their story for posterity.

I suppose it's no coincidence that when I tried my hand at fiction, after a career writing nonfiction articles and books, my mind would turn to the past for inspiration. In fact, it is often pointed out by reviewers and readers that the narrator in my novel, MISS DREAMSVILLE, is an older woman - 80 year old Dora Witherspoon - who has a story from her youth that she is ready to share. "I want young'uns to know about my time and place, the people I knew, and a world that's all but gone," Dora says.

Whether I am writing fiction or nonfiction, these are the stories I feel compelled to write. As Sadie Delany once told me, "Every older person has a story to tell. If only someone will listen."



Copyright 2013 by Amy Hill Hearth
May be quoted or reproduced for educational purposes.


My dad during World War Two.

My mom at age 3.

My paternal grandma, Helen W. Hill, lived to the age of 101. Here she is in her Model T with my dad, then an infant, by her side.

This is me, at left, with my "big" sister, Helen, circa 1960. I am the youngest of four children - two brothers followed by two sisters. Having a sister close in age helped me relate to the Delany Sisters.

With my two older brothers. I was always struggling to keep up.

This is me in second grade, Forest Lake Elementary School, Columbia, South Carolina. I was a dedicated tomboy but I loved to read as well. My childhood friend, Alison, remembers me sitting high up on a tree branch, reading.

With my beloved Boston Terrier, Wilma, a Christmas present from my husband.

With my husband and our seven-pound Boston Terrier, Dot, who was rescued from a puppy mill.