Author Interviews, Book Resources

Penny Colman Interview Transcript

By Penny Colman, Penny Colman
  • Grades: 3–5, 6–8

Penny Colman was interviewed by Scholastic students, parents, and teachers. She answered questions about her various books and shared her thoughts about women's history.

My fifth grade class is researching black women in history (February–March). What makes a “woman in U.S. history?”
All women because throughout American history ALL women were history-makers!

What do you think it would be like to be a journalist today, especially in places like Afghanistan or Pakistan?
Any journalist is doing a very difficult and very dangerous and very important job in trying to report the full story of what is going on in Afghanistan or Pakistan, not just the particular story that is presented by a military commander or political leader.

Are you working on any new books right now? If yes, can you give me a hint?
Actually, for the first time in a long time, I'm not!

What exactly happened for women's roles to change in the 1900s? What was the turning point?
Many things happened, due in large part to the extraordinary efforts of generations of women and men who fought (met, marched, protested, petitioned, lobbied, legislated, went on strike, sang, spoke, shouted, etc.) for women's rights to get an education, to work at a variety of jobs, to fully participate in a wide range of activities, and to vote. And I mean extraordinary because there always has been, and still are, people who oppose the changes in women's roles that many of us now take for granted.

Do you think you'll ever write any books about amazing men?
Actually there are some amazing men in my books, including Strike: The Bitter Struggle of American Workers; Corpses, Coffins, and Crypts: A History of Burial; and in Toilets, Bathtubs, Sinks, and Sewers: A History of the Bathroom, and my new book, Where the Action Was: Women War Correspondents in World War II. Also I have three sons who are amazing, and I've written about them in articles and essays. Check out my Web site (www.pennycolman.com) and you'll find an article about my son Stephen (“Why Didn't I?”). If you have particular men in mind that you'd like me to write about, send me your ideas.

I'm definitely interested in learning more about women's history, but how do you suggest I get started? There is a lot of information out there. Where do I begin?
Check out the National Women's History Project Web site at www.nwhp.org. You'll find brief biographies, quizzes, timelines, and links to other sites.

How do you sit down to write a book?
I don't always sit. I stand. I walk around. I jog, ride my bike, paddle my kayak, take a nap — all the time I'm thinking about my book. I'm thinking about how to grab the reader's attention, how to share my passion for whatever it is I'm writing about. I'm thinking about exciting ideas and about real people and real events and about words and sentences and paragraphs. After thinking and thinking, I'm ready to sit down and write a book. And so I sit.

What was your favorite book to write? Do you lean toward writing topics of interest to girls? Why?
Each book is my favorite, but for different reasons. For example, Girls: A History of Growing Up Female in America is my favorite because I loved immersing myself in the true stories of real girls. Corpses, Coffins, and Crypts: A History of Burial is my favorite because it is a very personal book. Where the Action Was: Women War Correspondents in World War II is my favorite because it is such an amazing and exciting true story. I don't think of myself as writing for girls or for boys. I write for everyone and anyone who loves exciting and important and true stories. Many of my books are about girls and women because that's where I find the best stories that haven't been written before. P.S. I have three sons and they love all my books.

If you could choose any era (as a woman) to live in, which one would you choose and why?
During the late 1880s until women win the fight for the vote in 1920 because I loved fighting for important causes (plus that's when women starting riding bicycles and playing sports and going to college in large numbers)! It would have been interesting to see women's suffrage come to pass. How about you — what era would you choose and why?

Hello. I'm a young writer. Anyhow I feel a bit embarrassed because I have no idea what to do when it comes to publishing — as in send it to where and what to do. I have lots of stories I'm working on and I'm not finishing any because I'm losing hope, having doubts after Author's Day at School. The author Miklowitz told us it took 35 years to publish one book. I feel discouraged. So what to do?
First of all — don't get discouraged!!! Second, focus on finishing your stories. Third, make sure that the stories you finish are stories that you love to read. After you've done that, go to the library and ask the reference librarian for books about how to get published (there are many books). And remember — don't get discouraged!!!

How did you get interested in writing nonfiction (women's history)?
When I was about eight years old, my mother got a job as a journalist at a newspaper. When I wasn't in school, she took me with her on her assignments, which, of course, were nonfiction because journalists write about real people and real events — nothing made up! I was there when she interviewed Pete Pepkey, the saddle maker. I was there when she covered the annual field day and watermelon-eating contest at a state mental hospital. (We lived in a house near the hospital because my father was a psychiatrist and worked there.) I especially remember going with her to investigate a rumor that a group of gypsies was camping in a nearby park. The rumor turned out to be true and I was thrilled to meet a girl about my age whose hair and eyes were dark brown and her skin was olive-colored like mine! My mother's job lasted only a few years, but that was enough to get me hooked on writing true stories about real people and real events.

  • Subjects:
    American History, Literature, Literature Appreciation, Writing, Women's History and Experience, Women's Rights Movement, Women's Suffrage, Women's History Month
  • Skills:
    Writing
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