An Interview With Joyce Hansen About I Thought My Soul Would Rise and Fly
Richard F. Abrahamson, Ph.D., and Linda M. Pavonetti, Ed.D.: What did you enjoy most about writing I Thought My Soul Would Rise and Fly: The Diary of Patsy, a Freed Girl?
Joyce Hansen: I enjoyed "becoming" Patsy, getting inside her head. At some point when I am drafting a story, characters have to take on a life of their own. When that happens, then I know that the writing is going along well. It didn't take long for me to find Patsy's voice and for her to begin to speak for herself.
RFA & LMP: How did the writing of Patsy's diary differ from the other books you've written for young people?
JH: This was the first book I've ever written in diary form. I had to be careful not to make Patsy's diary read like a novel, but at the same time I had to create a story that would keep the reader interested.
RFA & LMP: You write that the inspiration for Patsy was a diary entry from 1865 that described a girl who was 'lame, solitary, very dull, slow, timid, and friendless.' Other than that discovery, did you find additional information about former slaves that guided you in Patsy's evolution?
JH: I drew upon other diaries and first-person accounts of slavery and Reconstruction in order to create this story. For example, I read The Journals of Charlotte Forten Grimke, a black school teacher from Philadelphia who taught in a freedmen's school on St. Helena Island, South Carolina from about 1862-1864. Another book that I used numerous times as a reference was Voices from Slavery, a collection of narratives from African Americans who lived through slavery and talked about their experiences. I also reread portions of the Narrative of Frederick Douglass, especially when he describes learning how to read. I also researched excellent sources such as Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution by Eric Foner and Black Reconstruction in America by W.E.B. Dubois.
RFA & LMP: Throughout her diary, Patsy yearns to learn and derives great satisfaction from teaching others. You spent more than two decades as a public school teacher in New York City. How much of you is reflected in Patsy? Did you always dream of being a teacher, and did teaching offer you the same fulfillment it seems to give Patsy?
JH: Like Patsy, I loved to read and I loved books. Fortunately, when I was growing up I was encouraged to read and could read as much as I wanted. I could easily imagine how a child like Patsy might have felt — denied an education and having to hide her intelligence and love of literature. I didn't dream of being a teacher. Actually, I dreamed of being a writer; however, teaching was very fulfilling. Nothing has brought me more joy than when I could see my students becoming good readers and writers. One of the greatest compliments I've ever received was when a teacher pointed out two students to me and said she had never been able to get them to read until she gave them one of my books.
RFA & LMP: You make it clear in the text why Patsy chose Phillis Frederick as her new name. Why did you choose Phillis Wheatley and Frederick Douglass as her role models instead of other equally important people such as Harriet Tubman?
JH: I chose Phillis Wheatley for Patsy's role model because Phillis was a poet and Patsy had the heart of a poet. And I chose Frederick Douglass because Patsy could not have known about him, or Wheatley for that matter, had she not read about them in her book. Also, like Douglass, Patsy knew that her ability to read and write and think were things that could not be taken away from her.
RFA & LMP: What is one thing you hope young readers will take away with them after reading I Thought My Soul Would Rise and Fly: The Diary of Patsy, a Freed Girl?
JH: I would hope that youngsters, after reading this story, understand the importance of believing in yourself. I also hope they come away with some idea of what Reconstruction after the Civil War was like for the people of the South, black and white.
RFA & LMP: What is the one question you'd like to ask youngsters after they have read Patsy's diary?
JH: If you could meet Patsy, what would you say to her?
Interview conducted by Richard F. Abrahamson, Ph.D., Professor of Literature for Children and Young Adults, University of Houston, Houston, Texas, and Linda M. Pavonetti, Ed.D., Assistant Professor, Oakland University, Department of Reading and Language Arts, Rochester, Michigan.