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ANN BAUSUM: WITH PASSION AND PURPOSE, A WRITER LAYS DOWN PAVING STONES FOR THE NEXT GENERATION TO WALK

by J. H. Diehl

Guide my feet while I run this race,
Guide my feet while I run this race,
Guide my feet while I run this race,
For I don’t want to run this race in vain.

Ann BausumAuthor Ann Bausum sang those lines from a well-known African American spiritual to begin her acceptance speech for the 2017 Children’s Book Guild Nonfiction Award on April 29 at Clyde’s of Gallery Place. An audience of more than 100 Guild members, colleagues and friends honored Bausum for the excellence of her body of her work, which includes many books about issues of social justice, from immigration to civil rights to the Stonewall riots and the national Gay Rights Movement. Bausum said she selected that verse to open her talk about “the choices that have guided my feet through the years” because those lyrics have been a touchstone for her, “a reminder to ‘stay on course, Ann. Stay on course.’”

In the first part of her talk, Bausum described how her fierce passion to write historical narratives for children is rooted in her years growing up in Lexington, Va., during the 1960s. Fourth grade, she said, was the year she fell in love with history. Her hometown was filled with sites and icons of Confederate history. Of particular importance to her then was Little Sorrel, Stonewall Jackson’s horse, which had been stuffed and placed on display in a museum. “I would visit him after school," she said, and “didn’t realize it at the time, but I was falling in love with an artifact for the first time.” Little Sorrel seemed so real to her, Bausum said, that she imagined he could walk out of his museum paddock.

In school she learned a warped version of U.S. history, however. “Only decades later did I realize how my history books had been a carefully constructed narrative,” Bausum said. This narrative was filled with distortions intended to absolve whites of culpability for slavery. 

“It took me years to realize,” she said, that her school history books had presented a “glorification of the South’s lost cause.” Not until Bausum enrolled at Beloit College in Wisconsin in 1975 and saw that narrative challenged did her view of history change. She explained, “Over time, I learned I was the one who had been misled. I was in my early twenties before I had the first inkling that my textbooks had gotten things wrong.”

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