Augusta Scattergood
This is Rocky. It's easy to edit when you have a dog helper.
What is your inspiration for writing your books?

I first began writing Glory Be while I was a school librarian in Summit, New Jersey. Ruby Bridges came to speak to our students and faculty about being the first black child to integrate the New Orleans public schools. I began thinking about my own experiences growing up white in the Mississippi Delta.

I was there in 1964, Freedom Summer. I thought about how a young white girl might react to the news that her community pool was closing, rather than integrating. Gloriana June Hemphill turned into a girl who loved summer as much as I did, who swam, caught fireflies, played kick-the-can with her friends, and read Nancy Drew in the hottest part of the day.

Making Friends with Billy Wong draws from some of my childhood memories, too!  But that novel was inspired by something a friend wrote about growing up in our hometown. Bobby Moon and I served on the school newspaper staff together. Years later, he shared an essay about how it felt growing up Chinese in a small town during the Civil Rights era. I knew a lot about Azalea’s story, but when Billy Wong showed up in Grandma’s garden, I relied on Bobby to tell me about working in his family’s grocery and being involved in a community that had previously not allowed Chinese students to attend the white public schools.

I had just moved to Florida when I started writing The Way to Stay in Destiny. My part of Florida is all about beaches and baseball. It’s easy to find inspiration here! The backstory of Hank Aaron grew out of a time my family visited Florida and rented a little house from a famous baseball player. My brother, sister and I were intrigued with what might have been said inside those walls.

What research do you do when you're writing?

For all of my books, I read a lot before I begin to write. I read oral histories of ordinary people, non-fiction and historical fiction, even picture books. I love to spend time in libraries, the brick-and-mortar kind and the online ones, too. I used the Library of Congress website, the University of North Carolina’s website, and many others.

I interview anyone who will stand still long enough to answer my questions. Two of my Chinese American friends, Bobby Moon and Frieda Quon answered endless emails and phone calls. I researched in the amazing Mississippi Delta Chinese Heritage Museum on the campus of Delta State University in my hometown of Cleveland, Mississippi, while writing Making Friends with Billy Wong.

For Glory Be, I asked questions of all sorts of friends and family, from my brother-in- law, an ex-football player, to my best friend’s younger sister who would have been exactly Glory’s age during Freedom Summer, to a fellow librarian who grew up in St. Petersburg, Florida, and attended a segregated all-black high school. I don’t even know her full name, but as I escaped to write in her library, we shared our stories.

Are any of your books based on your own life?

My Buster Brown shoebox,
for our Junk Poker game,
featured in Glory Be!

Like Glory and Jesslyn in Glory Be, my sister and I made up a game called Junk Poker. We kept our treasures in our Buster Brown shoeboxes. I actually went to Elvis’s little house in Tupelo, way before it was a shrine. I was in the Pep Squad. Although we didn’t have a public swimming pool in my town, neighboring towns did, and they closed. I remember separate drinking fountains. I knew a young civil rights worker from Ohio, older than Laura in my story, who lived in my town during Freedom Summer.  A lot the details of Glory Be were based on my own life.

Although Making Friends with Billy Wong takes place in a small town in Arkansas, I had similar experiences with my own grandmothers. They both loved to garden. One even tried her hand at china painting!

The Way to Stay in Destiny is set in a made-up town in Florida, similar to where I live now. I wasn’t here in 1974, but much of the setting—the houses, the lizards, the hanging moss—all that is very real to me. The dance teacher, Miss Sister Grandersole, was modeled after my own dance teacher, Ruth Hart, who actually was a Rockette before she taught little girls to dance!

Augusta Scattergood
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