I wrote a blog post for Beacon Broadside on last week’s slaughter of 19 people, and the attack on 26 others in a home for individuals with disabilities in Japan. You can read it here.
I’m so excited to report that my mother/daughter travel memoir was named Best Novel/Biography in the inaugural Half the World Global Literati Awards! (See details below!)
Global, July 15, 2016 – Half the World Holdings, a women-focused investment platform, Friday announced Laurie Petrou as the winner of the inaugural Half the World Global Literati Award 2016. The prestigious international award recognizes unpublished work that reflects the complexity of women’s lives, and has at their heart a central female protagonist.
The winning submission, ‘Sister of Mine’, is a psychological thriller that explores themes of loyalty, betrayal and debt through the lives of two sisters bound by a knot of secrecy. Author Laurie Petrou is an associate professor of The RTA School of Media, Ryerson University, Toronto.
“The judges rewarded the taut writing of a compulsive page-turner which explores the complex relationship between two sisters with a damaging secret. Our shortlist plays with the themes of adventure and courage, dignity and struggle, with characters motivated by an overarching sense of love” explained Caroline Bowler, representative for Half the World Holdings. “We are moved to see this award embraced by all walks of life, from all over the world. This represents a very real desire to recognize women at the center of our cultural lives.”
Along with the top prize, there were also category and People’s Choice award winners, each collecting US$1,000. Suzanne Kamata, based in Japan, collected top prize in the novel category. Her teenage daughter, Lilia, was born deaf and affected by cerebral palsy but this hasn’t dinted her sense of adventure and thirst for exploration. Suzanne’s honest and raw biography ‘Squeaky Wheels’ describes a mother’s love to open up the world to her child.
Danna Petersen-Deeprose, a student at McGill University Montreal, collected the short story prize for her work ‘Looking for Lost Girl’, which describes the journey of a woman in her mid-twenties looking for the courage to start her own life. Top screenwriter Lisa Hagen has two old ladies plot their escape from a retirement home in ‘Dancing on the Elephant.’ The two friends explore the big questions in life; what is my legacy and why am I even here? Friendship was also the key theme for the People’s Choice award, decided by thousands of votes from the general public. Eventual winner was LA-based Jude Roth whose screenplay ‘Plan B’ tells of 3 women and the bonds that carry them when the chips are really down.
The Half the World Global Literati Award was set up in response to 2015 research from author Nicola Griffith, which identified that the majority of the significant literary prizes are awarded to works written from a male perspective. The award is set to return in spring 2017.
Statistics about the Half the World Global Literati Award 2016.
• 59 countries including Eritrea, Iran, Azerbaijan, Mexico, Trinidad & Tobago
• 45.5 percent submissions are novels, 36.5 percent short stories, 18 percent screenplays
• Drama the most popular genre, topping novels & screenplays and a close second for short stories. Literary Fiction was the second most popular with Romance in third. Erotica comprised of less than 5 percent of all entrants.
• Majority of the short list are female (82.5 percent) vs male (17.5 percent)
About Half the World Holdings
Half the World Holdings, which was launched by Blackrun Ventures in March 2016, is a global investment platform in companies for whom women are the end-consumer. The
Half the World platform provides the capital, advisory and international networks needed to develop and scale these ventures globally. Blackrun and Half the World Holdings partners come from the worlds of private equity, investment banking, multinational businesses and entrepreneurship, with offices in Berlin, Hong Kong, London, Los Angeles, Mumbai, New York, Sydney and Singapore.
For more information, please visit http://halftheworld.media.
I was recently interviewed on the blog Accessible Japan. You can read it here!
Whenever I am in a gathering of women, at some point, inevitably, the conversation will turn to birth stories. I usually nod and listen silently. I might add that I had a C-section and that it didn’t hurt, but I never tell the rest of my story because I know it would bring down a pall upon the conversation. Nobody really wants to hear about how my twins were born at 26 weeks, how the day of their birth was far from being “the happiest day of my life” or even a day of regular joy, but an occasion filled with fear and a grand sense of failure. Nobody wants to hear how I waited until the day after they were born to go see them for the first time, and when I did, I didn’t feel a burst of maternal love. I thought they looked weird and scary, and I wondered if they would ever look normal. These are not the kinds of things that we talk about in polite company, and until very recently, not even the kinds of things that mothers were willing to write about.
Vicki Forman does, however, in her prize-winning new book This Lovely Life: A Memoir of Premature Motherhood. Vicki’s twins Evan and Eleanor were born at 23 weeks’ gestation. As the daughter of a doctor, Vicki was aware of the likelihood of severe disability should they survive, and asked for a DNR order, which was ignored. Her daughter died four days later, but her son survived with multiple disabilities.
Vicki writes with astonishing frankness about the following five years in which she learned to love her son without expectations as she sought the best medical solutions for his seemingly endless problems. She admits to telling off nurses and being rude to her brother-in-law and disobeying medical advice (like when she stopped using the apnea monitor because it went off needlessly in the night, and she had learned that by that stage ex-preemies rarely stopped breathing for a long time).
I could relate to many of these things. I, too, found that almost everything that people said to console me was the wrong thing. And at first I didn’t want to bond with other parents of multiply disabled children. And my medical vocabulary (in my case, in Japanese) expanded exponentially.
As my children were born in a Japanese hospital, I found many of the cultural differences interesting. If I’d given birth in California, I would have been quickly introduced to a social worker and a spiritual adviser. Here, I was on my own. But after reading about Vicki’s anger and exasperation with the people who were assigned to help her, I’m not sure that having a counselor would have been all that much help.
Vicki’s husband, Cliff, is a Japanese-American, and through-out this book he is portrayed as kind, accepting, and patient. At one point, Vicki writes: “Where I wanted to flail and yell and lose my temper with everyone, my husband was staid and firm and in control. I don’t know how he did it. He once said, apropros of being Japanese, ‘My culture just accepts people who are sick and maimed. We take care of people when they get old and we take in people with disabilities.'”
I’ve been thinking about this ever since I read it. It’s true that families here keep their elderly and disabled relatives at home, but, from my American point of view, it has always seemed to be less out of open-hearted acceptance than out of duty. Shikata ga nai. (It can’t be helped.) Gaman o suru. (Everyone must endure their harships.) Mewake o shinai. (Don’t burden others.) Maybe I am wrong.
At any rate, This Lovely Life gave me many things to think about, and also made me feel less alone in this world.
This book is also gorgeously written and full of wisdom – real literature. I have an extra copy – if you’d like one, leave your name here and I’ll do a drawing in a week.
For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been living in dread of this morning. As recently as two days ago, Lilia started throwing hard, plastic objects at me when I mentioned going back to school. Yesterday, I hung her formal attire in plain view to help her prepare mentally, and she hurled Jio’s new school shoes at it. Ordinarily she loves dressing up, but I was afraid she’d grab it and rip the fabric to shreds, so I had to put it aside. On other occasions, she has cried fat tears, making me think that she had endured some trauma at school that I knew nothing about.
On the best of days, we have to drag her out of bed in the morning to get ready for school, and since she’s been sleeping in until 9AM or so these past two weeks, I could just imagine how difficult it would be to rouse her this morning at 7AM for the first day of third grade. I was thinking yesterday that I would need to tranquilize her in order to get her into my car. When she doesn’t want to do something, she starts thrashing and flailing, and boy, those little fists can hurt.
So this morning I asked my husband to get her up. I was busy making breakfast when she came into the kitchen. She seemed surprisingly chipper. She ate her breakfast, got dressed all by herself (including tights), and checked the inventory of her school bags. Towel? Check. Tissues? Check. She was at the door, raring to go, while I was still in my pajamas.
“Man or woman?” she signed, wondering about the gender of her new teacher. Her eyes were sparkling. “Today I will get new textbooks!”
It was all very weird, but in a good way. Maybe she was possessed by demons, and they’ve flown the coop.
I discovered Jennifer Graf Groneberg’s writing too late to include her in my anthology, but hers is one voice I covet. Groneberg was clearly a writer long before she became the mother of Avery, a fraternal twin with Down Syndrome. Her essays about mothering and being a woman in the West (she lives in small mountain town in Montana) have been published in several anthologies. A few years ago, her essays on Avery started popping up on Literary Mama, Mamazine, and other websites. Now Groneberg is the author of a memoir, Road Map to Holland, a moving and beautifully written account of her first two years as Avery’s mother.
We’ve all heard that children with Down syndrome are sweet and loving, God’s chosen ones, or whatever, and that parents of special needs children are somehow saintly and blessed. We’ve also heard about would-be parents who automatically abort fetuses with Down syndrome in order to avoid suffering (supposedly the child’s suffering, as well as the parents’). These cultural assumptions are easy and comfortable and allow us not to think too much.
In this book, Groneberg goes beyond the stereotypes. She doesn’t seek to comfort, but instead offers an honest account of giving birth to and living with Avery – an individual with likes and dislikes and various abilities.
The obvious audience for this book is mothers of children with special needs, but I think it would be great if everyone read Road Map to Holland. Until very recently, the lives of families with special needs children have been pretty much absent from literature. Reading this book is like stepping into a new frontier. The world of special needs families is indeed another country. Maybe not Holland, exactly, but someplace wondrous and surprising.