Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Interview with Deaf Author Ann Clare LeZotte about T4 her forthcoming book told in verse

T4 (September 22, 2008) by Ann Clare LeZotte
Reading level: Ages 9-12
112 pages
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
It is 1939. Paula Becker, thirteen years old and deaf, lives with her family in a rural German town. As rumors swirl of disabled children quietly disappearing, a priest comes to her family's door with an offer to shield Paula from an uncertain fate. When the sanctuary he offers is fleeting, Paula needs to call upon all her strength to stay one step ahead of the Nazis.

When I first mentioned this book on my blog, I had not yet read the story. Now that I have, I can not wait to share both the book and my interview with Deaf Author, Ann Clare LeZotte with you.
Ann Clare LeZotte is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College and while this is her first novel, she has had her poems published in the American Poetry Review, the New Republic, and the Threepenny Review. When she isn't writing, Ms. LeZotte works full-time at a public library.

In T4, main character Paula Becker is a thirteen year old girl and a Deaf Character who uses sign language and lipreading to communicate. We are introduced to her life in Germany during Hitler’s time as Paula’s family places her in hiding to protect her since individuals with physical and mental disabilities were being executed under the orders of Hitler’s Tiergartenstrasse 4 (T4). Readers also learn about Paula's education and her family's acceptance of her deafness.
For me, the novel was both educational and enjoyable. I knew little about T4 when I started the book and I never expected that the book would be told in verse. The poems are not very long (great for struggling readers) but they are full of information and feeling. Less can be more.
I frequently ask for "wacky" pictures of the authors I interview because I think they're fun and several of my younger readers have requested more candid shots. While I love all pictures of authors (especially ones with their dogs), I must applaud Ms. LeZotte for appeasing my readers and me with this great Creepy Carrie photo (right). This just shows that creative writers can have interesting personal lives too.

I invite you to read my interview with the author below and I encourage you to buy T4 for your personal and classroom libraries.
SPW: T4 is such a serious topic for adolescent literature. What prompted you to write such a story?

ACLZ: I grew up on the north shore of Long Island, and a number of my friends were first and second generation American Jews, whose grandparents were survivors of the Shoah. As a little girl, my maternal grandmother, Dr Era Contes (and her family), escaped Turkey during the Armenian Genocide. So these twentieth century terrors were very real to me, in a palpable way. When I was in my early twenties, I became passionate about Deaf history. I read Horst Birsold's Crying Hands: Eugenics and Deaf People in Nazi Germany. From that time on, it was a story I wanted to tell. I was a sensitive, thoughtful adolescent, and I think it's important to introduce serious topics early on, so they become part of the reader's consciousness.

SPW: What type of research did you do for your book? In the Notes from the Author section, you mentioned several books.

ACLZ: As well as the Horst book, I read just about everything I could find about the Nazi's so-called euthanasia program. I have a special borrower's card from the University of Florida Libraries and accessed my public library's online book services. The U.S. Memorial Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. has a terrific online exhibit too.

SPW: There aren't too many adolescent novels that are written in verse. Will you discuss your decision to write your story in poetry?

ACLZ: Believe me, I tried to write the book in prose! I always say written English (rather than spoken English or ASL) is my primary language. My natural voice expresses itself best in short lyric poetry. I don't know why that is. It may have something to do with the fact that I generally think in intense streams of emotion and perception (rather than in words or signs). Kind of like music. Anyway, the format of the book chose me. I was encouraged by the fact that Karen Hesse was so successful with her YA novel in verse, Out of the Dust.

SPW: What do you hope that readers will learn or take away from the book? I believe this is one of the only books in adolescent literature that I have read that doesn't take a Jewish perspective about the Holocaust.

ACLZ: I hope readers will realize that Deaf and Disabled people have been the victims of the most horrible kinds of persecution, and that we still live on, and value and enjoy our lives. There is a new form of eugenics today. Recently, I read the Nobel Prize winning Physiologist Sir John Sulston say, in response to a British Deaf couple who had "intentionally" given birth to a Deaf baby: "I don't think one ought to bring a clearly disabled child into the world." As we move forward, into a new era of medicine and science, the next generations will have to decide what place and position the Disabled will take. I hope that they will value the best of human diversity.

SPW: What advice would you give to young people who are reading your books for the first time?

ACLZ: Stay true to your own voice. Work very hard as a writer. Read a lot of books. And revise your own work. Don't be afraid of change or criticism. Multicultural literature has been a hot topic for couple of decades. But Deaf and Disabled writers still haven't come to the forefront. Publishers and editors are always looking for a unique voice, or a story that hasn't been told a million times. And we've got plenty of them. Good luck!
For more information about the author, visit her blog: Ann Clare LeZotte's Blog on Amazon

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