Courage has been my word for 2013. I can’t remember the signs that told me this would be my word, but I do remember that I didn’t want it. It wasn’t glamorous enough. Probably in thinking I didn’t want the word, I realized I needed to embrace it.
People rarely, if ever, admit to their own courage. I think that’s because they don’t recognize it. I thought I’d invite a few people who are much better with words than I am to write about various aspects of courage.
My first post is from author G. Neri. His most recent book is Ghetto Cowboy. Hello, I’m Johnny Cash comes out in September ’14 and his next YA novel, Knockout Games will emerge in August ’14.
This was Greg’s prompt:
In your research of Johnny Cash, where did you find he exemplified courage in his life? Was it as much in his day to day life as it was in the larger ways that helped him maintain his career? How were you able to relate his courage in your writing? On a completely different note, how did you find the courage to write a story that most would not expect you to write?
Courage. Now there’s a word. And when it comes to Johnny Cash, he had more than most. Though I don’t think he would see it that way and I certainly don’t think it took any courage on my part to write about him. It was one of the first things I ever really attempted to write, back in 2003. It just took 10 years to realize his truth and see it come to life. But his story was unforgettable and inspiring to me in deeply profound ways. Not only for his music (particularly, the last decade) but more for the way he wrote about his childhood growing up in cotton country. From the poverty of the Great Depression to the hope of the New Deal, to overcoming the tragic death of his closest brother and the solace he found in music—it was all incredibly intimate as if he was talking straight to me, revealing his innermost secrets.
Courage? He found courage in his family and how they gritted it out when many gave up. He found courage in his brother Jack , who was wise beyond his years and sacrificed (and died) for a few dollars so his siblings could eat. He found courage in a crippled boy who was shunned by most but could play guitar like no other. He found courage in God. He found courage in the songs he listened to and the lonesome tales that they weaved. Then he gathered that courage and spread it far and wide when he gave voice to millions who had no voice: the working poor, veterans, prisoners, native Americans, the disenchanted, the forgotten ones. He gave them courage by telling their stories and letting America know what was going on in the heartland. He did it with grace and humor and plenty of attitude, just in case you weren’t paying attention.
Johnny Cash lived the American Dream because he was American in every way: bigger than life, honest, funny, flawed, devout, a sinner, cavalier, a deep thinker, rich and poor. His life mirrored the complex history of the 20th century and he actually lived many of its most vital moments. What he took away from those times and how he viewed the shifts in the American psyche forged a resilient mind that turned him into a true maverick. To this day, his example inspires the way I approach my own art: from the gut, always walking the line.
His story might seem unexpected in my oeuvre but it fits perfectly from my point of view. All my stories concern outsiders, people who are misunderstood, maligned, cast out, who have to fight back to make their own way through the jungles of life. That is Johnny Cash in a nutshell. That is Yummy and Cole and Marcus and Logan and Erica and all the characters I write about. Johnny’s life may be a million miles from my own but we all share a universal struggle to have our voices heard and our stories told as only we can. Johnny Cash had a voice for the ages and he spoke out and sang to the end. He gave me the courage of conviction.
G. Neri is the Coretta Scott King honor-winning author of Yummy: the Last Days of a Southside Shorty and the recipient of the Lee Bennett Hopkins Promising Poet Award for his free verse novella, Chess Rumble. His novels include Surf Mules and the Horace Mann Upstander Award-winning Ghetto Cowboy. His work has been honored by the Museum of Tolerance and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Antioch University, the International Reading Association, the American Library Association, the Junior Library Guild and the National Council for Teachers of English. Neri has been a filmmaker, animator, teacher and digital media producer. He currently writes full-time and lives on the Gulf Coast of Florida with his wife and daughter. source