Monday, August 31, 2009

Interview with IHS Press Children's Author

As a young girl growing up in in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, a small town near Cleveland, IHS Press author Elizabeth O'Maley, who wrote the new book By Freedom's Light, discovered an interest in both history and writing when she won a fourth grade essay contest sponsored by the local historical society.

A graduate of Miami University, Oxford, Ohio, O'Maley worked after college as a school psychologist in Cincinnati, Louisville, Indianapolis, and Fort Wayne. While her four children were growing up, she taught Sunday school classes at Unity Christ Church and also volunteered as a docent at the Lincoln Museum.

O'Maley took some time recently to answer questions about her new book.

What drew you to write about this subject?

We have relatives in Richmond, Indiana, and always drove by the Levi Coffin house on our way there from our home in Fort Wayne. One day I got a copy of Reminiscences of Levi Coffin from our library. It was the original 1876 edition, and I found it very exciting holding this old book and hearing the voice that spoke from it, while knowing that many of the events described happened right there at that house.

In researching your character, Sarah Caldwell, did you draw upon any real-life people?

Not directly. I did a lot of research on the setting in which I placed Sarah--on the Underground Railroad, Levi Coffin, pioneer life in Indiana, etc. But I created Sarah somewhat apart from the time and place, with basic characteristics and disposition that could just as easily identify a child today. Her personality and background grew in my mind until she became very real to me. Then I dropped her into Newport, Indiana, in 1842 and watched her react to that environment and the people and situations I threw her way.

What did you learn about the Underground Railroad that you did not know before beginning this project?

Well, one surprising fact I encountered was that not one of the runaways that Levi Coffin helped in Newport was ever captured. That's a remarkable record of success considering how ruthlessly they were hunted down. It's also surprising that despite the many threats against him, Levi Coffin was never physically assaulted nor did any of the slave hunters ever gain entry to his home. Maybe that's because he never resorted to violence himself, but instead relied on his quick wits, knowledge of the law, and commanding presence, a self-assured bearing that was probably born of his strong sense of moral authority.

Do you enjoy writing for children and young adults?

Yes. I enjoy trying to communicate my own enthusiasms and viewpoints to children and young adults, and writing is the best medium for me. I'm a terrible speaker!

What are you working on now?

I've been working on a book concerning the collision of the Native American and white cultures in this area from the time of the American Revolution until the Indians were finally removed in the 1840s. The stories of the people and events of that era are full of color and drama. Very exciting stuff, and like Levi Coffin and the Underground Railroad, it happened right here in our own backyard! A bit further afield, I've also been doing some research and thinking about Grace O'Malley, the Irish pirate queen of the sixteenth century.

By Freedom's Light is available in hardback for $15.95 and in paperback for $7.95. The book is available from the Indiana Historical Society's History Market.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

IHS Press Title Named Finalist in Best Books Contest

The IHS Press publication The Ripest Moments: A Southern Indiana Childhood, a memoir by Norbert Krapf, has been named as a finalist in the nonfiction--historical/biographical category of the 2009 Best Books of Indiana Contest sponsored by the Indiana Center for the Book.

The titles of all former, current and future Best Books finalists will be featured in the State Library's Indiana Authors Room indefinitely. In addition, each category winner will be engraved on a plaque placed in the Indiana Authors Room. Also, three copies of each 2009 contest entry have been added to the State Library's collections. One of the copies will circulate; the other two copies are available to all Hoosiers at the State Library and via interlibrary loan at their local public library.

The winners of the 2009 Best Books of Indiana Contest will be announced at an awards ceremony taking place on Saturday, August 29, 2009 at 4:00 p.m. (EDT) at the Indiana State Library in Indianapolis. A reception will follow the event with refreshments and light hors d'oeuvres.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

A Day of Poetry

Norbert Krapf, Indiana Poet Laureate and author of the IHS Press book The Ripest Moments: A Southern Indiana Childhood, will join other Hoosier poets in a special program "Indiana Poets: Words on Wings," from noon to 3:30 p.m. Saturday, August 29, at the Indiana State Library and Historical Building, 315 West Ohio Street, Indianapolis. The program is sponsored by the Indiana Historical Bureau.

Other poets include Joyce Brinkman, who served as Indiana's poet laureate from 2002-2008; Ruthelen Burns; Mitchell L. H. Douglas; Tasha Jones, reading from her just released Poet 24/7; Karen Kovacik; David Schumate; and Elizabeth Weber.

The poets will be available after readings to sign books, being sold at a 20% discount in the Indiana Historical Bureau Book Shop (Room 130).

For more information on the event, contact Matt Allison at (317) 232-2535, or

Monday, August 03, 2009

IHS Press Releases New Children's Book

In By Freedom's Light, a historical novel for children and young adults, child psychologist Elizabeth O'Maley gives readers a glimpse of frontier life. From the harshness of a crude farm wrested from a forested wilderness, readers will hear authentic voices of a revival preacher, a country doctor, a famous orator, Quakers, runaway slaves, slave traders, and well-known abolitionists. Here they will experience both the stark realities of a slave society as well as the redeeming acts of a brave few who helped enslaved black people escape to freedom.

To thirteen-year-old Sarah Caldwell, everything in Indiana is dark—the bug-filled cabin, the woods engulfing the farm, and especially the future. She is far from her beloved sister, Rachel, who stayed in North Carolina when their family moved. Their widowed father has married Eliza, a young Quaker schoolteacher, and Sarah has just discovered that Eliza is an abolitionist! Sarah believes she must tell her father about the secret, unlawful activities Eliza’s sewing circle performs at Levi and Catherine Coffin’s home.

Yet when Sarah learns her sister will be visiting Indiana with her husband and baby, happiness and anticipation overcome her concern about Eliza. Rachel’s family soon arrives, bringing Polly, a slave girl about Sarah’s age. Thrown together to do farm chores and look after Rachel’s baby, the two girls, white and black, free and enslaved, slowly develop a friendship. Between Polly’s company and that of her extended family, Sarah’s world brightens.

Meanwhile, Sarah begins to question her beliefs about slavery. When bounty hunters nearly kidnap Polly, Sarah worries for her safety. Tensions mount within the cramped household as it appears that her brother-in-law may trade Polly’s future for his family’s prosperity.

By Freedom's Light is available in hardback for $15.95 and in paperback for $7.95. The book is available from the Indiana Historical Society's History Market.