Wednesday, October 30, 2013

How I Began Writing My First Novel

Picture of Keshia Thomas with Karen Simpson. Photo taken by Karen Simpson
Keshia Thomas (L)  shown with Karen Simpson (R) at the University of Michigan in March, 2013. 
About 12 years ago, I read about a heroic incident that happened in1996 in which a young woman, Keshia Thomas  lived up to her values of  hope and love during a Klan rally in our  hometown of Ann Arbor, Michigan.  

With nothing but a picture and a few paragraphs I started on my writing journey.  I used my imagination to contemplate how much courage it would take to shield someone who is full of hate. My novel, Act of Grace developed into a paranormal,  speculative fiction taking on race relations in America. 

Although my novel departed from the original story, I still often wondered about what happened to Keshia. March of this year I was able to help bring Keshia to the University of Michigan to speak about her experience via the Understanding Race Project.  I was over the moon to finally meet her and grateful for the experience.  

I was elated this week to see Keshia and the wonderful photographer who took those historic photos, Thomas and Mark Brunner spark positive thoughts about race relations across the globe.

Please take time to read about Keshia and her wonderful act of bravery.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Quilter's Dream

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Dancer's Hair Blowing

Karen Simpson Horse Quilt., a set on Flickr.

I think one of the earliest religious disappointments as a young girls developed from my unanswered prayer for a horse. In the 1960’s I was an African American girl praying for a dream that from all the evidence only white people could make come true. There were no brown children like me riding horses on the television or on the movie screen. There were no heroes of African descent riding fast horses to victory in any of the books I read. Yet I believed, as only a child can believe, that if I prayed, wished on stars and blew on the fluffy heads of dandelions that one day God would reward my faith.

Sometimes God says yes. Sometimes God says no. Sometime God just hands you a slightly wild idea and tells you to run with it. My love of horses would lead me to a degree in Animal Science, however, what I wanted, but didn’t have for a long time was an artistic touchstone that connected my passion for horses to my African American heritage.

Several years ago, as I was flipping through a now defunct fiber arts magazine I came upon an advertisement for an African textiles exhibit, which featured pictures of Hausa horsemen in quilted armor.  For me the photos were an epiphany, a flash of the spirit, and an ancestral voice told me that I had to make myself quilted armor and that it didn’t matter that I didn’t know a thing about quilting.

I can say now that it was a call to an important artistic journey; however, my first quilt teacher considered my goal of a quilt for horses to be down right strange. I went ahead anyway. What I learned in her classes was not only the basics of quilting but also the courage to ignore criticism and follow my artistic passions. My first quilt project ended up being a quilted coat for a horse and me.

I have now been a quilter for about 20 years and taught quilting for over 15.  Until last week the quilted armor I’d created had never been on a horse. I met up with an old  friend who had a pony named Dancer. On a beautiful sun drenched day Dancer wore my coat, the amazing thing is that it fit like I’d made it for him.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Go On Girl!! Book Club Awards

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It was wonderful to be honored for my novel Act of Grace by the Go On Girl! Book Club. My Award was a lovely quilt piece and I was so touched by the ceremony and the gift of being able to talk with so many of my readers.