Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Sunny Nash Nonfiction Book Honored

Award-winning book, Bigmama Didn’t Shop At Woolworth’s by Sunny Nash honored.

Sunny Nash, Author,  Bigmama Didn't Shop At Woolworth's
Sunny Nash, Author,
Bigmama Didn't Shop At Woolworth's

The Brazos Valley African American Museum (BVAAM) unveiled inscribed copies and an exhibition representing Sunny Nash's book, Bigmama Didn’t Shop At Woolworth’s (Texas A&M University Press). The museum occupies the former site of Booker T. Washington Elementary School, the school Nash attended near her Candy Hill neighborhood.

Sunny Nash, one of the first black female graduates of Texas A&M University, attended Bryan Independent Schools. 

Nash's book, Bigmama Didn’t Shop At Woolworth’s, is also honored by the Association of American University Presses as an educational tool for understanding U.S. race relations. The museum exhibit of the book, which incorporates Nash's career accomplishments and education, is designed as a traveling trunk presentation available to area schools as a tool for understanding local history.

“Everything comes full circle, it seems,” said Nash, one of the first black female graduates of Texas A&M University (’77). "I took what I learned in Bryan schools out into the world. And, to this day, those life lessons are still relevant."

In her book, Nash writes about life lessons through her childhood reflections--some happy, some unforgivable, others unfortunate but all unforgettable. Written as a series of vignettes, which first appeared in her newspaper column in the Bryan-College Station Eagle in the 1990s, Nash's book provides an intimate peek into the life a young African American girl growing up under Jim Crow laws with an uncertainty as to what her life possibilities could be and tackles themes about simply growing up and becoming an adult human being.

"I learned at home, first, and then at school," Nash said, "that most things worth having do not come easily. Even if you think you have the talent for something like writing, you still must work at making something of that talent. Nothing works if you don't work hard at it."
Bigmama Didn't shop At Woolworth's by Sunny Nash
Bigmama Didn't Shop at Woolworth's 
by Sunny Nash

Bigmama Didn't Shop At Woolworth's is built around Nash's life with her part-Comanche grandmother, Bigmama, who lived in the home with her and her parents and had a significant influence on Nash's childhood. But Nash also tells other poignant stories about everyday struggles in American society before and during the Civil Rights Movement. This examination of race relations in America and U.S. civil rights history, told from a young child's experience, earned Bigmama Didn't Shop At Woolworth's recognition by the Association of American University Presses in New York for its contribution to the understanding of U.S. race relations. Listed in the Bibliographic Guide to Black Studies by the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York, Bigmama Didn't Shop At Woolworth's is also recommended for Native American collections by the Miami-Dade Public Library System in Florida.

Robin Fruble of Southern California said, "Sunny Nash writes the story of her childhood without preaching or ranting, but she made me realize for the first time just how much skin color changes how one experiences the world."

Willie & Mell Pruitt Museum Founders BVAAM & AANHS
Willie & Mell Pruitt
In 1999, Nash’s teachers Willie Pruitt and his wife, the late Mell Pruitt, founded the African American National Heritage Society (AANHS) to raise funds to build BVAAM to house objects, photographs documents and African-American memorabilia the couple had assembled for more than a half century, and books like their student, Sunny Nash's Bigmama Didn’t Shop At Woolworth’sBVAAM has since become a collector and national narrator for African-American life, also preserving and sharing local history through artifacts, historical reports, family legacies, genealogical records, oral and video accounts, educational resources, lectures, workshops, traveling exhibitions, live performing arts productions, concerts and presentations.
Brazos Valley African American Museum
Brazos Valley African American Museum
500 East Pruitt Street, Bryan, Texas

Brazos Valley African American Museum, a hands-on, community-based facility, opened in 2006, and continues to welcome pledges, grants, endowed funds, donations and in-kind contributions. The Museum invites the public to explore acquisitions and a variety of curriculum-based trunks, which are available to check out by school programs, a use for which Nash's exhibit is designed. Area school libraries acquired Bigmama Didn’t Shop At Woolworth’s when it was first released and, at this time, could easily incorporate the exhibit into classroom reading and research projects or school-based essay programs.

"Schools in Midland-Odessa, Texas, and  Long Beach and Huntington Beach, California, have used my book in a similar fashion across a wide range of grades and ages," Nash said. "I was invited to speak to more than 10,000 students from grades K-12 on a book tour of the the Permian Basin. My book is also used at the University of Texas in courses on the history of diversity."

Find out more about Sunny Nash, museums and anything else.
Sunny Nash's Eagle Column, 'Yesterdays'
Bryan-College Station Eagle
Sunny Nash's Column, "Yesterdays"
Thursday, January 7. 1993
"Diane Bowen, who was an editor at the Bryan-College Station Eagle at that time, recruited me to write my first column, having read my work in literary collections," Nash said. "Diane and our readers particularly like the Bigmama stories and asked for more articles about my life with Bigmama. I also included a host of other relatives and interesting characters that floated through my childhood and wove in the history of the Brazos Valley." One article from the Eagle and also included in Bigmama Didn’t Shop At Woolworth’s, is When the Healer Came to Town.

As Nash did with every opportunity she ever got, she took the Eagle opportunity to the next level, using it to expand to the Houston Chronicle, convincing the publisher at that time, Tony Pederson, that she could attract newspaper readers from the Brazos Valley through her column there. "I had to wear down folks at the Chronicle with my persistence because they didn't know me. I had no connections, no one to escort me through the door or represent me. Two things helped me--my journalism degree from Texas A&M University and my Eagle column."

Sunny Nash's Column, Yesterdays
Sunny Nash Wins Houston Essay Prize
The Magazine of  the Houston Post

Special Edition
December 28, 1986

Nash convinced Pederson to examine her portfolio of Eagle articles and other published work, which included an essay about a bi-racial city slicker, whose ancestors migrated to Houston from a Louisiana plantation where they had lived under the Jim Crow system for 30 years after emancipation. Nash's essay won First Prize in the Houston Public Library Literary Competition and was published in a special issue of the Sunday Magazine of the Houston PostAfter reading my materials and reviewing my print and broadcast news credentials, Tony agreed to give me a chance," Nash said. Nash was assigned to the editor of the State Lines section of the newspaper, Ken Hammond, who decided to have her communicate to readers how she found her way in the racial maze into which she had been born.

"'Inspire people,' Ken told me. 'But give it to them straight. Don't preach! Be a reporter of facts, but weave in some emotion and try to leave people on a Sunday morning feeling better about their lives and the world. Give them hope, don't talk down them, keep it fresh, make them feel the sun and wind on their skin, bring tears to their eyes, make them laugh and continue to tell your story in your little girl voice,' he said.' I like that from your Eagle articles. By the way, I need three times as many words as your Eagle articles.'"

"I went silent for a long while," Nash said, wondering how she was supposed to do all of that in 1500 words or less. "I guess I saw my life flashing before my eyes--what my life could be if I did a good job and what my life would be if I didn't. Finally, I said. That's big. 'Well, that's your assignment,' Ken said.'"
A Mission Completed for Doll by Sunny Nash
A Mission Completed for Doll
by Sunny Nash Houston Chronicle 

State Lines July 15, 1990
"I knew enough about life to realize I would probably only have one chance to show what I could do. Thousands of other writers were out there vying for a spot, wanting that chance as much as I did. So, I knew I had to produce the best story and copy possible." 

The story Nash presented to Hammond was about her cousin, whom they called Doll, whose death in 1954 caused officials in a segregated school district in a nearby small town to close the school because there were not enough black students in the school, only four after Doll's death, to justify keeping the school open. "The significance of this story," Nash said, "was it's connection to the 1954 Supreme Court ruling in Brown v the Board of Education."

Custom Search here for more on Brown and anything else.

State Lines, Collection Houston Chronicle
State LinesCollection
Houston Chronicle 

A Mission Completed for Doll, Nash's first article in the Houston Chronicle Sunday Magazine column, State Lines, earned Nash a contract with Hearst Newspapers, a place among Houston Chronicle contributors, prestige in her profession and attention from publishers, agents and readers.

Over the years, Hammond worked with Nash in her approach to the sensitive topics of race relations in America, helping her to maintain a very personal voice of a young child growing up during those tumultuous times of Jim Crow laws in America and encouraging her to write with an intimacy to reveal a rich life experience far beyond the ordinary.

"Ken Hammond is a great editor," Nash said. "He demanded that I make him feel what I felt, smell what I smelled, hear what I heard, and see things the way I saw them," Nash said. "It didn't matter to him that I was speaking in the voice of a little black girl and he was reading with the mind of a middle-age white man. Ken said the challenge to me was to grasp the empathy of or, at least, reach an understanding with readers of far different experiences than mine. 'If you can make me feel your pain or whatever,' Ken advised. 'Then you have a chance of making readers feel it, too.'" Hammond selected Nash's essay, A Mission Completed for Doll, to be published in his own book, State Lines, a collection of the best essays published in the Houston Chronicle's State Lines column. "Ken Hammond as my editor caused me to grow from a writer into an artist." 

Sell Your Book, Script or Column:
How to Write a Winning Query and Mak
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During Nash's several years with Knight-Ridder's Bryan-College Station Eagle, after she was already writing for the Chronicle, her little Eagle column was picked up by Clyde Davis at Black Conscience Syndication in New York, exposing her to a national audience. "Clyde mailed me a sack of letters weekly from people all over the country--Tennessee, Mississippi, New York, New Hampshire, St. Louis, California and other places," Nash said. "My mother and her friends clipped articles weekly and helped me answer all the letters. Some of those contacts got me invited to speak to organizations at elegant functions, paid generously and treated very nicely. "Oh, that's what being a syndicated columnist means," Nash's mother said to her once when she was home for a visit.

Cities, Mayors, and Race Relations:
Task Forces as Agents of Race-Base
(Google Affiliate Ad)
"I was becoming quite the celebrity," Nash said, "when, Mary Lenn Dixon, managing editor at Texas A&M University Press, asked me to meet with her and the director of the Press. They offered me a contract for a book of my published essays from the Eagle and Chronicle. I did not hesitate and Bigmama Didn’t Shop At Woolworth’s was born. Well, it took a lot of work but I enjoy the work. It's like a journey. There's so much to see along the way, so much to learn and, at the end, a reward, but mostly there are plans for a new journey--a book tour, promotional campaign, public speaking engagements or my favorite, another book. It has taken awhile to finish the book I am currently working on, but I intend to hand over the manuscript to Mary Lenn this summer."

Along with Nash's grandmother and parents, Nash credits in her book, Bigmama Didn’t Shop At Woolworth’sthe Pruitt's and others for their roles in helping to shape her life. She also writes about many of these people in her popular blog, Sunny Nash – Race Relations in America, based on her book. Nash covers U.S. race relations through topics relating to her childhood and adult life that include Jim Crow laws, education, employment, food, music, film, radio, television, entertainment, social media, Internet technology, publishing, media, sports, the military, fashion, performing arts, literature, civil rights history, and social and political movements–past and present–in a way that does not inflame, but informs. Sunny Nash lives in Southern California.

© 2012 Sunny Nash. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

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