Each month, we ask one distinguished author or illustrator to write an original post that reveals insights about their process and craft. Enjoy!
Coming Full Circle
by Sharon M. Draper
I went to Ghana several years ago and was overwhelmed by the beauty of the land and people, as well as the history of the place that hovered just out of reach. When I visited the slave castles, where millions of Africans were housed like cattle before being shipped as cargo and sold as slaves, I felt their spirits crying out to me. Crawling on my hands and knees through the “Door of No Return,” which led from the dark confines of the prison to the bright vastness of a beach, I knew I must tell the story of someone who had passed that way.
Copper Sun (S&S 2006) became that novel. It’s the story of 15-year-old Amari, who watches as her peaceful village is destroyed, and is marched across the continent to Cape Coast Castle, where she is held, sold, and pushed through that “door of no return.” With strength and dignity, Amari learns to survive, then yearns for freedom. The book has been read in schools all across the United States and in Europe and most recently, in Africa.
My book was one of the titles students from Ghana, Nigeria, and the United States read and discussed—online, and later in person, through the program Reading Across Continents. The experience was a truly cross-cultural social and educational event focusing on friendship and shared interests. As Americans, we sometimes see only the negative aspects of African society. We often fail to recognize the positive—including the value Africans place on education and academic success. The young people who were part of this program are the future leaders of their countries, and perhaps because of the program, they have formed friendships that will ease some of the world’s social tensions.
In all, 10 students from Ghana and 10 from Nigeria visited the United States for three weeks in September 2009. Two weeks after that, 20 American high school seniors from Washington, DC, made the journey to Africa to meet their friends. The reunions, which I witnessed, were joyous and heart-warming.
I went to Nigeria first, and got to know the students there. We visited the American Embassy in Abuja, as well as other sites, and the Americans began taking classes—wearing the same school uniforms as the Nigerians. I spoke with the students from both countries about Copper Sun. It was an amazing, powerful conversation. Because half of young people discussing the book were Africans, their perspectives on slavery were personal and intense.
In Ghana, I met the other 10 American students as they arrived from the United States. Here there was an even more effective and powerful discussion of Copper Sun. I think this was because Ghana is where it all started. Ghana was Amari’s home.
Together the students and I traveled to Cape Coast Castle, the place where the seeds of Copper Sun were sown. I was able to retrace my steps, to touch the stones of that building once more, and to tell Amari that I had done what she asked—to tell her story. I stood at the Door of No Return, in front of those African and North American students, their teachers, assorted guides, and other visitors, and told how my story began.
I then gave thanks that I was able to write the book, bring it back to that place, and that it had been instrumental in joining the hearts and minds of 40 young people, their teachers, and their schools. Standing in front of that door was one of the most emotional moments in my life. I wept. So did many of the students.
This book is dedicated to the millions of girls like Amari who died during that process—as well as those who lived and endured, and to the multitudes of ancestors who needed a voice. I speak for them. Amari carries their spirit. She carries mine as well.
I took Amari back home.
This material may not be used without the express written consent of Sharon M. Draper.
Hear Sharon M. Draper tell the story of her name, including the importance of her middle initial “M”.