Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Voices from Our White House: Gigi Amateau

Contributor answers questions about "Wanted: Magnanimous, Exquisite Woman!"

Welcome back to the NCBLA blog's weekly feature, Voices from Our White House, a series of interviews with some of the talented contributors to the art and literary anthology Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out, conducted by NCBLA high school intern Colleen Damerell.

Our White House was created by the National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance. A collaborative effort by over 100 authors and illustrators, the book is the product of a desire to encourage young people to learn and read about American heritage. For more information, please visit and

This week we feature Gigi Amateau, author of Chancey of the Maury River and Claiming Georgia Tate. She shares authorship of her Our White House piece with her daughter Judith; it is a conversation between them about the need for a female president. Here's an excerpt:
Judith: A woman just needs to step up and do it, no matter what anyone else says. She needs to not let anyone talk her out of it and not listen to anyone who says "You can't" or "You shouldn't." She should just say, "I'm going to run for president," and be mag-mag-magnanimous! See? I remembered that word. Mom: Magnanimous, good word. What does it mean? Judith: To be bigger than the negativity.
We asked Ms. Amateau a few questions about her piece:

NCBLA: You wrote "Wanted" as a conversation with your daughter, Judith. Did you base the piece on a conversation that actually happened? Did Judith contribute personally to this piece and its concluding poem?
GA: "Wanted" came out of a big discussion about women in the White House at the dinner table between Judith, my mom, my husband, and me. We enjoy a lot of political, or issue-based, talks at our table, and we occasionally bend the rules of civility. No subject is off limits for us!
I think I typed the first draft of our piece while Judith and I talked through how we wanted it to flow on paper. We played Exquisite Corpse at the dinning room table together, using words and images from the family discussion about women in the White House.

NCBLA: Judith states that "A woman just needs to step up and do it." Are there any women in particular that you and Judith would like to see run for president in the next election? Perhaps someone you see as being "magnanimous?"

GA: You know, before the next election, I look forward to a magnanimous, exquisite woman joining the Supreme Court!
The Green Party 2008 Presidential Candidate, Cynthia McKinney, is someone who I think is brave, visionary, and often, right. She consistently raises important issues that we'd rather not think about--such as contemporary slavery and human trafficking in the world. Her voice is important for us.

NCBLA: Why do you think no woman has been elected president yet? Were you rooting for Hillary Clinton?

GA: A political analyst could offer a way better answer to be sure, but I would say one reason why no woman has been elected president yet is because it takes a big, old boat load of money to elect our presidents and most political donors are men. I think men still tend to give their money to men. Without a well-funded campaign, even the very best candidates will have to work that much harder for voters to even know them. I also believe that, in America, we still tend to judge the same action differently based on whether it's taken by a man or a woman. I have to correct myself, even, from falling into patterns such as thinking a woman is being overly aggressive, whereas I might just think of a man as acting strong or with conviction.
I go through the campaign season rooting for everybody! I like it when any candidate has a breakthrough moment of vision, honesty, and humanity. And, yes, absolutely, I rooted for Hillary Clinton. During the primaries, we were a split household, then we unified behind Barack Obama.

NCBLA: Though no woman has ever been president, many first ladies such as Eleanor Roosevelt, who was mentioned in your piece, have been influential figures in Washington. How do you think Michelle Obama can contribute to that legacy?

GA: Michelle Obama is exquisite and magnanimous! I think she already influences millions of kids by making them want to be super-smart like she is. Her example helps me to be a better mother and to give priority to my family and our health. Maybe we'll all be healthier, smarter, and happier if we take the First Lady's lead!

NCBLA: Who is your favorite past president? Why?

GA: Well, I do love John Adams. BUT, I remember how when I was a girl, President Jimmy Carter taught us to conserve energy, turn off the lights we weren't using, and be gentle with the earth. He is my favorite because he made me care about my country and the world when I was young. One day, I'd like to visit Plains, Georgia and sit in on his Sunday School class. (Is that even still possible?) Or even better, maybe one day I'll get the chance to build a Habitat house with him and Rosalynn.

Amateau's most recent book, A Certain Strain of Peculiar, is now available
in bookstores and libraries. For more information about Gigi Amateau and her work, please read her OWH bio, her website, and blog.

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