Cotton Field of Dreams: A Memoir
By: Janis F. Kearney
Length: 379 pages
Release date: Jan 1, 2004
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Janis F. Kearney, former Personal Diarist to President William J. Clinton, founded Writing our World Press, in 2004, and debuted her first book, Cotton Field of Dreams: A Memoir, that same year. The coming of age narrative shares a firsthand look into the life and struggles of Arkansas’ black cotton sharecroppers and chronicles hers and her 18 siblings’ lives as impoverished laborers who survived thanks to two undereducated, but wise parents who gave them the permission to dream. The memoir follows Kearney’s journey from the cotton fields of the small town of Gould, to her role in 1987 as managing editor of the most prestigious southern newspaper of the civil rights era, the Arkansas State Press, co-founded by civil rights legend Daisy Lee Gatson Bates, the face and voice of the 1957 Central High Integration Crisis.
Kearney’s story, which spans three decades, paints a riveting portrait of America’s pre-civil rights south, and the racial and cultural struggles that continued well beyond the 1963 March on Washington, and even beyond the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Kearney makes it clear that King Cotton’s over-arching shadow over generations of black southerners; died a slow and painful death – impacting the lives of not only the wealthy white farmers, but for the mostly black, and mostly un-educated day laborers who had long depended on cotton for their livelihoods. The agricultural labor which sustained so many black families, including the Kearney family, was not readily replaced by a quality education, or sustainable jobs. Education, though, Kearney asserts would be the magic bullet for her and her siblings – as they dreamed and worked toward something more than what they saw in front of them – a life of cotton sharecropping.
Kearney recalls that both the black and white community were in awe of this dirt poor sharecroppers’ family with an air of people with a purpose; even though the family experienced dire hunger during many winters, and spells when the oldest children were kept out of school during harvest season. It was the deep reverence for learning, and hope in a brighter tomorrow that inspired the Kearney children to never give up, or give in, she writes.
It was this inspiration that resulted in 18 Kearney children entering and graduating from such colleges as Harvard, and Harvard law School, Stanford law school, Yale law school, Brown University and other fine schools around the country. Two Kearney siblings served in the Clinton Administration, and four served under Governor Clinton’s administration.
What others said about Cotton Field of Dreams:
Noted author and memoirist Marita Golden wrote:
“Janis Kearney writes straight from the heart. This is a lovely celebration of her family’s strengths, journeys, tests and triumphs. Cotton Field of Dreams is a book to treasure, a book that will restore as well as reward.”
International attorney, author and friend to Presidents, Vernon Jordan says:
“Janis F. Kearney achieves a rare feat in writing both poignantly and despairingly of that period in American history most Southern writers either sugar-coat or paint with wide, dark brushes of horror.”
The late E. Lynn Harris, an Arkansas native and prolific novelist, writes:
“Janis F. Kearney’s Cotton Field of Dreams is exquisite writing. Hers is a story that touches the soul in its beauty and ugly truths about America’s South.”
Roland Barksdale-Hall, Managing Editot of the Black Caucus of the American Library Association, says:
“...well-written, Cotton Field of Dreams is a welcome addition to libraries, seamlessly weaving lyrical prose and poignant human drama to entice the reluctant and satisfy the mature to read.”