Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Top of the Bookshelf (Courtney McKinney-Whitaker)

This is the image I chose as the cover photo when I updated my website, Twitter, and Facebook author pages. It took me a long time to figure out what I should use because I have struggled mightily to figure out how to express what I do and who I am as a writer in a succinct, brandable way.  

My interest in more than one (many, many more than one) area of everything has been the bane of my scholarly and professional existence in a world that demands and rewards specialization.

I began my (published) writing career with a scholarly monograph. (A weird place to start, I know.) I published a YA novel and several literary essays. More recently, I've turned to poetry and work for very young children. The manuscript I'm shopping around right now is a picture book biography for (probably) primary readers. And now I'm working on an adult novel and a YA dual biography, among all the poetry and essays that keep pushing their way in.


It's tough to pin myself to a card, like "the market" would like me to do.

Struggling to find an image that would define me, I ended up taking a picture of the top of the bookshelf in my office. Here's what's on it, from left to right.

*A little antique cat that I think came from my great-grandmother's house

*Copies of my M.A. thesis: Reconstructions: A Feminist Perspective on Twenty-First Century Responses to Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Civil War and Reconstruction Narratives

*Copies of my Y.A. historical, The Last Sister

*The books are sitting on a set of adjustable bookends shaped like squirrels that my parents had on the desk in the kitchen when I was growing up. I'm kind of surprised my mom let me have it, because she loves squirrels, but I guess she loves me more.

*An Anne of Green Gables ornament my in-laws brought me from their trip to Prince Edward Island (I really want to go there.)

*An ornament I found in my grandparents' Christmas stuff after they passed away. That's the mouse running up the clock, of Hickory Dickory Dock fame.

*A figurine of Beatrix Potter's Mrs. Tittlemouse that I'm pretty sure was a baby gift for me when I was a baby.

*In the back is a bookend. That's Molly (1944) from American Girl. I love American Girl. My parents gave me the bookend for Christmas at some point when I was too old for American Girl, except that you're never too old for American Girl.

*In front of the bookend are four little figures on thimbles. They are all that remain of my middle school obsession with Hallmark Christmas ornaments: Alice, the Cheshire Cat, the Mad Hatter, and the White Rabbit.

*One of those Boyd's Bears (I think) that were so hot in the nineties. It's the Scottish bear from the "Around the World" Collection and was another Christmas gift from my parents.

This picture actually does a decent job of encompassing my work. There's the scholarly stuff, some early childhood stuff, some middle grade stuff, some YA stuff, some adult stuff. It hits on books and themes that have been important to me, and because I didn't stage it, it's an authentic glimpse into who I am as a writer and as a person.


  1. renaissance people are getting rarer and rarer, give yourself credit. I live in a rural and pretty poor county in Maine, those who have multiple skills/interests are getting pretty scarce and those left are highly valued. My sister Kate Flora started out writing as a mystery writer, but three of her more recent books have been true crime and a co-authored bio of a Maine game warden and she keeps getting asked by cops and the like for help with their stuff. I hear her grumble, but know she really enjoys the challenges (not sure how relevant this comment is, but I'm 2 cups of coffee short of wake-up on a Sunday morning).

    1. Wow, your sister sounds like the kind of person they make TV shows about! (In a good way.)

  2. Having dipped my toes into academia, I wonder why we require educators to have such narrow interests and specialties, rather than broad experience to draw on. Isn't it better to sit in class and be able to talk to students about history, literature, social movements and trends, science, math, psychology... in short, to bring everything to the table rather than only to be able to offer them your perspective on that tiny sliver you've been focusing on since college? It would benefit our students tremendously in developing open and curious minds and make classes so much more interesting.

    In short, I love your cover photo and how it speaks to who you are!

    1. I see the pros and cons. Specialization allows you to really really really know one thing, and I do find it valuable the way that knowledge builds over time. HOWEVER--how can anyone do literally ONE thing for years and years?

  3. I swear, we're two of a kind. My first pubbed piece was an explication of Nemerov's "Acorn, Yom Kippur." Then YA, MG, adult, romance, thriller. I'm with you--I could NEVER do one thing year after year...

    1. Wow, we really do have a lot in common! At least we're not alone.