No sooner did bestselling children’s author Eric Litwin leave town after visiting three DMPS elementary schools last week than a rising star in the young adult genre arrived to visit three district middle schools on Monday.
Stacie Nessa is the district’s Educational Liaison Polk County Juvenile Court and the Department of Human Services and she was the driving force that brought David Barclay Moore to town just as his acclaimed book, The Stars Beneath Our Feet, is taking off.
Moore grew up in Missouri and studied creative writing at Iowa State before moving to New York City. His debut novel just released in September. Already it’s being hailed by the New York Times and adapted for a movie.
It’s the story of Lolly, a 12-year-old boy whose older brother dies in a gang-related shooting. He uses Legos to make his way through the mean streets of Harlem.
Michael B. Jordan, who co-starred with Sylvester Stallone in Creed, will direct the film version. Moore will write the screenplay.
DMPS got in on Moore’s ground floor. He visited Callanan, Goodrell and the Middle School Alternative Center (MAC) at the Jesse Franklin Taylor Center. Students at all three schools got signed copies of Stars and the chance to meet up close and personal with one on the rise.
Nessa’s mother-in-law, Suzanne Fox, is a retired teacher/librarian who had publishing contacts from past author appearances she arranged. She got her foot in the door with Moore’s publisher, Penguin-Random House, and started the ball rolling. Nessa pieced together a funding stream that seemed solid but fell apart. She had to scramble to salvage this stop on a tour in support of a book that’s getting a marketing/promo full court press.
“I was afraid it might not happen,” she said last week, “but thanks to people like Dan Stockman, the general manager at the Sheraton Hotel in West Des Moines, we made it. He agreed to comp Mr. Moore’s room for two nights.”
The students at MAC were ready for their distinguished guest. They’ve been reading his book and doing various projects around it, like bulletin board displays of their visualizations of scenes described in the book. And they collaborated with ArtForce Iowa, a nonprofit whose “mission is to transform youth in need through art,” on a series of city streetscapes. There are six middle school classrooms at MAC serving about 50 students. Each classroom produced a streetscape and they were presented to Moore as gifts.
He spoke not so much about his book as where it came from. Moore traced his personal background from the St. Louis area to college at ISU to life in New York.
“Life is a series of choices we make,” he said, recounting the dilemma he faced when a street kingpin named Jumbo bought the Harlem brownstone Moore lived in before moving to Brooklyn.
“I had a lease. But Jumbo made it clear he wanted me gone. He turned off the heat and the other utilities. One morning I woke up to a loud crash at my door. There was a sheet of apartment listings stuck there with a long, rusty butcher’s knife.”
What would they have done, he asked his listeners. Answers ranged from running for dear life to violent retaliation. But what did Moore choose to do, they wanted to know.
“I called the police,” he said. “I took the police report and showed it to Jumbo. He actually apologized for dealing with me the way he was used to dealing with people on the street. He gave me time to find a new place, bought me out of my lease and even paid for my moving costs, which was all I really wanted in the first place.”
Maybe that story will somehow become part of the stories the kids who heard it are “writing” through the choices they make. Maybe there are stars beneath our feet right here, just like on 125th Street in Harlem.