Renee was one of my students at Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville.
Being honest, in her undergraduate years I really didn’t know much about her. I remember her being one of the students sharing a hotel room at a convention we were attending. She was always classically dressed and somehow managed to be up and gone before any of the rest of us were stirring. She never joined our get togethers in the evenings. I remember being concerned as she was the only African American in our group. I briefly felt I, being the faculty member with these graduate students, should make an effort to reach out to her. But I didn’t.
Several years later she asked me to write a recommendation for her as she was applying to another school for an advanced degree. She also asked for my input on the required narrative she wrote as part of her admission package. That was when I began to know Renee. The opening sentence of my recommendation read “Still waters run deep.” But even then there was so much more for me to learn about this woman who was such a lady in every definition of that word, but also a fighter! I am eternally grateful she has remained in touch with me all these years. She constantly talks about how I influenced her and thanks me over and over, and says she is always telling her students about me. But it is Renee who has taught me so much.
You can see from the family picture posted here, she has a large family. She also was in an interracial marriage . Recently she lost the love of her life and like many has had to struggle with that loss. It was only in recent years I learned how she had to fight to get their children in school and fight she did! The irony is that they ended up in a Catholic school where one of the teachers was the wife of someone who worked with my husband at that time. I do believe Renee was one of my students at that time, but as I stated earlier in this narrative, I really didn’t know much about her in those days other than she was a good student. In recent years she has been a faculty member in the same department at SIUE from which I retired many years ago. I am so proud of her!
I had just joined the New Mexico Writer’s Association. While attending their monthly networking luncheon, one of the members was very kind to this newcomer! I ended setting up a time to meet with her later that month. She gave me great advice which included the need to meet with Mary Neighbour as soon as possible. Also that Mary was a very busy lady, and I needed to get on her schedule ASAP! So I did.
We met for coffee, and while some who know me would never believe that I would feel insecure in such a meeting, I most certainly did! All I really knew about Mary was that she was an outstanding editor who was employed by most every writer I met. She fired one question after another at me. My confidence was returning as I had answers for most of the questions. At one point she asked me how I felt about doing radio programs. Well of course I had done quite a few of them being a guest here and there back in my previous days. She said, “I mean having your own radio show.” That one got me! I gulped and said I thought I could do that. Time was running out. The meeting ended. I really didn’t see much of Mary after that other than at the monthly networking lunches. When I met with her originally I was working on what I referred to as my two adult novels. Recently Charles Blanchard who hopefully you read about in my blog on connecting him with Doug Montgomery, suggested that I call them something else because people would think I was writing porn. Oh my! I did however stopped writing those books midway and started writing my Annemarie series - children’s books which I never intended to write!
As usual every one was having Mary as the editor for their books. But then at one of the networking lunches, Mary talked about the book she just put out in a second edition. What? Lo and behold, she and her husband Andrew had actually lived in St. Louis for a number of years. She became interested in the Dred Scott case and wrote a novel about it. As is my usual behavior, I immediately start thinking of all the people who might be interested in reading her book. She also had mentioned that a number of colleges and universities were using it in some of their courses as collateral reading. I’m certain some of you who have labored reading through all of my comments this far have already figured it out. Renee and Mary became connected because of the book.
I had sent Renee a copy of Mary’s book. She loved it and talked with some of her SIUE colleagues about it . Her supervisor asked her if she would like to use the book in one of the discussion groups that they had every year. Of course Renee said yes. She told me about this, and of course I told Mary. The two of them begin corresponding. Right now I don’t remember where I saw the announcement; perhaps it was in a message from Renee that in fact Mary would be going to St. Louis and meeting with Renee and her group about the book. I was so thrilled to hear this! I asked Renee if possible to get a picture of the group as well as with Mary. I also suggested it would be great if she could get one with the two of them by my brick on the wall. Several years ago the University build this wall of bricks with the names of the teachers who were there in the early days of the University. I felt somewhat silly in asking for this never thinking it would be a reality - just a bit too much to ask .
Later Renee sent me a link to the article the school newspaper wrote on Mary’s visit to her discussion group. I post it here for you. Should you perhaps want to get a copy Amazon carries it.
Dred Scott Book Author Gives SIUE Book Club Members Insights into the Man
October 3, 2017, 4:30 PM
Mary Neighbour’s book about Dred Scott, the African American illiterate slave whose 1857 Supreme Court case for freedom struck at the foundation of race and slavery in the U.S., was analyzed and praised during a Sept. 22 book club discussion at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
Neighbour’s Speak Right On: Conjuring the Slave Narrative of Dred Scott was selected for the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion Fall 2017 Book Club. Renee Fussell, instructor in the Department of Applied Communication Studies, is facilitating the biweekly discussions that began Friday, Sept. 8. The book is one-fourth biography and three-fourths fiction.
The author released a second edition of the book in 2015, in part because of the racial climate in the country. The book was first released in 2006.
“I wrote the book because of how sad, perplexed and outraged I felt that we knew so little about the man behind the case,” said Neighbour. “I was in St. Louis, and I visited the Gateway Arch. They gave a history on Dred Scott.
“A man held up one piece of paper and said, ‘Everything we know about Dred Scott is on both sides of this paper.’”
The abbreviated background on the person, who Neighbour said was one of history’s most important people, became a challenge and battle cry of sorts.
“What you can’t do, can sometimes open doors to what you can do,” the author told the book club.
The writer then began to build on the little information that had been recorded about Scott. She started researching, among other things, the era that Scott lived in, the subject and various types of slavery, and Scott’s owners.
Mary Neighbour, is the author of Speak Right On: Conjuring the Slave Narrative of Dred Scott.
Time to make more connections! Just did another which I will write about in the future. Stay tuned, and please comment on these. I would so love to get your feedback!