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Author learned to write while working on first novel

By APRILL BRANDON
Oct. 31, 2010 at 5:31 a.m.
Updated Nov. 1, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.

Ann Weisgarber will speak on Thursday, as part of the American Book Review, about her  transition from the world of academia to becoming a full-time writer.

Excerpt from "The Personal History of Rachel DuPree"I still see her, our Liz, sitting on a plank, dangling over that well. She held on to the rope that hung from the pulley, her bare feet pressed together so tight that the points on her ankle bones were nearly white. She was six. She had on her brother's castoff pants and earlier, when I'd given them to her, she'd asked if wearing pants made her a boy. I'd told her we'd wait and see, and that had made her giggle.

The plank Liz sat on swayed and twisted in a wind that blew stinging grit. Her bandana covered her nose and mouth. The rope around her waist was knotted to the one that held the plank. Isaac, my husband, called it a harness. He said it'd keep her from falling off.

'We're right here,' I said to her. 'Daddy's got you.'

She looked at me, her coppery face frozen up with fear. The wind gusted, and Liz flinched, her eyes slits. Isaac and our oldest girl, Mary, stood side by side as they gripped the well handle. They dug in their legs and pushed the handle up.

The rope jerked. Liz dropped a handful of inches. She sucked in some air and then let out a sharp, piercing cry.

My knees buckled, but I steadied myself against the well. 'You're our brave girl,' I called as she sank into it, her eyes closed.

The sunlight caught the top of her head. Her brown braids tied up with scrap rags went rusty red. Her shoulders shook. She made a gurgling sound and then she was gone.

I wasn't one for calling on Jesus and asking for favors. But that day I did. Merciful Jesus. Sweet merciful Jesus. Be in this well with my child.

I coughed and spit out some dust. I tightened the knot in the back of my hair kerchief and then pulled my bandana back up to cover my mouth and nose. I'd pushed it down earlier; I wanted Liz to have a good look at my face. I didn't want her thinking her mama was hiding behind a ragged piece of cloth.

Hold her hand, sweet Jesus. Hold her tight.

Yesterday, the water pump by the house blew nothing but air. Later, Isaac tried the well at the barn. The bucket came up empty but the bottom was wet. When I saw Isaac knotting a plank to the well rope, my blood ran cold.

'Not that,' I told him. 'Not that.'

'Have to,' he said.

'But the White River's still running. Can't you-'

'It's down to a trickle.'

I looked at him.

'Liz,' he said as if I had asked.

'Lord.'

'She'll be all right.'

'You could drop her.'

'I won't.'

'Don't do this thing.'

Muscles pulled around his mouth. 'I have to.'

'No,' I said, 'no,' but there was nothing behind my words and Isaac knew it.

If you goAmerican Book Review

Who: Ann Weisgarber

When: Noon Thursday

Where: Alcorn Auditorium on the University of Houston-Victoria campus

Admission: Free

When Ann Weisgarber first sat down to write her award-winning book, "The Personal History of Rachel DuPree," she wasn't a novelist. In fact, she said she had no idea what she was doing other than she wanted to give a story to a woman she found in an old photograph.

"I don't have a literary background. I was very much a novice when I started. Three pages into it, I realized I didn't know how to write fiction," Weisbarger said.

Cut to today, where her novel has been published in Britain, France and most recently in the U.S. by a major publishing house and she's under contract for a second book that is already in the works and a third book down the road.

The social worker turned sociology professor turned full-time writer will discuss the long, winding road she took to her current profession as the next speaker for the American Book Review reading series on Thursday.

"I'm very pleased to have this invitation to come to Victoria," said Weisbarger, who lives in Sugar Land. "I know that this program is highly regarded so I'm very pleased to be chosen as one of the authors."

Weisbarger's journey began with a simple old photograph of an African-American pioneer woman she saw at a roadside museum in South Dakota. The image so affected her that she started researching black settlers.

"I didn't intend for it to turn into a book, but I got so wrapped up in the research process and the desire to give this woman a story," she said. "For me, the really nice thing about getting the book published is that I feel this woman in the photograph, which had no label, no date, no name, has had her story told and hasn't been forgotten. Her story has been told, even if it came from my imagination."

Although the characters in the book are fictional, the places and events are historically accurate, something which Weisbarger spent a lot of time and energy on.

"History inspires me. I really like writing about a different time and place and stepping out of my own life to enter a different world," she added.

Her second novel is also rooted in historical events and takes place during the 1900 hurricane in Galveston.

For more information about Weisbarger, go to www.annweisgarber.com.

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