Preparing for this interview I was awed by the passion the author has for history and how that passion has fueled her impressive writing career.
Meet The Author
Amy is a New York Times Bestselling Author, and an American Library Association “Notable Book” and Peabody Award Winner. She is also a Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, USA Today and Publisher’s Weekly Bestselling Author.
Her books have been published by Harper Collins, Simon & Schuster, Random House, Kodansha, and Doubleday, among others. She has been represented by William Morris Agency (now William Morris Endeavor Entertainment) since 1991.
She is the author of two novels, Miss Dreamsville and the Collier County Women’s Literary Society and Miss Dreamsville and the Lost Heiress of Collier County, both published by Simon & Schuster’s Atria Books imprint, as well as seven nonfiction books including Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years, a blockbuster bestseller which spawned a Broadway play and television film.
Amy also coauthored, Know Your Power: A Message to America’s Daughters with the first female speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. Nancy Pelosi.
She is a thirteenth-generation American whose ancestors fought for independence in the Revolutionary War.
She and her husband make their home at the New Jersey Shore.
Her latest work, Streetcar to Justice [1/02/2018] is her first middle-grade book and tells the all-but-forgotten story of Elizabeth Jennings, a black schoolteacher who refused to leave a segregated streetcar in Manhattan in 1854, setting into motion a historic court case and the first major step in ending segregation in public transportation in New York. The book is available wherever books are sold!
Q– Your bio is so impressive and your family background is fascinating. Where did you grow up? Did you grow in a reading, writing or musical household? Do you have siblings? Do any of them write?
A– I was born in western Massachusetts but my dad was with General Electric so we moved several times. This included six years in Columbia, South Carolina when I was in grammar school. I’m the youngest of four children. I’m the only writer in the family except for a great-uncle who was the Paris correspondent for Billboard magazine during the 1920s and ‘30s, a job that sounds incredibly intriguing. My mom is a math person and Dad was an electrical engineer. Our house was filled with books and music growing up. And, my dad was a history enthusiast who shared that with me.
Q– Where do you make your home now?
A– My husband and I spend a fair amount of time in Berkshire County, Mass., and in Florida but home base is at the Jersey Shore, an hour south of Manhattan.
Q– What was the first book you had published? What was your journey to publication like for that first book?
A– My first book was “Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years,” a New York Times bestseller for more than two years. The book is an oral history of two centenarian sisters, Sadie and Bessie Delany, who were the daughters of a man born into slavery. The book, published in 1993, is still used in classrooms today. I have since written seven more nonfiction books and two novels. “Streetcar to Justice” is my tenth book.
From left: Sadie Delany, Amy and Bessie Delany at the sisters home in Mt. Vernon
I never set out to become an author. I was a newspaper reporter, and I wrote a feature story about the then-unknown Delany Sisters for The New York Times. My story was read by a book publisher who contacted me and asked if I wanted to write a book on the sisters. So that’s how I became an author. I sometimes call myself an “accidental author.”
Q– Tell us about the movie, “Having Our Say.” How did the project come about and what was the production process like?
A– In 1995, the book was adapted to the Broadway stage, and, in 1999, for an award-winning CBS Sunday Night Movie. I worked on both the stage and film productions as an advisor to the producers. My role was to make sure the adaptations were accurate. For the film, the producers decided to add me as a character, and my role was performed by the famed actress Amy Madigan. It was a surreal experience to watch her on the set.
Q– You co-authored a book with speaker Pelosi? How did that project come about and tell us please, what is the Speaker like in real life?
A– Yes, I was Speaker Pelosi’s co-author. The book was “Know Your Power: A Message to America’s Daughters” and it was published in 2008 by Doubleday. Speaker Pelosi was looking for a co-author and somehow my name came up. As the first female Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, she is a historic figure and if there is one thing I love, it is history. She was an absolute delight to work with, very considerate of my time, just lovely in every way. When she learned it was my birthday, she sang happy birthday to me on the phone.
Q– What is your writing process like today? Do you write from an outline? Do you schedule writing time? Describe your writing space?
A– I’m not a fan of outlines. I leave small notepads all over the house, and when an idea pops into my head, I write it down. Actually, some of my best ideas have come to me in my sleep. There have been times when I did my best writing late at night. This was true with my book, “Strong Medicine Speaks: A Native American Elder Has Her Say,” an oral history of a Lenape matriarch and mother of a Chief. For some reason, I tend to write fiction in the morning and nonfiction at night. I have no idea why. My writing space is a room on the ground-floor of our house. I have two computers, one for my work and one for the outside world. My desk is enormous and usually covered with notes, files, and books. Between book projects, I organize my home office.
Q– What is your favorite writing snack and drink?
A– Ha! That’s an easy one. Coffee. And I never eat or snack when I’m writing.
Q– You started writing back when we used those things called typewriters and through the years have seen many changes to the way we write, edit, publish and market books. Were the changes difficult for you and what are some pros and cons back then versus today?
A– Yes, there have been a lot of changes, and there are certainly pros and cons, but basically I feel that what I do – writing – hasn’t changed one iota. A good story is still a good story. Perhaps the biggest change for me is that through the Internet and social media, I am now able to interact with my fans much more quickly and easily.
Q– Congratulations on the release of your first middle-grade book, “Streetcar to Justice: How Elizabeth Jennings Won the Right to Ride in New York.” How did you research this project? Did you speak to Elizabeth Jennings relatives?
A– I had been researching this story as a hobby of sorts for twenty years. I can’t tell you how many hours I spent at the New York Public Library, both the main branch but also the Schomburg in Harlem, along with other research institutions such as the Museum of the City of New York. As for Elizabeth Jennings’s relatives, she was not survived by any direct descendants, so there was no one to interview. I relied on historical documents including black newspapers that went out of business many, many years ago.
Q– What was the ‘thing’ about Elizabeth Jennings and her story that hooked you? That moment you knew you would tell her story?
A– I found out about her because I was nosy about an old, abandoned house in the neighborhood where my husband and I used to live in Ossining, N.Y. I was a little obsessed with the house and decided to find out about it. I was shocked to discover that it had once belonged to Chester A. Arthur, a Manhattan attorney who later became the 21st President of the United States. I did some research on him and learned that his first big case was Jennings v. Third Avenue Railroad Company. That’s how I first heard of Elizabeth Jennings. When I realized the importance of the case and that she had been a celebrated figure in New York, I decided that this was one of those all-but-forgotten stories that deserved to be told. The similarity to Rosa Parks – except it took place 100 years earlier – is fascinating.
Q– What do you hope the take away from this book will be for middle grade students?
A– I want them to know that history is not set in stone, and that the text books they are reading don’t have the final word. There are many stories, and perspectives, that are forgotten or overlooked. I want them to “meet” Elizabeth Jennings, a courageous and inspirational American. And I want them to have a better understanding of slavery and Jim Crow in America than I did when I was growing up – that it took place in the North as well as the South. The fact that there were streetcars with signs that read, “Colored People Allowed In The Car” in Manhattan is not something many people know, but they should.
I highly recommend this book for your eight to twelve-year-olds and hope you will share!
For more information on Amy Hill Hearth visit her website:
- Delany, Sarah L. and A. Elizabeth Delany with Amy Hill Hearth. Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years. New York: Kodansha America, 1993; Bantam Doubleday Dell paperback, 1994.
- Delany, Sarah L. and A. Elizabeth Delany with Amy Hill Hearth. The Delany Sisters’ Book of Everyday Wisdom. New York: Kodansha America, 1994.
- Delany, Sarah L. with Amy Hill Hearth, On My Own at 107: Reflections on Life Without Bessie. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco/Harper Collins, 1997.
- Hearth, Amy Hill. In a World Gone Mad: A Heroic Story of Love, Faith and Survival. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001.
- Hearth, Amy Hill. The Delany Sisters Reach High. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2004. Children’s biography of the Delany Sisters, illustrated by Tim Ladwig.
- Hearth, Amy Hill. ‘Strong Medicine’ Speaks: A Native American Elder Has Her Say: an Oral History. New York: Atria/Simon & Schuster, 2008.
- Pelosi, Nancy with Amy Hill Hearth. Know Your Power: A Message to America’s Daughters. New York: Doubleday, 2008.
- Hearth, Amy Hill. Miss Dreamsville and the Collier County Women’s Literary Society. New York: Atria/Simon&Schuster, Nov. 2012.
- Hearth, Amy Hill. Miss Dreamsville and the Lost Heiress of Collier County. New York Atria Books/Simon & Schuster September 2015.
- Hearth, Amy Hill. Streetcar to Justice. Harper Collins January 2018.
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