Authors: Lojo Simon and Anita Simons
Publisher: Sense Publishers
Publish Date: February 2014
Tell us a little bit about your writing and educational background
Anita Yellin Simons is a political activist and playwright who combines both her love of history and activism in her many award-winning plays. From her first play Goodbye Memories about Anne Frank before going into hiding to a later play This We'll Defend about female rape in the military, Simons presents thought-provoking theater with humor and pathos. She attended Ithaca College, Ohio State University and Southwestern College.
Lojo Simon is a playwright, dramaturg and journalist. Her play, Adoration of Dora, about surrealist photographer Dora Maar, won the David Mark Cohen National Playwriting Award given by the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival and the Association for Theatre in Higher Education. She holds an MFA in Theatre from University of Idaho and a BA from Brandeis University.
Lojo and Anita have written three plays together.
What is your book about?
During WWII, the US government confined thousands of Japanese-, German- and Italian-Americans to isolated, fenced and guarded relocation centers known as internment camps. At the same time, it shipped foreign Prisoners of War captured overseas to the US for imprisonment.
Heartland reflects on the intersection between these two historic events through the story of a German-born widow and her family who take in two German Prisoners of War to work their family farm. But the German-American family and the POWs bond too well for the townspeople to accept, and the widow is arrested, interned and eventually suffers a breakdown, which tears her family apart.
Based on true stories of German-Americans arrested and interned during WWII. The play illustrates what can happen when fear and prejudice pit neighbor against neighbor in times of war. A dramatic tale that grants insights into American history, Heartland is a winner of the Dayton Playhouse FutureFest and a runner-up for the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival David Mark Cohen National Playwriting Award.
Why should readers read your book?
As San Diego theatre critic Pat Launer wrote after viewing the theatrical production of Heartland: "The story is shocking; for me it was revelatory. Deporting our own citizens? Who knew? But the play, while conveying historical information, is not in the slightest didactic. It’s a family story, a tale of survival and acquiescence, of racism, of neighbor against neighbor. Not a pretty picture...”
Lojo: Learning from history is essential. But sometimes history books can be dry and difficult to read. Other times, small but important historical events fail to be thoroughly examined by historians who, by necessity, must focus on the big picture. Such is the case with the internment of German- and Italian-Americans, whose story was dwarfed by the internment of the Issei and Nisei. Heartland draws attention to an often-overlooked story in American history, yet one that holds important lessons for how America treats immigrants and ethnic minorities today. Besides, reading a play allows one to learn history through engaging the imagination, which is worthwhile as well as fun.
Did you have any obstacles while writing this book? What were they?
Anita: In regard to writing the play, we had many obstacles. As any researcher knows, the best laid plans rarely come to full fruition in academia or art, and as we proceeded to lay out the plot and characters in Heartland, we became concerned that our story too closely mirrored that of a 1973 young adult novel by Bette Greene called Summer of My German Soldier, in which a young Jewish girl falls in love with a POW housed near her home in Arkansas. We also had difficulty crafting a likely plotline for the Berta character, thus we knew that more research was in order to find the heart of our story. And then there were the usual conflicts that befall co-writers – who is in the driver's seat and where are we going?
A major turning point in the development of Heartland revealed itself when we came across a related but new topic in our research – the internment of German-Americans during World War II. At the time, neither of us knew about this long hidden part of American history, but we quickly found it to be the “missing link” to the development of Heartland.
Is this the first book you have ever had published?
Anita: yes, first book
Lojo: As a journalist and playwright for more than 30 years, I have written and published numerous books and articles in magazines, newspapers, and trade journals. My play for young audiences, Mi Corazon, is excerpted in Scenes from a Diverse World, published by the International Center for Women Playwrights. Most of my other projects have been non-fiction, although I also write poetry.
Are you working on any projects right now?
Anita: I'm currently working on a play about a typical "dysfunctional" family set in 1964 and preparing a 10-minute piece on drone warfare for the upcoming San Diego Fringe Festival in July.
Lojo: Anita and I just finished a two-person comedy called J’oy Vey that is set during the winter holidays and offers up lots of laughs and some poignant lessons about religious tolerance. I’ve got several other new plays in the works, and not surprisingly, find myself drawn again to historical drama. Right now, my eye is more on development and production opportunities than publishing, but this experience with Sense Publishers has been so rewarding, I’d love to find a new project for the Social Fiction series, too.
What is your advice for writers wanting to turn authors out there?
Anita: Write what you are passionate about and for a particular audience. You can't please everyone so love what you write about.
Lojo: Writing has to be a daily habit. Writing daily is not only great practice, it helps make each word less precious, so the writer can slash and burn ruthlessly when necessary. The best writers are also keen editors who can recognize and keep what works and let go of the words, sentences, paragraphs, characters and other well-loved “fat” that fails to serve their ultimate goal.
What made you become a writer?
Anita: I sometimes think it's a curse that keeps me awake at night and up early in the morning, but it's what keeps me alive and wanting to learn more about my craft. As a socio-political writer it's a way to express my passion and introduce others to a subject they may know nothing about.
Lojo: I’m better at expressing myself on paper (actually, now, on my computer screen) than I am in person. It’s as if the words just sound better coming out of my fingertips than my mouth.
Who is your favorite author and why?
Anita: Playwrights: Neil Simon and A.R. Gurney. I love them both for their humor and interesting storytelling.
Lojo: My favorite playwright is probably Tennessee Williams, but I also like to read Abraham Verghese and Anne Lamott. I have no idea what it says about me that my taste in authors is so eclectic. I guess I appreciate a good story, but I also love writers who love language and poetry and who are brave enough to tell the truth.
Where can we find you?
Anita: firstname.lastname@example.org or 619-884-6482
Anything you would like to add?
Lojo: Heartland is a great play to read, and we hope that high school and college instructors find it useful in the classroom to supplement their texts about American history, feminism etc., but the real joy for me is seeing Heartland on stage and allowing the fullest meaning of the words to come alive as embodied by actors. The play has so much potential to make audiences really think about our country and its social policies; I hope that the publication of the book brings attention to the play so that more audiences get to experience it at their local theatres.
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