Jana Harris brings historical stories to Sultan Library

The Sultan Library (319 Main St.) will welcome local author and poet Jana Harris, who will present poetry from her most recent book, "You Haven't Asked About My Wedding or What I Wore: Poems of Courtship on the American Frontier.GÇ¥
The event will take place at 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 25, in downtown Sultan. An award-winning novelist, short-story author, essayist and poet, Harris' latest book presents carefully documented historic tales of women throughout the 1800s. She slips into history as she presents her frontier women, choosing to write her verses from the perspective of women she became acquainted with through historical archives.
In addition to reading several of her poems, which are called persona poems or dramatic monologues, Harris will show historic photographs of the women she researched.
She became interested in studying archives while living in the Princeton area of New Jersey many years ago. Princeton University has an extensive historical archive, and Harris was engrossed.
"They have these amazing archives,GÇ¥ Harris said. "I would sit on the floor and read these diaries of people from the Civil War.GÇ¥
Over the years, Harris realized that the historical accounts would often present information based on a specific criteria. Interviewers would ask frontier women questions related to their western immigration, trying to find out how far they traveled, how many livestock they brought, how many children were born during the journey and how many elders died.
"What these women wanted to talk about was how they met their husband and what their wedding was like,GÇ¥ Harris said. "And nobody ever asked them about that.GÇ¥
Writing her latest book presented Harris with the perfect opportunity to document the wedding stories that she had been collecting for years. Harris tackled new challenges in the book, including penning a poem called "Gifted to Miss Lydia Corum upon her Marriage to Anderson Deckard,GÇ¥ which was inspired by a tale she read around 20 years ago and was never able to forget.
The poem is about Amanda Gardener Johnson, a slave who immigrated to Oregon from Missouri with the family that owned her. The challenging part was being able to portray Amanda Gardener Johnson's story in a way that was authentic, despite the fact that her life was something well outside of anything Harris had ever experienced.
"That was a story that really gripped your heart for many reasons,GÇ¥ Harris said. "That was probably the hardest to write because it's written in the voice of a black woman. I've never been a slave ' it's something I just couldn't imagine, so that was hard to write. I've never done that before.GÇ¥
A writing instructor at the University of Washington, Harris raises horses in the Sultan Basin area, where she and her husband have lived for 25 years. Her book, "Horses Never Lie About Love,GÇ¥ was written about a feral mare that she adopted, named True Colors.
Living in Sultan has enabled Harris to realize her dream of living on a horse farm ' she's loved horses ever since she was a young child.
"They're sort of big and frightened, and they want you to take care of them,GÇ¥ Harris said. "But they take care of you.GÇ¥
Harris' advice to other aspiring writers? Never give up.
"You have to be impervious to rejection,GÇ¥ Harris said. "You have to have a command of the English language, you have to be able to process criticism ' and you have to be impervious to rejection.GÇ¥
For more information on Jana Harris, visit janaharris.org.


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