Posted on 12/16/2015 at 12:00 AM by Sadye Scott-Hainchek
If there’s one thing that readers take away from David L. Workman’s memoir, it’s that every child matters.
But if there are two lessons to be learned, the other is that the written word is truly powerful.
Letter from Alabama recounts Workman’s stranger-than-fiction life story: Young David loses his mother at age two; his father, who had already abandoned the family, takes the child and eventually leaves him with a family in Alabama.
A member of this family, not knowing what else to do with the toddler, wrote to a small-town newspaper in Ohio in hopes of finding his relatives. Improbable? Yes. But it worked.
Workman, since publishing his autobiography, has been reunited with myriad long-lost relatives and has built a thriving Facebook community around the people and places featured in Letter from Alabama.
Just in time for the holidays, he answered a few of our questions about his miraculous journey.
SADYE: What led you to write your story?
DAVID: For most of my adult life, I’ve known that I had to write this story. Over the years, many people, when they learned some of the key details, encouraged me to write it down so others could be inspired by the people and events. ...
My purpose in sitting down to write was to celebrate the heroes, some of them complete strangers to me, who made this story come true. And I wanted to make their story known to new generations. ...
I also felt compelled to pay tribute to good and decent people everywhere who stand up for a child when they don’t have to — when they have nothing to gain, and perhaps much to lose. Letter from Alabama is written for them, too.
SADYE: What kind of emotional effect did writing it have on you?
DAVID: Rather than exacting a toll, writing Letter from Alabama inspired me and energized me.
The process of pulling all the many threads of the story together into a single factual narrative allowed me to see the people and the events in a new light — and within the context of greater events in the world at the time.
The writing of the narrative also beamed a light on some enduring unknowns, such as the identity of the person who read a newspaper article in 1952, and recognized the name of a small child who was missing from his family — missing in a far-away state. This random (or was it?) act helped to save a child and change a family forever.
That said, writing the book was definitely an emotional experience. Even now, after “living” the story all my life and after reading and editing and proofing the text countless times, there are still places in the narrative that choke me up.
SADYE: How did your long-lost cousins and sister encounter the book, and how have they reached out to you?
DAVID: After the first edition of the book was published in April, my older brother Dan and I agreed that I would join him at his home in the greater Nashville, Tennessee, area and then travel with him to Kentucky to visit some of the places where my birth father and generations of his family had lived — stretching back to the frontier era. ...
After our trip, I posted photos on Facebook pages tied to this region, and shared experiences from my visit. That led a reporter for the Stanford (Kentucky) Interior Journal newspaper to interview me about my trip and my reasons for visiting the area.
The resulting newspaper article was spotted by a cousin whom I didn’t know, and he spread the word among other cousins whom I didn’t know. Right away, I was hearing from them. One of my new cousins quickly contacted someone else I didn’t know about — my older sister who is also George’s child. Neither she nor I have any memory of him, and until August we were unaware of each other’s existence.
Now Anna and I are making up for lost time, communicating frequently with one another and getting to know our respective families and our new-found cousins, who are genuinely welcoming and enjoyable people.
SADYE: And then what was the reaction of the family that raised you, to your book?
DAVID: Letter from Alabama has been welcomed by the family members (those still living) who took my sister and me in all those years ago — and by their own children and grandchildren. In fact, without their help in filling in gaps in the story and checking facts and providing photos, the book wouldn’t have come together as it did.
It also has been well-received by the family of the caring woman in Alabama who, in 1952, wrote the letter that gave its name to Letter from Alabama. I think of them as almost family, and they helped fill in critical gaps in the early story.
A big surprise resulting from the book is how it connected me with the large family I didn’t know — many cousins who are the nieces and nephews of my mysterious birth father, George. When he vanished in 1951-52, he disappeared from their families, too. For them, I think, the book has helped to bring closure. ...
Another upshot of the book is that it helped to inspire several family members, and the family of an Alabama widow who sent the original letter, to dig into their family photo collections and, in some cases, to renew their own family research.
SADYE: Are there any writing projects on deck for you now, besides your day job? (David currently operates Workman & Associates, a communications consulting and publishing firm.)
DAVID: I don't have a specific plan yet, but I may well have another book in me. It would likely involve the lives and actions of people who help to make this a beautiful world despite the troubles, tribulations and distractions. I know there are more good stories — inspiring ones – to tell.
Right now, I’m continuing the conversation about people and events in Letter from Alabama through the Facebook page www.facebook.com/letterfromalabama.
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Categories: Author Interview