Number Eight in the monthly Uppity Women Wednesday Series, started in April, 2014.
Rarely do page-turners written for middle-school kids also ignite excitement in adults. (A notable exception is the series of Harry Potter books.) Fewer still explore the secret sorrows of children's lives in the mid-1800s, whether enslaved or free. Running Out of Night, a debut novel from Californian Sharon Lovejoy, a veteran author-illustrator known nationally for her prizewinning nonfiction books on gardening and nature, gives you both. Like Rowling's Potter, her book follows the desperate quest of youngsters who've seen the darker sides of human nature. Instead of Harry, Hermione and Ron, it's preteen girls Lark and Zenobia who flee their grim lives in search of a sunnier, freer world.
An uppity woman of modern times, Lovejoy comes from a long line of outspoken Quaker ancestors who pioneered Virginia and Pennsylvania in the 1700s. Later generations of the family went west to join Quaker communities in Pasadena, California. Thanks to her history-loving female relatives, notably her grandmother Abigail Harlan Baker Lovejoy and elder cousin Margaret Macdonald, Lovejoy has inherited a passionate love of the past.
She also inherited primary source treasures any writer would kill for. In 1969, her cousin gave her an old leather suitcase, filled with handwritten documents and other memorabilia, some of it over a century old. In 1974, her grandmother did the same, handing over trunks jammed with artifacts and a rich array of history on paper.
Sharon recalls her excitement at this windfall. "History came alive for me when I read these amazing letters, filled with life and with the deaths of friends and family who fought in the Civil War." Some of the letters were sent from Civil War battlefields and army encampments. One came from the battle of Gettysburg, where her great-grandfather Edwin Baker and great-uncle Aaron fought. "I sobbed as I read how Aaron, with only a few days left to serve, was shot and carried off the battlefield by his brother Edwin and three friends, who buried him in a nearby field."
While meticulously documenting this amazing motherlode, Sharon made periodic trips to her Virginia roots, spending time on Catoctin Creek, wandering through the communities and Quaker meetinghouses, and exploring Loudoun County. The region was deeply divided over secession and suffered greatly in the Civil War.
"I attended a Friends meeting in Goose Creek--an amazing experience. I felt I was part of a river of time," recalls Lovejoy. "I also worked with the Quakers in several towns, spending many hours studying historic records and objects--for example, the slave bills of sale and manumission papers. Still other documents, I got to examine at the Smithsonian Institution. There were so many things that touched my heart."