Faces of SAL: Jennifer Leatherman Wong
January 17, 2020
Just because she’s one of the newest additions to the SAL Board doesn’t mean that writer Jennifer Leatherman Wong hasn’t been attending SAL events for years. Today, we’re delighted to share a Faces of SAL feature with Jennifer so you can get better acquainted. Read on to learn more about “The Great Black Swamp” that she hails from, the children’s book series that later inspired her travels, and the unforgettable song she once heard sung at the end of a SAL event . . .
When you’re not doing work for the SAL Board, where might we find you?
Writing and researching my historical novel set in the 1850s; volunteering at my children’s school, the Seattle Academy of Arts & Sciences, and Saint Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral; attending basketball, soccer, track, and ultimate frisbee games, high school musicals, and dance recitals; walking our darling French bulldog, Hugo; haunting antique shops; taking long walks with friends; cooking and baking chocolate cream pies, chocolate chip cookies, and red velvet cakes; tending to my garden of daylilies during the summer in northwest Ohio; perusing the beautiful and provocative in Seattle’s fine museums; and reading, always reading.
What’s your personal motto?
“Fortune favors the bold,” is what I say to myself when looking for a parking spot downtown or on Capitol Hill. It often works! But seriously, I do love Mary Oliver’s short poem, “Instructions for Living a Life”: “Pay Attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.” I am always searching for the beautiful and the good in our everyday world. And telling about it.
Where are you from?
I am from the land of lush fields, big skies piled with high clouds, meandering creeks, thunderstorms, and dark woods of northwest Ohio. The closest town as the crow flies is Liberty Center. Historically, the land was called The Great Black Swamp, and today it has some of the richest farmland in the country. I grew up on a family farm of a thousand acres that my parents farm though they are in their seventies.
What was your favorite book as a child?
My favorite books when I was a child were the Anne of Green Gables series by L.M. Montgomery. I loved them so much that I visited Prince Edward Island when I was a little older. The red earth roads, quiet meadows, and gentle shoreline made the books come even more alive to me. As a young girl growing up in a rural area and going to school in a small town, I felt Anne was a kindred spirit of mine—I identified with her longings and passions and the people in her books as if they were my very own. I also adored The Diary of Anne Frank, Watership Down, The Hobbit, and any and all stories of the legends of King Arthur.
What book would you recommend, or are you currently reading?
I am very excited to read The Transylvania Trilogy by Miklos Banffy—They Were Counted; They Were Found Wanting; and They Were Divided. The big glorious trilogy has been described as “a cross between Gone with the Wind and War and Peace with an added dash of paprika,” by James Crossley of Madison Books.
What has been one of your favorite SAL events?
My favorite SAL event was attending the lecture given by Mary Oliver. I don’t think I took a breath the entire time she spoke. Tears streamed down my face when she read “Wild Geese.” What a privilege that was! Another outstanding lecture was given by Anchee Min. My husband and I had just returned from a trip to China and I had read her memoir, Red Azalea, among others, in preparation for the trip. Her life in China was tragic, epic, and filled with up-close encounters with larger-than-life Chinese historical figures. She was hand-picked from the rice fields to be an actress for Madame Mao. To hear her tell her story in person was a gift. At the end, she sang from one of Madame Mao’s productions that she remembered performing in decades ago. Min is tiny but her voice was fierce and startling and filled the very edges of Benaroya Hall. It was unforgettable.
What emoji do you identify with?
The emoji I most identify with is the dancing lady in the red dress because I find much to be exuberant about and, alternatively, the headshot of the woman with her hand in front of her face because I find much that exasperates me.