I am Young Adult and Middle Grade author Barbara Binns, writer of contemporary and realistic fiction for adolescents and teens. As my tagline says, I write Stories of Real Boys Growing Into Real Men - and the people who love them.
Over the weekend, I was invited to speak at the 2019 StoryStudio Writer's Festival at Columbia University in Chicago. James Klise, fellow YA author and Edgar Award winner, interviewed me about my most recent middle grade novel, Courage. In the process we talked about what it means to have courage, and shared information from Courage, and my work in project.
One particular line from this working manuscript relates to this month's Romancing The Genres subject, superheroes:
"He is my hero, no superman cloak required."
This line is from my teen hero, speaking about his father. It's important to me, because I tend to write family dramas, about real people and their all-too real lives.
Superheroes are great. Lord knows Marvel’s Infinity Saga had me mesmerized. I was a Xena, Warrior Princess fan when I was younger, and I liked watching Wonder Woman, both Linda Carter and Gal Gadot. But mostly, I like ordinary men and women. People who rise to the occasion when a real-life crisis occurs.
That was just her start. After marrying Jaspar Williams, she spent over 20 years, during a time when Las Cruces public schools were segregated, Clara taught Black students at Booker T. Washington school by day, and their parents, mainly former slaves, by night.
She also chose to continue her own education by enrolling at the segregated school now known as New Mexico State University (NMSU). Many of her professors refused to allow her inside their classrooms, forcing her to stand in the halls to listen and take notes. Despite the significant obstacles discrimination placed before her, she received a bachelor’s degree in English from NMSU in 1937. Even then, she wasn’t allowed to walk with her class to get her diploma because of segregation laws.
Her eldest son became chairman of obstetrics and gynecology at St. Bernard Hospital in Chicago. He was a fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and past president of the Cook County Physicians Association, and a founding director of the Seaway National Bank of Chicago, now the country’s largest black-owned bank. Working together, the three men went on to found the Williams Clinic in Chicago, Illinois.
On Sunday, February 13, 2005, New Mexico State University celebrated Clara Belle Williams day, “in honor of a person who was unquestionably a pioneer,” in the words of President Michael Martin. As an additional honor, the school renamed the English Building, which houses English Department classrooms and offices, as well as the writing center, as Clara Belle Williams Hall.
This real-life superwoman succeeded in pursuing higher education despite the significant obstacles discrimination placed before her.
After a lifetime serving as an inspiration to her family and the people she met, she died on July 3, 1994 at the age of 108.
This all combines to make me name the fictional school in that work-in-progress after this remarkable woman. Even more, I am looking into making Clara Belle and her daring Tuskegee Airman son the subject of a future biography I will write.
I plan to do more than simply worship this superhero from afar.