Plum Street's response to removal of Black Lives Matter T-shirts

Yesterday, the Arkansas Times reported that Arkansas Department of Heritage officials had ordered the removal of "Black Lives Matter" T-shirts from the gift shop of the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, Arkansas's official museum of African-American History. Initially, the museum's interim director said that the reason she was given by department officials was that the museum "must represent all Arkansans." Today, the department cited a stocking policy limiting apparel only to items with official museum or exhibit logos.

Nonetheless, this practice is inconsistent with less restrictive stocking policies in other state-managed shops in Arkansas state parks.

Today, Liz Russell, president of Plum Street Publishers, sent this letter to Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson:

Dear Governor Hutchinson --

I am writing to register my distress and disappointment over the removal of the Black Lives Matter apparel from the Mosaic Templars Museum gift shop. This decision is egregiously tone-deaf at a time when many institutions and industries -- including the book publishing industry, which I represent -- are facilitating difficult but long-overdue discussions of diversity and marginalization of minority groups.

As to the fear that white visitors would be offended, I would direct your DAH leadership to read Ta-Nesihi Coates' gripping book, Between the World and Me, winner of this year's National Book Award, which illuminates the Black Lives Matter movement as well as the societal cost of minimizing or dismissing the long chain of events that has culminated in widespread expression of frustration by many of our fellow citizens.

Rather than operating out of fear of offending visitors (who can register their opinion by simply not buying a T-shirt), I would hope that the leadership of our state's heritage department would embrace the opportunity to educate them.

On a personal note, this is just the sort of news that makes it exceedingly difficult for me to recruit a rich, diverse array of writing talent to my line of books. The minute I disclose that my publishing house is based in Arkansas, I am fighting an uphill battle of distrust.

Liz Russell, President / Plum Street Publishers  Inc.



A Look at the Writing Process: Stars of the Rock 'n' Roll Highway

Language arts students aren’t the only wordsmiths who struggle with the writing process. Professional writers follow the same steps, as seen in this journal of the development of Plum Street’s newest release, Stars of the Rock 'n' Roll Highway. Next time you’re battling writer’s block, just follow these steps.

Prewrite. When writer Vicki Pasmore, called us to pitch the idea for this book, we followed the FATP format as we brainstormed.

But we weren't finished yet! Before Vicki could advance to the writing step, she needed to finalize her list of entertainers. Making these decision on the front end saved her a lot of time in the research and writing phase. This list was her first attempt. We had a ways to go before we got this list down to 20!

Write. Vicki followed our directions for "sloppy copy." With first drafts, it's important to commit your initial thoughts to paper without being hampered by perfectionism.

Revise. We gave Vicki suggestions for expanding and tightening her first draft and were very happy when she submitted this revision.

Edit. But there was still work to be done! The editing process is when the perfectionist takes hold. Note that we adhere to The Chicago Manual of Style. And every step of the way we were measuring reading levels to be sure the text read at or near the desired grade level.

Publish. We followed that same process for each of the 20 entries, as well as the introduction and bibliography. And for each entry, our staff obtained a photo dating from the rockabilly era. Since many of the entertainers were deceased, we tracked down agents, family members, and managers. (It's important to clear permission to use a photo in a published book.) Sometimes we got to speak with the entertainers themselves!

To  learn more about the early entertainers along U.S. Highway 67, you can get a copy of the finished book, just released by Plum Street Publishers this month.


Finding Treasure in Your Back Yard

Word reached us recently that Dean Filppula of Shreveport found a 2.01-carat diamond at the Crater of Diamonds State Park. Here at Plum Street, we love getting updates from Park Interpreter Waymon Cox. What other state in the union can supply updates of diamond finds to our RSS feed?

DiamondMr. Filppula's diamond may be the largest diamond find of 2015 but it is by no means the first. Found in the west drain of the search area, the diamond is wedge-shaped and about the size of an English pea. (Like any good Southern boy, he immediately named the diamond after his mama.) The largest diamond ever found at the crater measured 40.35 carats, discovered in 1924 when the area was privately mined. Roughly the size of a walnut, it would have been hard to miss!

When interviewed about Mr. Filppula's find, Cox, noting recent rains and plowing, commented, "Conditions are perfect for diamond hunting right now." The same could be said for the many other treasures we have here in The Natural State. Yes, we have diamonds, which makes Arkansas pretty unique, but we also have:

  • Prehistoric relics. The Sloan site in Greene County occupies an ice age sand dune and ancient burial ground more than 10,000 years old. The Nashville Sauropod Trackway is believed to be the largest path of preserved dinosaur tracks in the world. And dinosaur bones were discovered in Sevier County by—who else?—a gentleman named Joe Friday.
  • Natural springs. Did you know that Blanchard Spring's waterfall flows at the rate of 1,200 gallons a minute? And that NASA used spring water from Hot Springs to keep moon rocks free of bacteria while it studied them for signs of life?
  • Caves. And plenty of them—about 2,000, by most estimates. Lost Valley Trail Cave houses a waterfall 35 feet high, and Mystic Cavern's crystal dome is eight stories high. And the Mormon Tabernacle has nothing on the acoustics of the annual Caroling in the Caverns event at Blanchard Springs.
  • Minerals. Our soil and rocks yield at least 300 unique minerals. There are more than 100 of them in Magnet Cave alone!
  • Watermelons. Bill Clinton first caught Hillary Rodham's notice when she overheard him bragging about the 200-pound watermelons grown in his hometown of Hope. It not for our record-breaking produce, who knows that course history might have taken?

Beyond our abundance of natural resources, Arkansas has plenty of other treasures. To name just a few:

  • Boundary busters. We have the oldest standing state capitol building west of the Mississippi, the oldest newspaper west of the Mississippi, and musicians who pioneered ragtime, rockabilly, bluegrass, and the blues.
  • Bling. Arkansas has produced Oscar winners (Broncho Billy Anderson, Lisa Blount, Mary Steenburgen, Billy Bob Thornton), Pulitzer Prize winners (Harry Ashmore, John Gould Fletcher, Paul Greenberg), and more Baseball Hall of Famers and Grammy winners than we can name here. And in a category all her own: force of nature Maya Angelou, winner of the Presidential Medal of Freeman.
  • Brilliance. Charles Portis. Dee Brown. Johnny Cash. Bill Clinton. Each has produced an astonishing body of work with a unique stamp.
  • Bigwigs. Arkansas has produced leaders of every stripe—from Quapaw chiefs to business titans to generals to politicans. Oh, and POTUS 42.

There really must be something in the water!

Diamond earringsAt Plum Street Publishers, our job is to serve as your tour guide so you can discover the treasure in your back yard. The first step is to connect our writers with our readers. We make the introductions, get the right book in the reader's hands, and step out of the way.

We agree with Waymon Cox: conditions are perfect for treasure hunting, indeed. Fasten your harness and join us for the ride.