Author Spotlight: Amy Losak
May 11, 2018
This week we are excited to feature daughter of author Sydell Rosenberg, Amy Losak and her mom's debut H IS FOR HAIKU (Penny Candy Books, 2018) illustrated by Sawsan Chalabi. Be sure to enter to win a copy at the end of this interview.
Tell us about your background (or your mom’s) and how she/you came to write for kids.
Thanks so much for the opportunity to share our story, KidLit411. Sydell Rosenberg was a New York City teacher: English, literacy, and adult English as a Second Language. She also was a writer all her life: prose (such as short stories), poetry, word and literary puzzles, etc. Sometime in the 1960s, mom “discovered” the short poetic form, haiku. How this happened, I don’t know. I believe she published her first haiku in a long-defunct newspaper back in 1966. Her first haiku published in a journal dedicated to this form was in 1967 (American Haiku.) In 1968, mom became a charter member of the Haiku Society of America. She served as HSA Secretary in 1975 and twice on its Merit Book Awards committees. Her work was well-anthologized in books and other publications over a span of decades.
I guess that – being a teacher – mom determined that some of her short poems would be good for kids. As she wrote more haiku and published them in various venues, perhaps she gained more confidence about the idea of doing a book for children. Mom may have taken some children’s literature courses too. When she was interested in something creatively, she tended to go “all in” – or try to -- with passion and a sense of purpose. She even studied Japanese, I believe to try to read haiku as they were originally written by the Japanese masters.
Mom collected her haiku into at least one picture book manuscript: an A-B-C reader -- and actually, I think she had more than one kids’ poetry manuscript (she also tried her hand at limericks). Mom submitted at least one manuscript to publishers in the 1980s – and I think even back in the 1970s. She saved her rejection letters, apparently – I remember coming across a few from publishers among her papers a few years ago.
Mom loved Maurice Sendak, of course – books such as Where The Wild Things Are and the Nutshell Library. And she had chutzpah: decades ago, apparently, she wrote to him proposing a collaboration: his illustrations set to her haiku. He declined, of course – but from what I remember mom telling me, it was a kind rejection. I’ve been trying to locate this letter among her welter of “stuff” – I hope one day to unearth it!
About me: I’ve been in public relations for a long time. I specialize in healthcare media relations. As a senior-level publicist, I enjoy being around people and working with journalists. I have had a rewarding career.
When I was a girl, I didn’t show much interest in my mom’s literary life, even though she tried to engage me. However, even back then, I recognized how important this was to her. And she had an influence on me: for the last few years, I’ve been writing my own haiku. I even joined HSA, which is now 50 years old. Of course, I have a lot to learn!
Congrats on your debut, the publication of your mother’s book, H IS FOR HAIKU: A TREASURY OF HAIKU FROM A TO Z. Why was it so important for you to publish this book? How were you able to get your mom’s book, published?
At some point in the second half of the 1980s, my dad Sam was diagnosed with dementia (but he had been exhibiting disturbing behavioral symptoms before he was diagnosed). He also had other medical problems. Mom, who was much younger, became his caregiver. The ups and downs of daily life, coupled with her challenging caregiving responsibilities, made it difficult for her to keep writing and submitting.
She didn’t completely abandon her passions: writing, teaching, etc., were as important to her as breathing. But her life became tough. Much of it became consumed with caring for my father. Whether or not it was a conscious decision, she gave up her dream to publish a haiku A-B-C reader.
And her own health suffered, without anyone truly realizing it. I’m not sure even she was completely aware of what was happening to her. One autumn morning, Syd died suddenly at home, of an aortic aneurysm. This was in October of 1996. It was a shock -- devastating. I grieved for years and I never completely recovered from this loss. Mom still had a lot of poetry left in her.
At her funeral, her family resolved to somehow publish the kids’ book she had always wanted. This was especially important to me. I did not want her work to “die.”
Tell us about your road to publication-- long and windy, short and sweet, or something in between?
I guess it depends on how you look at the road. Decades ago, despite her best efforts, mom was not successful in publishing her children’s manuscript. I didn’t start to mobilize on her behalf until 2011 – about 15 years after her death. To say I procrastinated is putting it mildly! But there also were valid reasons for this delay (my demanding, non 9-to-5 career, a move to another state with my husband, Cliff, my father’s sad illness, etc.).
I finally started to sort through and curate some of her short poems (and other poetry) for various projects. For example, I entered into a partnership with an extraordinary nonprofit arts education organization in NY, Arts For All (arts-for-all.org). Arts For All instructors used mom’s “word-picture” haiku to teach the basics of collage, painting, and drawing; music; and theater, to young students in two city schools. I funded these teaching residencies.
Finally, in 2015, after doing a good amount of research, I began submitting H IS FOR HAIKU to publishers that don’t require agents. I connected with Penny Candy Books (pennycandybooks.com) in 2016, thanks to a haiku acquaintance, Aubrie Cox Warner. The book was released on April 10 (National Poetry Month): https://www.pennycandybooks.com/shop/haiku
So my part of the journey was relatively short – but it was still incredibly difficult. I almost gave up on more than one occasion. When you factor in my 15-year delay, not to mention mom’s efforts all those years ago, we are talking about a decades-long journey. I am so grateful to the KidLit community, poets, family, friends, and co-workers who have encouraged me along the way!
From the beginning, I viewed mom’s haiku as visually appealing, tiny “stories.” Readers can imagine scenarios that come before and after and that “bracket” the present moments captured in the poems. I’m fortunate: Penny Candy, Sawsan Chalabi and I shared the same vision for this book. Sawsan’s vibrant illustrations underscore the gently playful nature of the poems.
What projects are you working on now? Do you want to publish more of your mom’s books?
I am trying to immerse myself more in the “way of haiku.” I’m slowly improving. Some of my poems have been published (see below). I read the work of amazing past and contemporary haijin (haiku poets) – it’s the best way for me to learn. I enjoy the process of slowing down and “seeing” something with all my senses – and then trying to translate this awareness into short-form poetry. And yes, I would like to publish more of Syd’s haiku for kids, perhaps in combination with some of mine (if they are good enough, of course). I have some themes in mind for the next book.
What advice would you give your younger self? Is this the same you'd give to aspiring authors?
I would tell myself to slow down and find joy in the little things, and treat each day as a gift. I would tell myself to notice what’s around me – and not worry so much about outside forces beyond my control. This worry can deplete our creative energy. I would say: “be your own cheerleader – your own advocate. Believe in your talent – keep learning, keep going, keep growing.” This is what I would say to aspiring authors.
And if I could go back in time, I would pay greater attention to my mom’s work, which she tried to share with me (and others) – and most importantly, give her the feedback and support she wanted and deserved.
What is one thing most people don't know about you?
Years ago, I wanted to be an actress and Broadway-type singer. I still like to sing – when there’s no one around to hear me!
Where can people find you online?
Selected Haiku by Amy Losak
peeling tree bark
she hides her spotted hands
in the interview
Inner Voices/International Women’s Haiku Festival, March 23, 2017
Wild Voices, Volume 2, 2018
in the window box
The Haiku Foundation/Haiku Windows: window box, March 28, 2018
computer screen …
the closest I will get
to cherry blossoms
The Haiku Foundation/Haiku Windows: computer display screen window, April 18, 2018
I walk through the front door
Journal of The British Haiku Society/Blithe Spirit, Volume 28, Number 1, February 2018
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