The Middle Step Blog

My second novel, AFTER ELISE, named a Finalist in Faulkner-Wisdom Creative Writing Contest

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 My second novel, AFTER ELISE, was named a FINALIST this fall in the FAULKNER-WISDOM CREATIVE WRITING CONTEST.  The novel (Ardent Writers Press, summer 2018) tells the story of the rippling effects of a tragic accident on the driver, her family, and the victim’s family.

I originally wrote the book as part of my MFA thesis. Over the course of many years, I revised, revised and revised the novel, worked with two different New York literary agents and then shelved the book. I then spent years on my novel, THE MIDDLE STEP, published by High Hill Press in autumn 2015. This past winter I reread AFTER ELISE, could see the flaws and rewrote the novel yet again! 

As with THE MIDDLE STEP, I will be offering discounts to book clubs and will visit and/or skype in to any book club anywhere! 

More news to follow….

My Next Novel is Due Out July 2018!

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IT’S OFFICIAL! Yesterday I received the signed contract to publish my next book, AFTER ELISE. I began the first draft of the novel in 1999 as part of my MFA masters thesis. I worked on the book, shelved it, rewrote it and will now hold it in my hand in July 2018. The moral: never give up!

Chicago Panel on Racism to Include THE MIDDLE STEP

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If you’re in the Chicago area on Thursday, April 20, please join us for a Chicago panel on racism. This all-important discussion will highlight three authors and their works, including THE MIDDLE STEP. I am looking forward to this opportunity to discuss my own insights from the past 16 years of working in a Title One middle and high school in downtown St. Louis–the inspiration for my novel. 


Special offer for Book Clubs!

In a book club? I’m offering a special rate of THE MIDDLE STEP to all book groups.
20% off if you contact me before the end of January.
Special bonus: If you want, I’ll visit your group or skype in if you’re out of town!

My Favorite Books from 2016

It’s been the kind of year when I particularly appreciate the diversion of a really good book, and I’ve read or listened to quite a few. Here are my 2016 recommendations in no special order. I would love to hear yours (with bonus points if The Middle Step is on your list!):

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (tough read but masterful)
The Doubter’s Almanac by Ethan Canin
The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer
The Neapolitan Series (4 books) by Elena Ferrante
Harmony by Carolyn Parkhurst
The Trespasser by Tana French
My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
The Year She Left Us by Kathryn Ma
Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson
A Small Hotel by Robert Olen Butler
I Will Send Rain by Rae Meadows
The Expatriates by Janice Y.K. Lee
Circling the Sun by Paula McLain
Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
Deep, Down, Dark by Hector Tobar
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs

A beautiful surprise in a beautiful locale

I love the library, so imagine my delight at this image–my novel, THE MIDDLE STEP, highlighted on a shelf of the refurbished Central Library downtown. The sight totally made my day, that nestled beneath the marbled ceiling and against the restored stained glass windows, there stood my book, right next to Judy Blume’s highly touted newest adult fiction.
I was visiting the library while waiting for the 2nd Annual Author Shout Out program to begin, where I joined other local authors in discussing my works and offering a short reading. It was a great program and a wonderful opportunity to meet other local writers. I left the event with the same feeling I often have, especially since my years as founder and director of St. Louis Writers Workshop: our town is teeming with talent!

The Middle Step featured on KWMU St. Louis on the Air

I’ve never been quite as excited for–and nervous about–my interview with Don Marsh, Monday, Aug 29, on KWMU (90.7 FM) “St. Louis on the Air.” 

Don is a pro. He put me at ease even as he asked tough, thought-provoking questions about my novel and about my work at Lift For Life Academy that inspired the novel.  All in all, I’m pleased with my responses.

If you’ve got an extra 25 minutes, please take a listen and let me know what you think.

Listen to the interview


Black Lives Matter book club to feature THE MIDDLE STEP

Please mark your calendars for TUESDAY, AUGUST 23, when THE BOOK HOUSE-sponsored White Allies/Black Lives Matter book club features THE MIDDLE STEP. We are anticipating a lively discussion about the novel that is set in North St. Louis and explores issues of race, poverty and family.
THE BOOK HOUSE, 7352 Manchester Rd, Maplewood, has discounted THE MIDDLE STEP by 10% for anyone who purchases the novel before August 15.
We hope to see you thereon Book House shelf

Feeling Proud

Every year @JudyLevinBooks selects 20 books to recommend to her 30 participating book clubs, reaching hundreds of avid readers. As a professional book club facilitator, Judy reads dozens and dozens of books each year and then makes her selection based on the most well written, compelling and discussion-worthy novels.middle-step-cover-logo The newly released fall 2016-17 book list includes THE MIDDLE STEP,nestled between a Pulitzer Prize winner and National Book Award nominees. Feeling proud.

Kanesha, Did You Get the Job?

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I was about a quarter mile from home into my walk when I felt a tap on my shoulder.

“Excuse me, Miss, but can you tell me where’s the nearest library?”

I took out the ear buds, turned off the audio book and studied the attractive, nicely dressed young African American woman. Pointing north, “There’s one about four miles in that direction and,” pointing southeast, “another library five miles that way.”

At her crestfallen face I asked about her need for a library, offering that if it was to drop off books, I would be happy to do so for her.

She offered a rueful smile. “I need to print out my resume for a job interview in an hour.” She went on to explain that she had taken a bus from Maplewood to Olive and Ballas in Creve Coeur (a ten-mile distance) and was told as she got off the bus that she should head south on Ballas toward a library, which would have a computer and printer. Her plan was to walk to the library, print out her resume, and then walk back to the job interview–all in one hour on a hot muggy day while dressed in interview clothes. Her voice and demeanor were calm with no signs of self-pity, anxiety, anger or frustration. In fact, Kanesha mostly seemed really excited by the prospect of a minimum-wage job interview.

It took me a full minute for the details to coalesce into a cognizant thought.  

I offered for her to come to our house a half block away where I have a computer and printer. She gladly accepted, and so we did. A total stranger following a total stranger into her home.

The resume had been written as an email and when she hit print, only half the resume showed. That’s when I stepped in–my 15 years as a charter middle and high school writing and English teacher kicking into gear. I copied the resume into a Word document, fixed a couple of small typos, corrected two spelling errors and changed the font size to better fit on the page. We printed three copies and then walked back out together, where we parted ways in opposite directions, she to her interview (she turned down my offer to drive her there) and me to resume my power walk.

And then it hit. And I have not been able to shake it since.

This is why so many children and adults of poverty can’t begin to access the same opportunities as children and adults of privilege. There is no way Kanesha would have gotten to the interview in time, resume in hand, clothes crisp. More likely, she’d have arrived very late, very frustrated and very unprepared. Who would hire a candidate in that scenario?

When my white upper middle class children have gone on job interviews, they drive there in their cars, resumes on nice paper stock having been written on their own laptops and printed from their own printers. They easily arrive on time, cool in the summer, warm in the winter.

Something has to change. It’s not right and it’s certainly not enough. There is just so much inequity in our society. I’ve seen it firsthand and daily with my inner city students. These stories are real and they are a mere short drive–but a very long walk–away from our lives of privilege.

There are resources–not enough but some. Perhaps a starting point would be for all of us to educate ourselves on what’s available and to work at spreading the word about groups that help job seekers to dress for success, to create error-free resumes, to get transportation to the interviews. I invite everyone to use (and share)  this forum to suggest resources that we can pass along to anyone who can benefit. We must all stretch ourselves.

This young woman was adorable. We immediately connected and we exchanged phone numbers. I want to know if she got the job.