Looking out over the urban landscape in these days of political division and inertia, I have a literary reaction.
My book Paris Thibideaux & the World of Lost Things is about a boy with a knack for making something out of nothing, and the great “junk horse” he creates for the Powderhorn Parade is a metaphor for the power of a child’s love and imagination to make something beautiful out of other people’s trash. But there is more being “recycled” than the debris that accumulates in the dumpsters and alleys of Powderhorn Park.
I tried to suggest this with my original title for the book: The City of Paris. My beta readers didn’t find my play on words as clear or engaging as I did, so I gave it up. I think, however, that with the recent rise in negative public discourse around immigration and diversity, I’d like to share what that title meant to me and what I was trying to get across.
This narrative is more than a coming-of-age novel about the individual identity quest of a young boy. It has always been equally important to me that this story represents the dynamic and essential, ever-changing face(s) of a community—specifically an urban American community. The Powderhorn neighborhoods and the “Parises” who live in them are not unique to my imagination or to Minneapolis; and, that is why I wanted to feature “the city” in my title. In my opinion, “the city” suffers from a negative stereotype that I wanted to challenge. I also hoped that readers would see Paris and children like him more clearly and empathetically, and recognize that it is they who make the cities of America hopeful places, full of creativity, resourcefulness, and families created not necessarily through blood but through need and empathy.
Based on responses from my readers of all ages, the message gets through regardless of the title—so I’m not going to change it! But I think it’s important in light of today’s divisive political climate to stand up for the array of ideals embodied in America—not only individualism but also community; not only America first ahead of all others, but America first to be humane. Paris Thibideaux & the World of Lost Things is about the challenges facing all of us, to make something out of nothing—a “coat of many colors” for Lady Liberty woven from the threads most of us should remember with humility that we have carried from someplace else to these shores.