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Chapter 56: Learning Through Dialog

Nancy and I began what would turn out to be a years-long, ongoing dialog about Emmett’s life.

Our correspondence started out with lots of questions — and I was frankly glad to have someone who was interested in talking with me about Emmett in this depth. It helped me think about his life and death. I was working mostly solo on Emmett for about five months, and all of the facts in my head and on my Excel spreadsheet were needed airing, so to speak.

Nancy had attached screenshots of Robert H. Anderson’s biography to her message, and the note had lots of interesting questions. Source: Correspondence between Nancy Rayburn and Judy Smith, Sept. 14, 2013

At first, I thought she was a history junkie like me, interested in the quirky and obscure things found and who also loved solving mysteries, puzzles. She was. But it was more than that. She loved a story told well, and more importantly, she recognized the surprising connections we hold to history and to the obscure in our lives. The fact that I found out I was distantly related to Emmett was fun and ironic to her; but more telling and subtle was the chemical connection he and I shared.

And at the bottom of the message, was this:

I had been afraid and embarrassed to voice that out loud, but here was Nancy, someone I barely knew, seeing what I’d suspected too. I didn’t want to sound all mystic or holy rollerish, but I long suspected the connection between Emmett and myself, that it wasn’t accidental, and for better or worse, this was going to be the most incredible teachable experience for me. And maybe for someone else, too.

We would spend the next four years talking about Emmett in detail, and from that, Nancy has helped me write his story. She is and will be very much a part of the story to come.


Categories: Book Research Status The Writing Life

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Communication, Arts, and the Humanities
The University of Maryland Global Campus

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