GiGi Amateau

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Our White House: Looking In Looking Out

An Anthology Conceived and Created by the National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance with an Introduction by David McCullough

Including "Wanted: Magnanimous, Exquisite Woman" by Gigi Amateau and her daughter Judith

From the publisher, Candlewick Press:
"More than 100 leading authors and illustrators have donated their talents to foster historical literacy. This incomparable collection of writing melds with an equally stunning array of original artwork to offer a multifaceted look at America's history through the prism of the White House. These engaging writings and illustrations, expressing varied viewpoints and interwoven with key historical events, are a vital resource for family sharing and classroom use - and an uplifting reminder that the story of the White House is the story of every American. The result is a creative tour de force that will make history itself."

About the book: Hardcover Anthology | Candlewick Press, 256 pages | Ages 10 and up | ISBN-978-0-7636-2067-7

How We Wrote It

In our family, political discussions take place about every time somebody takes a sip of water. Whether in the car, at the dinner table, folding laundry -- we find a way to turn any old thing into a political talk. Corn, cows, horses, sidewalks, bridges, sunshine, music, books -- you get the picture; everything is political!

What Judith and I tried to do with our contribution to Looking In Looking Out was represent a typical, sassy discussion in our home, which often involves agreeing then disagreeing, pushing then pulling but, always with lots of loving. The real-life discussion about women in the White House involved many family members over several hours, and couldn't be entirely replicated in the book.

We used the Exquisite Corpse exercise to highlight some of the contributions other family members made when we were talking about women in the White House, so that at least in poetry form they'd be represented. For example, the line "caring enough to thrash young men who would blow smoke in your face" bubbled up from a really tender story that my husband told us at the dinner table.

Under the first Clinton administration, my husband and his buddy were White House interns at the sweet age of nineteen. I didn't know either of them back then, but being a great admirer of both men, I imagine them being very cute and very cocky in that endearing way of nineteen-year-old boys. One night it was snowing hard in D.C. and the two were standing outside of the Old Executive Office Building, without coats, smoking cigarettes when the First Lady and her Secret Service detail breezed by them. She started to step into her limo, but then she spun around, and marched back to these shivering babies blowing smoke rings in their shirt sleeves. With great kindness, but in a firm, maternal voice,she lectured those boys about smoking until her security people finally pulled her away. She also told them to get their coats on. My husband -- by the way, his name is Bubba -- has never forgotten that the First Lady of the United States, who was running late, cared enough to bless him out. He did eventually quit smoking.


Exquisite Corpse

In Our White House Looking Out Looking In, Gigi and Judith's contribution includes a poem they wrote while playing Exquisite Corpse. Exquisite Corpse is a fun way to explore ideas with your friends or family by writing poetry together.

Two people can play the game, and it gets really fun with three or more friends. You play by adding words in a sequence. The combined result -- a mix of lots of different ideas and contributions -- is a delightful,exquisite corpse, or body of parts all patched up as one fine, Frankenstein of a poem.

A group of four could play like this:

  • Group: Pick a topic, say, Old Dog
  • Person 1: Write a line and pass the paper to person 2
  • Person 2: Read the line, fold the paper over the visible line, write a line, pass the paper to person 3 (Each person only sees the previous line.)
  • Person 3: Read the line, fold the paper over the visible line, write a line, pass the paper to person 4
  • Person 4: Read the line, fold the paper over the visible line, write a line, pass the paper back to person 1, who starts over for a second round OR if you're finished, reads the completed poem aloud.

Remember, when your turn comes write whatever you want! Take your line in a completely new direction or tease the line before yours a little. The beauty of this game is discovering the poetry of the group.

You could make up all kinds of rules for your game of 'Corpse.' Try writing your group poem without seeing any previous lines. What if you didn't choose a topic, and each only wrote from your hearts? How about imposing a rigid order to each line:adjective-noun-verb-preposition-the? That could get weird. Think of some other rules or just go for it.

There are many variations of Exquisite Corpse, both as a word game and as a drawing game. Its origin dates back to the 1920s when French Surrealists played something similar as a parlor game. Today, you'll find dozens of Internet sites, too, playing online versions of Exquisite Corpse. Nothing beats playing it with friends, because someone always makes up something crazy and soon enough everyone is laughing their butts off. If you get bored waiting for the bus or sitting in a restaurant try playing!



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