Beth Burnett


Welcome to Sonya Schryer Norris, author of the Katherine Philips research blog series with a new guest post.

Radicals Become Librarians
by Sonya Schryer Norris

In 1991, during my sophomore year of college at Michigan State, I planned to live on a commune after graduation. We’d count up loose change to buy Sharpies for placards and draw lots for who was taking the Subaru into town for the 25-lb sacks of rice and 50-lb sacks of beans we subsisted on. In my fantasies, the commune was a decommissioned military base. We would have barracks. We would have courtyards. We would have abandoned gun turrets to keep watch for people who might try to sneak up on us in the middle of the day. We would not, of course, have guns.

It was always a desert military base in my day dreams.

Finally, it occurred to me that even 25-lb sacks of rice cost money and besides, I didn’t know anyone who had enough cash or credit with which to purchase a decommissioned desert military base. I looked into existing communes but too many smacked of cults and fortunately that frightened me. I moved on.

During my junior year, I found a passion for an actual profession. I began an independent study under the direction of Marilyn Frye, a feminist philosophy professor. I was interested in how slavery is represented to the primarily white visitors of three plantations that operate as modern-day tourist attractions. At these plantations, the official message did not acknowledge more than the rudimentary facts about the generations of slaves who lived, loved, worked, suffered, and died on those grounds. The subtleties of their lives and history was intentionally hidden.

I traveled to Washington, D.C. and northern Virginia several times that year to observe the practices at George Washington’s Mount Vernon, Robert E. Lee’s Arlington, and Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. When I visited Arlington, a young white woman in a hoop skirt greeted visitors on the front porch, while a young black woman staffed the bookstore located in former slave quarters. It was visually and psychologically jarring.

My approach was to take the tours repeatedly. The first time I would just observe, the second time I would ask questions, and the third time I would challenge the guide about the experiences of the slaves who lived there. I brought up Sally Hemings at Monticello and asked whether she had children by Jefferson. It was a widely discussed possibility – among scholars and lay people everywhere. Everywhere but at Hemings home. The tour guides protected Jefferson and obfuscated, rather than exploring, Hemings experience.

I spoke to the directors and curators of these museums. One was open minded and curious about the historical figure whose life she helped portray. Another was brash about protecting her charge’s reputation and equated his manliness with the fact that he was a slave owner.



I decided I would spend my career educating white people who went to a plantation hoping for a pleasant afternoon of hoop skirting history with some hard-nosed truths. As I would only make about $8 an hour, it satisfied my college activist mind that said becoming financially comfortable=BECOMING THE MAN. I decided I would work at Monticello. I love Monticello. It’s located outside Charlottesville, Virginia, just over the mountain from the Shenandoah Valley where I was raised. I had even stealed myself to do it in the dress and pumps that appeared to be the required dress code, although I couldn’t walk properly in heels. I imagined myself a tour guide cowgirl, riding roughshod over white adults who would all be less well-informed than I felt at that moment.

But when I told my family that I planned to take my college education and become a tour guide, the response was non-committal. Actually, their response was more like deadly (and I do mean deadly) silence. My grandmother, who loved me dearly, couldn’t help but laugh. I thought they were doddering fools who couldn’t see how I would be single-handedly saving the world. White privilege and youthful exuberance were a common pairing among my classmates. Nevertheless, I adjusted my sights. I decided to start telling people that I wanted to be a museum curator at Monticello. Then! I could decide what the other tour guides would say about slavery. That someone might have instructed the tour guide me about what to tell the tourists had not occurred to me until I completed this career dream evolution.

That perhaps I, as yet another well-intentioned white person who had spent more time developing my opinions about the black experience in America than listening to African Americans was not suited to present Monticello to the world had not occurred to me either.

However, my family would stop tittering as museum curator is a perfectly acceptable career goal and one of those stupid career aptitude tests said I was well-suited to it. Ah, privilege delivers options at every turn.

On the same test, library science came in second.

Like many an English major, my first job out of college was fast food. I stayed in the chilly but familiar climes of Michigan, dreams of Monticello dormant but my interest not discarded. After about eight months, I moved on to a non-profit which was the start of improving the impact of my workaday life. I stayed on the lookout for a calling. A vocation. It was OK to sling hash to make ends meet, but I was watchful for a profession to put my heart into.

For our honeymoon, I wanted to revisit the plantations I studied and see what had changed in the preceding decade. By 2002, I found that some important things had. At Mount Vernon, the lives of the enslaved members of that community were discussed openly and often on the tours. They were named, along with their occupations and how they resisted bondage. At Monticello, there were enormous photographs gracing the visitor’s center of dozens of Jefferson’s descendants of every skin shade, side by side. A family portrait. Actual price lists of his slaves at the time of his death were discussed and we were invited to consider what our own worth would have been valued at on the auction block. The message had been updated.

That trip was a reminder of my youthful plans to become a museum curator. And I hadn’t landed far off. By the time I married, I had four years in as a paraprofessional at the Braille and Talking Book Library. I’d found joy in library work.

Most of our patrons had lost their sight at the end of their lives. I provided Readers Advisory service to a population that often needed a little friendly conversation along with a Danielle Steel or John Sandford title. Just a few kind words in a life that for most of them had grown more challenging due to vision loss. I spoke with patrons and ordered them bestsellers, non-fiction titles, Braille cookbooks, and print books with a Braille overlay that they could share with their children. It didn’t just meet their needs for a kind voice and a book: it satisfied my need to make a difference in people’s lives. Because we did.

I’ve long considered myself a feminist, and it was natural for me to gravitate toward librarianship. I made a conscious decision to enter a woman-dominated profession for important reasons. If I was going to spend 40 or 50 hours a week of my working life in intense interactions with other people, I wanted the majority of those people to be women. I wanted to invest myself – my emotions, my intellect, my personal and professional development – with other women. To build community with other women. To build up other women.

I wanted to be a bright spot in their professional worlds and I take pride in doing that. In my current position, it is literally my job to go out into Library Land and be helpful. It’s my job to learn what librarians need, and then to fill those needs. I pay attention to them and use my skills, both technical and interpersonal, to make their jobs easier. It’s awesome.

As most woman-dominated fields are not as financially lucrative as male-dominated fields, I was willing to take that pay cut. As it turns out, I didn’t have to. As a state employee with a Master’s degree, I do just fine.

I considered going into IT when I was younger. Staring at the looming landscape of that male dominated profession, I realized that in numbers there is Power. Mores. Culture. I try to be careful with the primarily white female culture to which I belong, and to realize that it can be just as much of a club over someone else’s head as the IT world looked to me 20 years ago.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I dislike men. I shouldn’t even have to say that. I’ve been married for 17 years and choosing my husband Scott as my life partner was one of the best decisions of my adult life. I enjoy most of my male colleagues very much. But we’re not in a post-misogyny, post-feminist world. We don’t live in a country where gender doesn’t matter. I have chosen to reduce the level of sexism I have to face by surrounding myself with other women. It’s a strategy to shield myself from one prevalent form of prejudice that I am particularly sensitive to.

In the end, I found my calling, and I live it everyday.

Follow Sonya at WordPress where she blogs as the Snake Lady Librarian. She is currently unwinding her Library School Diaries where she recounts paying her dues to join a female-dominated profession including nearly dropping out over a book report, falling in love with the polar bear book, learning public speaking on an elliptical trainer, and crossing the country during her last semester in three vegan vignettes.


I was writing an announcement to my MFA students yesterday imploring them to submit their work. You can’t publish if you don’t submit, I wisely counseled.

People are waiting to read your words and they won’t be able to read them until you submit them, get them accepted, and sit back and wait for the accolades to roll in.

You can self-publish. Post on your blog. Check out Wattpad. There are ways around not submitting to contests, journals, and the like.

But if you DO want to be published in those sorts of things, you have to submit.


One of my favorite sources for online submissions is the website Submittable. It’s free, it’s user-friendly, and it has so many links to submissions.

The other bonus of using Submittable is that it keeps track of your submissions for you so you don’t have to.

If the person on the other end, the person asking for submissions, does their part, they update the submission when it is either rejected or accepted. That way, you have an automatic list of story titles and their status.

Submittable also keeps the entry, so when you’re trying to write that pesky cover letter, you can go back to the excellent one you submitted a month ago and use it as a starting point for the next.

It isn’t perfect. You still have to do independent research as to the type of publication and whether or not they are reputable. (But you should be doing that anyway.)

There are publications that don’t use this service, so you’ll still want to use other sources. Still, if your New Year’s resolution this year was to submit to more publications, there are worse ways to go than to just do some searching and submitting through Submittable.

And on that note, I think I’ll go submit something today. These stories aren’t going to publish themselves, are they?

My friend asked me to do a guest post on her blog and I was delighted to oblige.

Sonya Schryer Norris

Beth Burnett Beth Burnett

When my friend Sonya asked me to do a guest post for her Hot Researcher (that’s what I call it in my head) blog, I knew I wanted to find a way to tie it in with her delightful series about the great poet Katherine Philips. After all, that blog series inspired me to add a week of Katherine to my British Lit class. The least I could do was pay tribute.

And in a way, I already do pay tribute to the poet. After all, her great passion in writing and, presumably, life, was a topic dear to my heart. Female friendships. Most of my novels revolve around female friendships. Even when there’s a general love story, the framework of the book is built around those who bolster and support the main characters.

The ubiquitous they say to write what you know. Well, I know friendship with…

View original post 423 more words

It’s been a very good year. I think, on the whole, it falls more into the joy category than the grief.

1 brutieThere has been some struggle, most of it financial. But I keep reminding myself that I have a roof over my head. I have friends who have helped in bad times. I have a working vehicle. I’m not hungry. I can still rustle up money to donate to my two favorite charities. Life isn’t hard.

There has been some grief, most of it around our aging dog who still has more good days than bad. We feel we’re always on the edge, waiting for that tipping moment. And we have days of tears. But we also have days of love and laughter, long walks, playing with stuffed toys, cuddling.

I became a legal permanent resident of Canada this year. The process wasn’t as hard as I expected, but we were privileged to be able to pay a lawyer to help with the paperwork. (And there was A LOT) The lawyer kept coming back with things we’d missed, more information they needed, more proof of the validity of mine and Joy’s relationship. Finally, when he came back with yet another request for proof, I sent him fifty pages of our Google Hangouts chats going back to the beginning of our relationship. I told him I couldn’t be held accountable for things he might see. I did notice that there were many redacted spots in the final submission, perhaps he deleted all the boob pics we sent to each other. Though we spent about a year gathering documents, once we submitted the final package, the official acceptance didn’t take long. We submitted the whole package in September of 2018 and I became a Canadian in March of 2019.

beth and gordo in CanmoreIn May, my wife and I moved to British Columbia from Ontario. This involved packing most of what we owned into a POD, shoving the rest of it into our sprinter van and driving across Canada with our sixty pound dog and our cat, Gordo. It was the best road trip of my life. Five days in a van with my wife and not a harsh word, no moments of regret.




We laughed, talked, looked at some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. (And some of the most 1 gordoboring – after leaving Ontario and until we got to Calgary things were pretty flat.) The boys were absolute troopers. Gordo didn’t want to be in his carrier, so we let him sleep on Brutie’s bed and they were amazing. At rest areas, one of us would take the dog out while the other stayed with the cat. We took turns going into gas stations for bathroom breaks so the boys wouldn’t be alone in the van. At night, we stayed in a series of pet friendly hotels


1 joy and brutie at lake louise

It was an incredible way to get to know my new home. Driving across the country with my family gave me a sense of homecoming. It also gave me a sense of the vastness of Canada – so many unpopulated areas still. In Banff, I saw my first bear. At Lake Louise, we hiked out to see the lake in our hoodies and tennis shoes because it was warm at the lower elevations. And it made my marriage even stronger – I’ve never spent so much concentrated time with someone who was always kind, always interested in what I had to say. When we pulled into Princeton for the first time, the whole family was a unit – we were coming home together and it felt amazing.

In July, I had to miss a writer’s conference that I haven’t missed in years. The Golden Crown Literary Society is the best (IMO) LGBTQ writer’s and reader’s conference of all time. It hurt my heart to have to miss it, but I was dealing with a health problem and long hours of flying from here to Pittsburgh, PA didn’t seem like a good idea. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t shed some tears during the week of the conference, especially when the pictures started getting posted on Facebook.


Joy and I spent the summer, the fall, and most of the winter exploring the outdoors in 1 gordo in strollerour new home. We walked a lot, biked a lot, climbed a lot of hills. We crossed some rivers, found some dead ends, saw a lot of deer, a couple bears, and a Mama moose and her baby. (We didn’t see a cougar, but there were several sightings in our area by some of our neighbors.) We got a pet stroller and took Gordo with us on several hikes.




1 manning park


We got to know our new home. We acted like tourists – tourists who get to come back to our own comfortable home and our own comfortable bed at the end of the day of exploring. We didn’t do everything we wanted to do before the snowfall, but we did a lot. And we made notes of things we intend to do next year as soon as the weather starts clearing up and we can get out on the bikes again.



We ate a lot of healthy vegan food. We ate some unhealthy vegan food. We spent a lot of time in Keremeos, haunting the fruit stands. We bought pounds and pounds of tomatoes and I made gallons of sauce which we promptly breezed through and now wish we had more.

I got to know Joy’s parents – delightful, kind people who instantly accepted me as if I have been part of the family forever. They were a big reason we decided to move to BC. That and the fact that once we realized it would be far easier for me to immigrate to Canada than Joy to immigrate to the U.S., we needed to find a place we liked better than where we were in Ontario. And we wanted to buy a house, something we couldn’t afford where we were living before.

No regrets, y’all. 2019 has been a year of big changes. Huge changes. And here at the end, I can honestly say I have no regrets. My only New Year’s resolution is to be able to same the same at this time next year.