Padma is one of the "oldest" friends of the blog. We have written posts about her and her work and she has written posts
Here are a few links that you should check out:
Better and Verse
Expanding our Embrace
No Problem with Problem Books
An Interview with Padma Venkatraman
Banned during Banned Book Week
Here is a link to a YouTube Video with Padma on Dr. Bickmore's YA Wednesday channel. https://youtu.be/iJM27qQizfU?si=AUPFuBjIlgyfwqlj
Today she reminds us that there are many unsung heroes who have been pioneer work around multicultural literature. She celebrates the life of Donna Gilton.
I assume that Donna and I were drawn together because of our mutual dedication to the cause of promoting diverse books and authors - during that long-ago era when they were referred to as “multicultural” books. I was an oceanography professor at the University of Rhode Island and had just published my debut novel, Climbing the Stairs. Donna was one of three BIPOC faculty in the library sciences department. I remember Naomi Caldwell, a brilliant indigenous scholar who was, at the time, a professor in that program, invited me to speak about my novel - and I think that was the first time that I met Donna.
Some people described Donna as quiet. To me, she was anything but. She was a fierce fighter for justice and equity. Daughter of the late Rev Charles W. Gilton Sr. And Hattie (Franklin) Gilton, she was a woman of faith - and one of the first to articulate how overjoyed she was to see that faith played a role in the lives of my characters. This, in itself, as an expression of her commitment to multiculturalism - the Hindu protagonist of CLIMBING THE STAIRS, and the Andaman Islanders in ISLAND’S END, had religious/spiritual beliefs that differed vastly from her own - but she rejoiced that they added religious diversity to children’s bookshelves.
When Donna retired, after 20 years of work at the University of Rhode Island, she amazed and impressed me more than ever by starting to learn tap dance! And when my daughter, then in middle-school, was asked where her grandparents had been during the Civil Rights era, she chose to interview Donna instead. I’ll never forget Donna sitting up straight in our home, looking into my daughter’s eyes, and saying, “I integrated a school. Do you know what that means?”
Donna later shared with me that she had been honored as one of the first Black women to graduate from Simmons University in 1975, with a master’s degree in library science; in 1972, she graduated with her bachelor’s degree from Simmons University. She continued to delve into library science and obtained her Ph.D. in the subject from the University of Pittsburgh in 1988. After that - and before becoming a library science professor at URI, she worked for many years as a reference librarian at the Boston Public Library, the Belize Teachers College, Western Kentucky State University, and Pennsylvania State University. We both loved libraries - and shared a pet peeve - that libraries were being renamed “media centers” or “educational commons.”
On a cold and grey morning, my husband and daughter joined me for the graveside service at New Fernwood Cemetery, Kingston. At Donna’s funeral service, I listened as her compositions were played. Donna had planned everything, down to the last detail, Joan told us. It didn’t surprise me. Donna was nothing if not organized and efficient - as her tomes clearly prove.
Her contributions to our field may not be quite as widely recognized as they should be - especially in this day and age of social media (which she wasn’t fond of at all). But through this short personal tribute, I wanted, in at least a small way, to respectfully record her dedication, commmitment and perseverance to raising and amplifying marginalized voices in the world of young people’s literature.