Hi! My name is Laura Atwood Durán. The youngest of six children and the only girl, I was fortunate to grow up in a happy and loving home where curiosity and creativity were encouraged and given free rein. My parents inspired me intellectually and spiritually. Because they believed in me, I knew I could do anything. And because of their example, I was motivated to use my gifts for the good of others.
During Judge Garrity’s desegregation ‘forced busing’ era in Boston, my eyes were opened when, from my white, middle-class neighborhood, I was bused to a brand new magnet high school to study alongside students of other neighborhoods, lifestyles and cultures, and was introduced to a ‘Boston’ until then completely unknown to me. The education there was perhaps not as academically strong as I could have received elsewhere, but it was life-changing and helped mold me into the person I am today. It wasn’t so much the skin color of many of my new peers that I found foreign, as their whole outlook on life. Sometimes I was scared, like the day a rumor spread that the Blacks were going to attack the Whites in retaliation for an attack of Whites on Blacks the previous day in another school. My faith grew by leaps and bounds, as well as my desire to be a unifying force within the student body. I was nominated and elected by both peers and teachers to a committee formed to work towards that very goal.
Having studied and come to love the Spanish language in my neighborhood junior high school, I was thrilled to meet and make friends with Latino students for the first time, some newly arrived at our shores and, as yet, unable to speak English. One girl brought me to her apartment to meet her family and share a meal, and a whole new world opened up to me as I learned of their curious traditions, as well as their unique needs. I knew then that I wanted to serve and work with native Spanish-speakers in my future.
During my senior year, the head of the World Language Dept. invited me to enroll, as the only non-native, in a Spanish class designed for native speakers. At graduation I received, among other awards, the Foreign Language Award. Another keen interest I developed during these years was writing, particularly songs, poems and essays. This led to my being recommended for a six-week Creative Writing course at Phillips Academy in Andover, with students from all around the country. Writing was to become an important part of my life.
I continued studying Spanish language and literature at Simmons College (now University), Middlebury College Summer Language School, and NYU year abroad program in Madrid, Spain. While in Madrid, I met and fell in love with my soul mate, Angel Félix Durán Muñoz, a native of Madrid. After my graduation, we married in Boston and, after living in RI and PA where he completed his Biblical/Pastoral Studies, and where our sons Peter and David were born, we moved back to Madrid and served in a church for eleven years. I was active, both within and without the church community, in public speaking and teaching. And I continued writing, mostly in Spanish, sketches, songs, sermons, children’s stories, and articles for our church newspaper. In ‘Entrevista con…’, I interviewed church members (like elderly Mariana Carmona, who shared her frightening ordeal as a Civil War nurse, fleeing from Nationalist troops over the snow-covered Pyrenees Mountains; and like young Gerty Lévano, also a nurse, who cared for tribal people in the jungles of her native Peru.) Honored to develop deep, loving relationships with so many wonderful Spaniards who accepted me as their own, I grew to understand and appreciate my new country’s diverse customs, and more importantly, her social, political and historical characteristics, so different from those of my birth country.
After eleven years we returned to Massachusetts (along with another little son, Daniel), and I began sharing my love for all things Spanish as a full-time middle and high school Spanish teacher. I felt something was lacking from the provided curriculum, so I wrote stories and poems that, while reinforcing my students’ language skills, also introduced them to fascinating traditions of the Spanish-speaking world.
When our daughter Hannah was born, I took a break from teaching and accepted a part-time position with La Vida Católica as their advertisement salesperson, working with businesses and churches of the Hispanic community of the Boston Archdiocese. I eventually decided to homeschool Hannah for a few years, for it was something I’d dreamed of doing ever since our oldest, Peter, had been born. Wanting to draw people together within our diverse city neighborhood, while also teaching Hannah writing skills and strengthening her social skills, I incorporated into our homeschool curriculum a community newspaper. Hannah and I created Community R Us together, and it was rewarding for us to see how, in particular Hannah’s section ‘Interview with…’, was instrumental in helping neighbors no longer feel like strangers.
One interviewee, an elderly Haitian woman, told Hannah (in French, while her daughter, a Boston hospital nurse, translated) of the devastation from the earthquake that had recently hit Haiti. She told how one of her daughters, a Catholic nun, was the director of a school in the area of the earthquake, and that many from the school, both children and adults, were killed. Following this edition of Community R Us, I was invited to appear live on Tele Soleil, a highly popular Haitian television program, and my interview drew an enthusiastic response from their spectators.
Soon our ‘community’ expanded, when Hannah was chosen to join the Girls Editorial Board of New Moon Girls Magazine, and I served as a moderator on their social website. At around that same time, I was reflecting one day on the close, loving relationship that Hannah enjoyed with her American grandmother who lived on Cape Cod. And I thought about how, unlike her brothers who had grown up in Spain, she barely knew her Spanish grandmother living across the ocean in Madrid. So, I began writing Nervous Mary, as a way of helping Hannah get to know her other grandmother. Now I am working on a sequel! I hope you enjoy both books!
- Laura Atwood Durán