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Everyday Heroes: Carmen Deedy

Decatur children’s author Carmen Agra Deedy spent the pandemic like most people: watching everything on Netflix, reading, doing jigsaw puzzles, and cooking.

Deedy spent an inordinate amount of time on Facebook, hosting a nightly virtual dinner in character as a down-home, bosomy waitress named Rita. She would tell a story, post a recipe and photo, and encourage others to do the same at “Rita’s Virtual Diner.”

Credit: Isadora Pennington

Credit: Isadora Pennington

“This went on every night for a year,” Deedy said incredulously. “It really took on its own life and became a real community. There were hundreds of people posting, and they went on to private messaging, creating a cookbook and making plans to meet up in real life.”

Deedy actually got COVID-19 before the virus got a toehold in Georgia, forcing her to cancel appearances to promote her last book, “Rita & Ralph’s Rotten Day.”

“The book came out from Scholastic in early 2020 just before the world shut down,” she said. “Six-hundred tickets had been reserved for the launch at Decatur First Baptist Church, which was being hosted by Little Shop of Stories. The church had sponsored me as a refugee from Cuba, so it was going to be really special. It was also the first reading and signing I’d ever missed.”

Of course, all the schools, libraries, and bookstores closed soon after, so all her appearances went out the window. But ever the storyteller, Deedy cooked up a way to not only connect with kids but help publishing houses promote their books.

“I was the reading champion for public libraries,” she recalled. “I couldn’t go to any schools or libraries, so I held ‘Picture Book Fridays’ on Zoom all summer during 2020 and read old and new children’s books.”

Luckily for fans of the multi-award-winning writer, Deedy also found time to work on three new books.

The first is “Wombat Said Come In,” her 15th book, about an Australian wombat who opens his borough to animals seeking shelter from a fire destroying the woodland. The book, which released in October, features gorgeous illustrations from Newberry Award-winning artist Brian Lies.

“I’ve had an author crush on him for years, so I was thrilled when they told me was doing the illustrations,” Deedy said.

A voracious news reader and researcher – “I love researching more than writing” – the idea for “Wombat” came from a story she read about the devastating fires taking place in Australia.

“Once the fires began to die down, animals were observed emerging from wombat boroughs,” Deedy said. “Portly little wombats had allowed other animals to shelter in their labyrinthian boroughs. Being a refuge, I really understood the idea of someone giving you sanctuary in a time of trouble.”

Born in Havana, Cuba in 1960, Deedy and her family immigrated just after the revolution toppled the government and brought Fidel Castro to power. She was just three years old when she arrived in Decatur.

While early rave reviews of “Wombat Said Come In” have leaned into the environmental aspect of the story, Deedy said she was thinking of her own personal story as a refugee. “For me, the book is about people who open their doors in times of trouble.”

Deedy will reach into her past once again next February with “Carina Felina,” a retelling of a Cuban folktale featuring illustrations by Henry Cole.

“It’s a Shakespearean tragedy with a good ending,” Deedy laughed. “It’s about a parrot who falls in love with a cat.”

Then, in 2024, Peachtree Publishing will release “The Peanut Man,” which Deedy said is about her arrival in Georgia from Cuba. She’s also working with Georgia Power to create a book about solar energy for kids that will be out soon.

While she had to give up her nighty appearances in “Rita’s Virtual Diner,” one of the Facebook habits Deedy has kept up is the “Lost Word Society,” which is part of her author Facebook page. She posts an archaic word and encourages followers to think up a definition, etymology, story, or haiku for a “delectable” lost word to post in the comments.

Twenty years ago this month, when Atlanta Intown first profiled Deedy, she said “performing is like breathing to me. I forget myself when I’m telling stories.” Luckily, some things never change.

HOW TO HELP

For more information on Carmen, please visit https://carmenagradeedy.com/.

To learn more about her books, click here.


WE’RE STRONGER TOGETHER: A SPECIAL PROJECT

This place we call home is filled with ordinary people who accomplish extraordinary feats. Their selfless acts make this region so special – and they bring out the best in all of us. With the holidays upon us, we wanted to share their inspiring stories, celebrate their accomplishments, and offer ways that you can help.

Just as the 55 people we’re profiling can’t do it alone, nor can we. That’s why we worked closely with our partners to bring you this collection of uplifting stories.

We hope they leave you feeling inspired and ready to tackle the busy new year that lies ahead.

We hope they make you feel more connected to your community or to your neighbors.

And maybe, just maybe, they will motivate you to come up with your own small way to make a big difference in the lives of others.

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