This morning when I checked my email, two messages caught my eye at once. A friend had sent me an email headed “Howard Zinn died!” And Zinn’s agent had forwarded me a link to this article in the New York Times.
It was through the agent that I had a connection with Howard Zinn. A few years ago, Zinn wanted to create a version of his best-known book, A People’s History of the United States, for young people to read. He was busy with new writing projects, though, and he didn’t have experience writing for kids.
Zinn’s agent suggested that I might be able and willing to adapt the book for young adults. I was honored and happy to accept. With Zinn’s book as my starting-point, I cut out some material to make the text shorter–this was the hardest part of my job. Then I added some explanations and definitions to make things clearer to younger readers. Howard Zinn read all of my changes, answered my questions, and supported me every step of the way.
The result was A Young People’s History of the United States, published in one- and two-volume, hardcover and paperback formats by 7 Stories Press. Like Zinn’s original book, it tells the story of American history from the “other side”–not in the words and deeds of explorers and generals and presidents, but in the voices and experiences of Native Americans, women, indentured workers, laborers, and activists.
Zinn believed that only by accepting all of our history, the shameful parts as well as the successes, can we know who we are as a nation. He also believed in the boundless power of ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary things, and to bring about change. Through working with him, I shared both his outrage at injustice and his hope that people will build a better world.
His death is sad news and a loss to the world, but his was truly a life well lived.