An estimated 100 million Americans are touched by adoption. Every adoption affects not only the adoptive “triad”—birth parents, adoptees, and adoptive parents—but also extended family and close friends. The Department of Health and Human Services designated “Every Conversation Matters” as the theme for this year’s National Adoption Month, recognized each November. As books and literature can help facilitate conversations about difficult topics, we’ve selected excerpts from past Library of Congress events and research resources that you can use to facilitate discussion and reflection within your family.
In 2019, Metali Perkins spoke about her young adult novel “Forward Me Back to You” at the National Book Festival. In the book Ravi, a Bengali adoptee living with his white parents in Boston, travels back to Kolkata on a service trip. Interracial adoption is a complex issue within the adoption community. At around six minutes into her presentation, Perkins shares how interracial adoption can lead to a loss of connection with the adoptees’ culture. Perkins prioritized the voices of adoptees—including her son—in her research process. Jump to minute 17 to hear how.
Lisa Wingate presented her book “Before We Were Yours” in the 2018 festival. This novel was inspired by real events—the tragic situation of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, a black-market operation that stole wanted babies and sold them to unsuspecting families who believed they were adopting orphans. At the nine minute mark she shares the history as well as the different ways in which she connected personally with her material.
As you watch, consider these questions together:
1. Do you believe it’s necessary for fiction authors to have a personal connection to the subject that they’re writing about? Why or why not?
2. What steps can authors take if they are telling stories that are not their own lived experience?
3. What can the works above tell us about adoption practices of the past and the present?
While these works of fiction are not written by adoptees, the StoryCorps archives at the Library of Congress’s American Folklife Center includes adoptees’ unique perspectives. StoryCorps’s website contains digestible excerpts that may prompt family discussion. There are many stories about adoption—including this excerpted conversation between Bob and his daughter Aimee, an interracial adoptee from China. In another excerpt, John interviews his 13-year old son, also named John. The senior John shares his adoption journey with his partner, while asking the younger John about his own dreams of space exploration and one day starting his own family. From novels at the National Book Festival to StoryCorps recordings, the Library of Congress is full of stories about adoption.
If you are interested in telling your own family’s story about adoption, the Library has many resources to support you. I recently conducted genealogy research on an adoption in my immediate family. Although the adoption had happened fifty years ago and the story has a happy ending, I was surprised at the intensity of the emotions I was feeling. The Library’s Local History & Genealogy division has prepared a great resource about dealing with the emotional fallout of family secrets. Many of the resources listed are geared towards adult audiences, but are appropriate for older teens or parents preparing for discussions with their children.
You can also find tips and resources on preserving family stories in this activity kit and blog post. If you’d like your story to become part of the Library’s collection, the activity kit includes instructions on how to add your family to the StoryCorps collection—but the kit can be used for personal storytelling, as well.