Want to go?
• WHAT: Book Discussion with Author Lynn Powell
• WHEN: 12 & 7 p.m. March 2
• WHERE: Cedar Point Center, BGSU Firelands, 1 University Dr., Huron
• COST: Free
• INFO: 419-433-5560
Oberlin resident Lynn Powell, a published poet and creative writing teacher by trade, never expected to be a nonfiction writer. However, that’s exactly what this Tennessee native became late last year with the release of her debut effort, “Framing Innocence: A Mother’s Photographs, A Prosecutor’s Zeal and a Small Town’s Response.”
Powell, who will be at the Cedar Point Center at BGSU Firelands on March 2 to discuss the book, talked to Funcoast about the circumstances that brought her to publish her first book of nonfiction.
Funcoast: What exactly is “Framing Innocence” and how did you come about writing it?
Lynn Powell: It’s the story of a woman in Oberlin who was a devoted mother and an amateur photographer who was taking a lot of pictures of her family’s life to document it in a journalistic diary kind of way. And when her daughter was 8, she took some photographs of her in the bathtub that ended up getting flagged by the photo lab. They were sent to the police, who sent them to the prosecutor and essentially with no real investigation, she was slapped with two felony charges for creating child pornography. The book is about what happened in that family and in our community from those charges on.
FC: What was it about the mother’s story that led you to write about it?
LP: I think it’s a complex story. There are a lot of interesting characters in it that take unexpected stands and do surprising things. It raises a lot of issues with photography and parenting and the reach of the law into family life, and what is our civic duty when we think we see an injustice in our communities and then what do you do about it. I think it raises those questions and it tells a story of people sort of living into their own answers for those questions.
FC: The events took place roughly a decade ago, yet the book just came out. What took so long?
LP: Part of the delay in the book coming out was (that) her daughter was 8 when this all happened and it felt right to me to have this come out after she was a young adult, who could give her blessing or approval. She’s now 19 and a sophomore at Yale University.
It also took me a long time to get the perspective on these events that I needed in order to write a book that I think is fair and as balanced as I could make it. I was a participant in these events. I’m not coming to it with a neutral, removed journalistic attitude. The little girl was really good friends with my little boy, who was 8 years old as well at the time. I knew the mom socially, being soccer and violin moms together. Part of the book is you see me sort of struggling and asking questions and sort of coming to the place where I became very involved in supporting her. Ultimately we were able to face the prosecutor down, but the whole thing took a year and a half.
FC: How did your perspective change during the ordeal?
LP: I was subpoenaed to testify in the children’s services case and at that point I was actually shown the photographs. Once I saw the photographs, I was like, “These are so innocent. What is going on? Why is this woman being hounded and criminalized?” I think about 30 of us saw the photographs and that’s what mobilized the community. We realized this is really contrived and the charges are somebody else’s misreading of the photographs or intentional misuse of the photographs to bring a case for some other kind of reason.
FC: Finally, what do you hope people take away from reading “Framing Innocence?”
LP: A lot of people tell me this story is very compelling and they read it in one sitting or two days. That makes me happy to know that people find it a compelling story, because I think it means that I got to the real human complexity of the situation and the real
People can sort of feel the human tragedy that is possible when the government oversteps its bounds, or in this case, when they’re not putting the child’s welfare first. I hope that it will help people pay attention to when the law, when the courts come into family life. What is its goal? Is its goal to ensure the welfare of a child, or is it to impose some sort of conventional norm on everybody? Because those are very different things.
Lynn Powell comes to BGSU Firelands for a book discussion at 12 & 7 p.m. March 2 at the Cedar Point Center, 1 University Drive, Huron. Call 419-433-5560 for more information.