Never underestimate a tall ditsy blonde.
I've had to learn that lesson two or three times over the last ten years. My teacher? Laura Lee Patterson Huttenbach.
College professors have their prejudices. One of mine has been to not take seriously young women who are tall and blonde and laugh a lot. So when Laura Lee signed up for one of my African history classes, I figured that she was there for the credits and nothing more. Turned out, she was (or became) passionate about Africa, and she was damn smart -- the kind of student who asks questions that you haven't thought of yet. Lesson one.
The first time I heard from her after she had graduated, she told me about backpacking through Africa, something I've never managed to do. In Kenya, she met an elderly tea farmer named Japhlet Thambu, who had been an important commander during the anti-colonial struggle during the 1950s. She was going to write his biography. Right... Having never written a book, having no graduate training in African history, she was going to write his biography. Well, she did it. I've read the manuscript -- the one that's now sitting on an editor's desk at a major publishing house -- and it's terrific. I'm not saying it was easy for her to do -- it's been a long road -- but it really is a terrific book. (And also an important contribution to our understanding of African history.) Lesson two.
"Running with Raven," a documentary by Mary Beth and Laura Lee. [Click on the arrow to play the video.]
Now Laura Lee is free-lancing in Miami, and she's hooked up with Mary Beth Koeth, a photographer and filmmaker, to produce Running with Raven a documentary for which she's raising funds on Kickstarter. I'm not going to describe the project to you. In the video above, Laura Lee and Mary Beth do a much better job than I could. Lesson three.
I will guarantee this... If Laura Lee's involved, it's going to get done, and it's going to be wonderful. (And funny.) I've backed it; I hope you will, too.
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Oh, yeah. Ditsy? No, it's the wrong word. Laura Lee is wacko. As anybody who listens to Car Talk knows, wacko is high praise indeed.
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13 August 2012: Laura Lee and Mary Beth are posting updates on their Kickstarter website. The most recent -- "The Sand Feels Like Needles" Running through Hurricane Irene -- is terrific. It combines an audio recording of Raven talking to Laura Lee about, well, running through Hurricane Irene, with some wonderful video footage of Raven by Mary Beth. Check it out, here.
By the way, the project is already well in its way to reaching its fund-raising goal. But it still needs your help. You can pledge, here.