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Author finds a new meaning of home

BY ISAAC HAMLET | AUGUST 29, 2013 5:00 AM

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It took Sally Ooms roughly four years to amass the 50-plus interviews recorded in Finding a Home: How Americans Prevail.

Her new book offers an eye into the world of Katrina survivors, immigrants, single parents, veterans, the homeless, and others who have grappled with dire circumstances.

Ooms will read from her book at 7 p.m. today at Prairie Lights, 15 S. Dubuque St. Admission is free.

Kathleen Johnson of Prairie Lights said the bookstore likes to host authors who have written new books on relevant current events.

“People are talking a lot about homelessness, and we were delighted when we were offered the opportunity to have [Ooms] come to read,” Johnson said.

The stories are told by Americans from across 10 states as well as the District of Columbia, all of whom challenge the idea of what a home can be.

People who lost their homes and were displaced by natural disasters helped prompt Ooms to write the book.

“I started thinking of people who were isolated and alienated from society,” she said.

This interest spurred her to begin searching for others who had faced the threat or reality of not having a place to call home.

“A lot of the time, I’d contact organizations [to find people],” she said. “One person led to another and another. It had a sort of snowball effect.”

One of the more notable elements of the book is a section covering the stories of those who grew up as foster children.

“Horrific things happened to them,” Ooms said. “Listening to them just ripped out your heart. They told their stories in a very matter-of-fact way, but as they got closer to the end, they’d have a sort of pride as well as a gratefulness for those who had helped them. They were no longer stuck.”

Elaine Mills, an artist from Kansas City, Mo., agreed after reading the book.

“The thing that moved me most was the stories from the foster kids,” she said. “Those were the stories that made my heart ache. We abandon these young people and wonder why they fail.”

Mills said the book made her realize how much she takes the concept of home for granted.

“It made me want to do more for those who don’t have homes,” she said.

Despite being primarily a fiction reader, she discovered she adored the book.

“The writing was extraordinary and gripping. [Ooms’] ability to report on these stories is remarkable. She never tried to impose her opinion,” Mills said. “It was raw and honest. This needs to be read.”

By relaying the struggles of those who have faced such conflict, Ooms hopes not only to inform readers but also give them hope.

The book is the first to be released by San Francisco’s Home Free Publishing, a publisher that plans to put out books that show Americans pressing forward despite daunting odds.

“We may be facing harder times, but that sort of thing brings people together,” Ooms said. “One of the things I found so amazing while working on this book was that there are increased connections [between people] and such power in those connections.”


“Live from Prairie Lights,” Sally Ooms, reading from her book Finding a Home: How Americans Prevail
When: 7 p.m. today
Where: Prairie Lights, 15 S. Dubuque
Admission: Free


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