In her first children's book, Mary Louise Clifford took on
an unusual challenge. While completing her master's in education at the
College of William and Mary, an anthropologist asked her how she would explain
the events surrounding the settlement of Jamestown if she were in one of the
tribes affected by the English intrusion. Not being a Virginian Indian, she
initially thought this would be an overwhelming task.
Of course this was not as big a challenge as one would think.
Clifford was used to working on the other side of the cultural fence. After
graduating from Cornell, she joined the U.S. Foreign Service and was assigned to
a post in Beirut. After marrying, she followed her husband, who worked for the
United Nations. During their service, she and her family had been posted among
many cultures in which they did not actively participate. Their travels took
them to Pakistan, Malaysia, Niger, Sierra Leone, Burundi, and Western Samoa.
Each station usually resulted in her writing a children's social studies book
about the region.
With this broad experience in understanding and relating to
other cultures, Clifford began writing a fictionalized, though historically
accurate, account of the early English exploration. At first, she found writing
the book very intimidating, until she got a little help from her task master.
"I laughed, believing that we didn't know that
much about the Virginia Indians. He insisted that adequate information was
available if one read between the lines in the early Spanish and English
records. In fact, he provided me with much of the research material, which
fascinated me once I got into it."
The book went through eight revisions as she tried to find
the appropriate vehicle in which to present the information. Her choice of
Cockacoeske, a figure from early Virginian history, adds to the believability of
her characters and credibility to her historical narrative.
Clifford now lives in retirement, just an eye-shot away from
the Jamestown settlement. She spends her time visiting schools and is active in
local Indian heritage festivals.