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A poem about the Covid 19 pandemic posted on Facebook by a retired school teacher in Madison Wisconsin has gone viral and has led to a publishing deal in the US and UK with interest from several more countries including Korea where three publishers are looking at the title.
And the People Stayed Home is the first line in a poem by Kitty O’Meara that talks about the creativity and self-discovery that are the upside of the pandemic. It has now been read and re-posted by thousands of people around the globe, including Deepak Chopra, and various composers have even the words to music. Among those who saw the poem on social media is the Swiss-born graphic designer and author Ilona Oppenheim, founder of Tra Publishing, the house in Miami Florida which specialises in ‘beautiful, substantial, and special books’ that inspire ‘social, cultural and environmental awareness’.
Oppenheim saw the potential for a children’s book based on the poem and reached out directly. Publicist Andrea Burnett says: “We were convinced O’Meara would already have signed with another publisher, especially since she had just been featured in Oprah Magazine.” But Tra was ahead of the game and O’Meara signed with the house straightaway. Burnett adds: “Once we connected with her, it was like a match made in heaven. She loves working with Tra and Tra loves working with her. So we were very fortunate.”
And the People Stayed Home will be published as a picture book on 10 November with illustrations by Stefan Di Cristofaro and Paul Pereda. The title will be distributed in the US and UK by Simon & Schuster.
Emails have poured into the author for whom the whole experience has been a rollercoaster ride. She describes the poem as a “call to creativity. The theme of my career [as a school teacher and now a chaplain] has been, name your gifts and use them in the world by making a difference. Start by making that difference in your being”.
Founded in 2016, Tra’s name is ‘Art’ spelled backwards. The publishing company has 15 years of design excellence through Ilona Creative Studio, Oppenheim’s creative consultancy firm. She explains that the impetus for Tra was to create beautiful, substantial, and special books that readers experience physically, as opposed to digitally. “In today’s world of excess and technology, we believe that the tactile process of holding and reading a book is a mindful experience that creates a real connection to life,” she says. “We want our readers to appreciate details such as the beauty of color on paper, and we want people to share these books with their friends and family.”
Tra is not saying what its initial print-run for the title will be, but Burnett adds: “Let’s just say it’s growing and growing every day and is exceeding our expectations. Every day there’s a new order. The interest is overwhelming. Like the poem itself, this book offers optimism and hope in a very difficult time.”