A week before I returned to our house in Portugal, USPS brought me the box I’d been eagerly awaiting for weeks. Not a large box, but big enough to hold several Advance Reading Copies of my book– Expecting the World —a memoir of the thirty years I worked for the World Bank. I was especially eager to see how my cover turned out, whether I was still happy with the choice I’d made.
This cover wouldn’t be the one I first imagined. Nor the second. Or even the third. It had taken me more than a month to decide what cover to use. And no doubt that I was overthinking it by half. But since I was sure that most of us do judge a book by its cover, I wanted to get mine right. (Or as right as I could make it.)
My first idea was a cover bright with colorful flags from around the world to celebrate the many countries to which I’d traveled over the years. But on reflection, such a picture felt far too generic — not to mention overwhelming–to really do the job. Unlike many of my colleagues at the World Bank, I didn’t work with countries writ large – Ministers of Finance, Economy or Planning. I worked with village women–in groups or individually–to help them manage their micro-enterprises to increase their incomes. All those flags might give my reader the mistaken impression that I was a big-time World Banker and not do justice to the women who mattered so much to me.
My second idea was a photo of one of these hardworking women– the young Senegalese book binder at her press or the Shipibo potter sitting cross-legged on the ground, shaping a vessel from wet clay. My friend photographer Larry Merrill had taken many compelling pictures of African, Peruvian and Bhutanese craftswomen with whom I’d worked as part of our Artisan as Entrepreneur program. But as my husband Terry pointed out such a cover might mislead my reader in another way. A reader might assume that my book would read like a World Bank report about women in development. Not at all the case. Expecting the World is a memoir, a book about my work with women, yes, but also about my life in and around that work. And even if this were not the case, how could I ever choose just one photo of one woman in one country to stand in for so many?
About the same time that I completed my fourth and last re-write of the book, my sister, artist Katie Dell Kaufman, completed “Passages” an encaustic collage that she was planning to include as one of several masterful works in an upcoming art exhibition. I loved the way the colors and shapes in her collage worked together, the depth that the layers of paint and wax made possible. I wanted the piece myself and convinced her to let me jump to the head of the line of people I knew would also want it. I was thrilled to add this work to the art we were collecting for our house in Portugal. This was when I came up with my third idea for a cover.
I could use Katie’s new work as the cover of my new book. All the back and forth, coming and going, circles and squares, paths from one world to another could tell the story of my work over the years.
But when I looked at this beautiful collage again, I realized the palette was wrong for my cover. Katie’s collage of deep blue, white, turquoise and aqua are luminous and cool. My stories from the Sahara and the Kalahari, the river banks of the Ucayali are the colors of sand and straw. At the same time, the village women in these stories couldn’t have been more colorful – their boubous and sarongs a wild mélange of orange, green, red, gold. Such vibrant women in such dusty places.
So, rather than one of Larry’s compelling photos or Katie’s beautiful collage, I chose stripes – seven strips alternating between (the women’s) brightly patterned cloth and the (villages’) dusty tan, a canvas for the title in black letters : EXPECTING THE WORLD – Learning from Women in Left-Out Places.
I made my choice. I hope I got it right.