We had so many fabulous entries to our Dorothea Lange creative writing contest that we’ve chosen 30 winners instead of 10. Here are the winning texts from Première LVA and Terminale pupils, in alphabetical order except where we’ve regrouped texts about a single photo.
Aminata, M. Benain’s class, Lycée Gustave Monod, Enghien-les-Bains (95)
Alabama, 1938, an old ex-slave tells her painful memories to her grandchildren.
I remember, one day, when I was your age, I was sitting in the middle of the cotton fields and I was looking at the sky. This day I prayed, prayed for my mama who was killing herself in the fields. She was losing her energy every day so we would do less work. She was a very strong women, I admired her. I prayed for my family and my friends, I hoped that my children and their children would not have to relive the same pain as me.
We were beaten, we were insulted. For me it was usual, I had always lived this way. It is true that I never found it normal when I saw little girls of my age of another skin color playing with dolls, when I had to pick fruit. But it was like that at the tim,e I could not say anything, I was too young and I did not have the chance to go to school to defend myself properly. And it’s true that we were not really listening.
On the other hand, I remember that the owner’s wife was very nice with us, we were three girls and that was her dream, to have a girl, but she never had the chance to be pregnant. Also she was very afraid of her husband, she feared that he would beat her, so she was always hiding when she was giving us anything. I often saw her write, I wondered what she could tell in this little book and I wanted to learn to read and write to be able to do the same. I often imagined little stories in my head when I was working in the fields. It allowed me to not exhaust myself mentally and that gave me a smile.
That’s all for today, you have to sleep now, it’s getting late. I’ll tell you the rest of my story tomorrow.
Amyrose, Ms Perne’s TL class, Lycée Aristide Bergès, Seyssinet-Pariset (38)
Cornelius remained as quiet as the grave. He hadn’t spoken since we had left Elizabeth at the farm. It’d been the first time I had ever seen him burst into tears. The little two-year-old Pearl didn’t understand a single thing, but I could tell she had felt something was wrong. As her fragile body had been leaning against her mother‘s chest all day long, she had closed her eyes, falling asleep without realizing that this would be the last time she would ever see her father again.
The first 10 miles have been tough I knew. Cornelius didn’t want to talk about it, but the weight of his pain had dug deep wrinkles on his pale skin, ordinarily burnt by the sun. He look 10 years older than he was.
As for myself, as absurd as it seemed, I felt guilty for not suffering, and for not being able to cry. Fairland had been our home since we were born. We all grew up there, as a family, and now, every single one of us had been forced to move, with the hope that one day, our prayers would be heard.
Cornelius and I, weakened by fatigue, were determined to walk until dawn. But this was only getting started. A whole new day, enlightened by a whole new sun, was going to begin, and we didn’t have the slightest idea of what to expect.
Anna, Mme Hubert’s TL class, Lycée François 1er, Fontainebleau (77)
The Last Feather
They used to say that the grace, the delicacy of her moves, accompanied sunrise and guided the Big Dipper. Jannie was destined for a splendiferous career in ballet dancing, to become a prima ballerina, when her family lost almost everything. The Great Depression was invading the country like the plague. Here she was, stretching between two poles; yearning for the life in which being eager to learn with not be experienced as a frustration.
So, her parents kept the phonograph to admire their daughter, lulled by the sweet rhythm of the Tango while she was picking peas, helping her parents instead of fulfilling her dreams.
But, on a beautiful autumn night, illuminated by dragonflies fluttering above a swamp, her parents noticed that her gums had started to bleed profusely as well as her nose.
They were overwhelmed and aware of the fact that their innocent child was affected by a disease, the one so recognizable, which had already killed two members of their family: leukemia.
As the clock was ticking and they could not get enough money to cure her, they sold the last family belongings, took three tickets to New York City and offered their daughter her last wish: to see more ballet. That evening, Swan Lake amazed her to say the least. Nevertheless, a few weeks later, as light as a feather, the little ballerina flew away to the realm of the dead.
Emma, Mme Hinard’s Terminale class, Lycée Charles de Gaulle, Poissy (78)
Such beautiful girls with such beautiful hearts. Such a shame the tedious life of poverty they are forced to endure…
So much misery and starvation, an era when one is easily left with no work, no food, no shelter, no hope.
The life of those girls in old and shabby clothes, was far from being a well-provided one, but on that day, no matter how deeply impoverished they were, they were the wealthiest girls in the country in terms of happiness, proudly embracing and showing off their most treasured achievement.
It all began when a dog was carelessly wandering around. Filled with curiosity, it jumped in an old empty well. Soon enough, regretting this decision, it started barking in pain. The owner soon arrived, worried and helpless, petrified to do anything.
Luckily Betty and Gloria, arrived as well, lured by the groans of the poor trapped animal. It is with no hesitation that they went in to help, with one lowering the bucket and the other leaning in to retrieve the dog, almost falling in by doing so. The owner, a rich woman seemingly not affected by the big economic crisis was so grateful she thanked the two friends with an appetizing melon she had at home.
They were so thrilled and excited as they would never on a daily basis have the occasion to eat such tasty and appealing food, and proud at their young age to be able to share this with their family.
Here are two of our favourite texts inspired by Lange’s iconic photo “Migrant Mother”.
Lana, Mrs Robinson’s 1er LVA class, Lycée Leonardo De Vinci, St Michel sur Orge (91)
There is one woman, alone with her seven young children. She lost everything that she used to have, her home, her routine, her work and her long-time husband.
Her husband chose the second option, the easy way, suicide. He couldn’t handle the pressure of The Great Depression. His wife said that he didn’t kill himself and that it was losing his job which actually killed him. He loved his work more than anything, more than his own family, he never realized what he always had right in front of him and how lucky he was to still have people who loved him even after everything that was happening. So, he preferred to die rather than to face the reality, he left his wife handle seven children on her own, children who feel forsaken and unloved.
Their mother is constantly worried, she is just thirty-two and her face is already full of wrinkles, she’s always worried about the Dust Bowl, about having a roof over their heads, about what her children will eat, how to keep them safe and if they ever be able to make it through and survive to all of this. Sometimes, she just closes her eyes and remembers how things were before, the smell of the delicious dishes, the warmth of a dry and woollen sheet and how sheltered and fortunate they were before with their simple lives.
Now, the whole family is just feeling exhausted all the time and cold, and they are always cold, hopeless and starving.
The children don’t understand everything but they can see the look on the face of their mother, they see the worry in her eyes and the scare on her fake smiles. Their mom, who used to be so full of joy and hope, never cracked a real smile since the start of the crisis. At least, they are all still together and they still have each other.
Maxime, Mme Boussaguet’s Terminale class, Lycée Dhuoda, Nîmes (30)
I’m going to tell you the story of a normal family who used to live in Arkansas in a small town called Little Rock. The family was composed of David the father, Sofia the mother, two youngsters, Billy and Robert, and the smallest, Michael. The lived a normal life like any normal family. David was a firefighter, Sophia was his housewife taking care of Michael. The two young boys went to the town school like normal children. They imagined they’d continue to live their lives normally every day from now on, or so they thought.
One day, the weather was very bad, lots of clouds, raining all over the place, school was cancelled due to the weather preventing any movement. “How unlucky!” said Sophia to herself as she had planned to come over to her neighbor’s place: Mary, a very charming woman. But things escalated quickly, way too quickly… In a mere few minutes you wouldn’t have been able to see your feet anymore if you had put them into the water. Sophia was panicking since David hadn’t come back home. They were asked to evacuate the area and they did. It continued for two days and two nights, sweeping away everything in sight, even the houses. Nothing was left, nothing…
Sophia later discovered her husband died in the disaster trying to help someone. She fell on her knees crying and begging to wake up from this bad dream which, unfortunately, wasn’t one. With nothing left, except two or three pieces of cloth, she went back to square one, leaving her life’s work being swept away by the water.
Laurna, Mme Pechmalbec’s 1ère LVA class, Lycée Moulin Joli, La Possession, La Réunion
Diary of Dorothea Lange
Day 2 at a California shipyard.
Today is 14 October 1943, I want to know more about the workers and their working conditions.
I see a few men but there are mostly women, blacks and whites, they are mixed and working together. It feels like women have replaced men in the workforce, as if men didn’t exist any more. I don’t know what these women think about this situation and how the few men who are here react to the presence of women.
I’ve met an African-American woman who accepted to be photographed and to answer my questions. Her name is Destiny Rose.
“I found this job, so I took it since I want women and men to be on an equal footing, and I wish women were recognised as workers too,” she said with a smile.
At this moment I took a picture. I remember her saying she was married to a soldier. She wishes her husband weren’t so far away from her and everyday, when she wakes up for work, she thinks about him and hopes he’ll come back from WWII soon and safe. As for her, she knows building war ships is better than being in the battlefield, she is reassured to be here.
She talks to me as if nothing was happening in the world. I like that, because after all, she keeps her hopes high about her husband, her country and the promise of a better life.
Lisa Biechy, Mr Cormary’s TES class, Lycée Gustave Monod, Enghien-les-Bain (95)
Unfortunately we can’t publish this photo. It is one of the Public Defender series, an image of a defendant talking with his defender in a small room.
Thomas Hastings is a family man who is in jail for a crime he didn’t commit. His lawyer Bill Montgomery just told him that his request for release has been rejected. He’s going to spend the rest of his life because he trusted bad people and he was trapped.
With time, he has become friends with his lawyer, he is a real moral support for Thomas.
– I’m really sorry Thomas, I know that you had hope. I have the feeling that it’s my fault. I won’t give up. I’m going to get you out of here.
– Don’t blame yourself, I made mistakes and now I’m paying for it.
– Which mistakes? You just trusted bad people, this could happened to anyone, even a judge or a jury.
– I know but look I trust you, you are going to find something, you are the best that I know, I will stay here, see my family when she will come and everything is gonna be alright I will get out of here thanks to you.
-Oh Thomas, I’m sorry but they won’t let your kids and your wife come.
– (very disappointed) Are you kidding?
– I’m sorry…
– But why, what did I do?
– You are considered as very dangerous, the judge was pretty specific: no family, no friends, only the law-enforcement community are allowed to see you.
–(screaming) Oh my God, this is so unfair I’m innocent, I didn’t kill anyone, I’m such an idiot, I’m such an idiot
– Try to stay focussed and calm, I will try to find something.
– (very upset) Don’t just try, find something I can’t handle it without them you know that!
– I will I will. I have to go, I will come back as soon as I can. I’m sorry again
– Bill, you are my only chance, don’t let me down.
Sometimes, justice is very unfair. Thomas Hastings will not come out. He will pay for his naivety for the rest of his life. Don’t trust anyone. Two very different texts inspired by “The Road West, New Mexico”.
You can see the photo here.
Maximilien, Mrs Griveau’s TL class, Lycée Bossuet, Meaux (77)
A straight line of asphalt drawing through emptiness, fading away into the distant boundaries of earth. A track of civilization in the wilderness. Like myself, plenty of people had followed this path, seeking repentance for others’ sins in a sort of pilgrimage to sacred grounds. Since the fall of the U.S.A. centuries ago in a disaster believed to be of divine origin, governments all over the world was threatened by the same fate. The myth said they have been punished by the gods for their vanity, and ordered the government of Mexico to send a teenager every month to this road through the barrens of New Mexico. And I have been chosen for this task.
I have been walking for a while now, and as the sun was setting far away like rust, I couldn’t see the gate and the border anymore. The border was meant to give protection from the dreadful dangers, the unknown. But I was never afraid, even when surrounded by the void of the wasteland.
The route became suddenly distorted as the moonlight and mountains were watching. An emotion I had never experienced before engulfed me. Vapors and shadows dance around me. I passed out, and before I even knew, I woke up in a twisted Eden.
Syrine, Mme Leger’s TES class, Lycée François 1er, Fontainebleau (77)
This is my final farewell to you
Now that you’ve gone away,
And that our love for one another is gone with you.
Only my sentiments remain.
I didn’t mean to get trapped in this unrequited love.
I didn’t mean to love you just to be left with pain.
This is my goodbye road.
After you leave me with those scars,
I hope I’ll never get to walk on an endless, lonely road like mine again.
I won’t cry, it’s hard enough.
I won’t speak, my eyes are seeing enough.
Whenever I close my eyes,
I can see us together.
Sun is beaming through our window,
And when this dream comes to an end,
I’m trapped again,
On this endless road
With those gray skies above me.
I can’t fulfill those steps without you.
I’m forever trapped on this lonely road,
My beloved, how can I love you again now that our love has fallen apart?
My dear love, who should I trust now that you’ve left me?
Flowers, trees, plants,
They all wither on this endless road,
And the wind scatters them.
But when spring comes again,
And the tears drench them,
Everything will come back to life.
Not like our love, not like you.
And even if you’re now gone,
I won’t stop glimpsing your ghostly figure.
Perrine, Mrs Lancaster’s 1ère LVA class, Lycée du Bugey, Belley (01)
My life is like the rain, sad and monotonous. Maybe I made a mistake, I don’t know. The only thing I’m sure of is that I want to leave. Leave to go to another city, build another life. My suitcases are ready, my brother, my only family, is with me. In fact I already have all I need, but there is one problem: money. I have no job, I can’t feed my brother who is sick. I want to drive, as fast as I can. Forget everything, find a new home, A new city. No, I watch my house for the last time, the blue windows and the cat just behind the flowers, next to the door.
“Hey, we have to go,” says Chuck my brother.
I look at him and I see his beautiful hair and innocent smile. He doesn’t understand the urgency of the situation. He thinks w we’re leaving on holiday. He is happy, excited, so I smile too. “You’re right it’s time.”
Yes, it’s time. Time to go. Goodbye New York, goodbye the cat, goodbye to the blue windows. Hello new life, new job, new me. I’m ready. And I hope the California will be better than New York. Yes it’s time.
Perrine, Mme Lehuède-Torpy’s TL class, Lycée Notre-Dame de Sion, Paris
My name is Jane Carter. I’m an Irish refugee and my story happened in 1932. I arrived in the United States ten years ago with my family. As the stock market imploded in 1929, my husband, Charles and I were jobless and homeless. My little boy next to me, Henry is 6 years old and he is very brave. He is pretty young and I’m sorry for him that he has to live this entire difficult situation. This period is to be called the Great Depression. Indeed, as tractors were replacing farmers, we were made redundant and so we became poor. That’s why we were here in New Mexico now. We are on the road desperately searching for the Route 66. Charles is asking some dispossessed famers where they are going. Henry is helping me to find this famous Route on this map. I’m a little lost and we have to hurry because dust storms are coming through the country and I don’t want to be buried under dust. I’m explaining to Henry that we have to reach California to meet with his grandparents. They lived in Oklahoma two years ago. I know that it is the only way to find new opportunities such as jobs and a home. It’s a rough situation but we have to face it in order to have a more suitable life.
Rachel, Mrs Florent’s TES class, Lycée Jeanne D’Albret, St Germain en Laye (78)
Despair, and maybe regrets. That’s what I feel now when I hold my little baby boy Christopher. I should be happy, relieved, full of love for him, but I can’t. My beloved husband, David, left me, to start a new life – with somebody better than me, he said – but most importantly, far from the economic crisis and the poverty, which certainly destroyed our relationship, and this, a couple of days before I knew I was pregnant for the fourth time… I still wear my wedding ring as I am sure I won’t be able to love someone the way I loved him…
I have an important decision to make, and tears come to my eyes as I write these words but I have to give you up for adoption my little Chris. Be sure that I will always love you, but you deserve the most joyful, wealthy and peaceful life, the one I obviously can’t give you, since I have to raise your three little sisters, in addition in a country, the United States, which is hideous for black people to live in (and it is getting worse in these days…). You know, when I imagine you in the future I see you good-looking, prosperous, and incredibly kind.
I hope that you will forgive me some day, and I wish you love.
Toward Los Angeles, California, 1937
Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California, 1936
Shipyard Worker, Richmond California, vers 1943
Cars on the Road, 1936. Library of Congress
All: © The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California. Gift of Paul S. Taylor.
All other images: Library of Congress
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