After Kitty O’Meara had lunch on a Friday in mid-March, she sat down and wrote a short prose poem about how staying home during the new coronavirus outbreak could be an opportunity to slow the pace of the world down. Then she posted it to Facebook for her 85 friends to see. Five months later, O’Meara’s poem has been read by millions, praised by Deepak Chopra, and sung by opera great Renée Fleming. Now, And the People Stayed Home is slated for publication as a picture book, with illustrations by Stefan Di Cristofaro and Paul Pereda, by Tra Publishing on November 10.
“A friend in Albuquerque said, ‘I really like this. Can I repost it?’ ” O’Meara told PW. “She sweetly put my name on it and reposted it and a few days later, my husband Phillip was scrolling and said, ‘One of my students posted your poem.’ Then a friend called the next morning and said, ‘Deepak Chopra just read your poem.’ ”
The sudden experience of seeing her poem read and praised by so many has been a whirlwind for the former middle school teacher turned chaplain. Over the years, O’Meara has written a number of manuscripts, but her disillusionment with the complexities of the publishing trade caused her to abandon attempts to find an agent. Still, she has kept writing, and with the poem’s sudden success, the threads of her life have converged around it.
In June, a class of sixth graders shared projects they made after reading the poem with O’Meara, asking her questions about writing and life. E-mails have poured in by the thousands. Musicians have asked to record the poem, including composer John Corigliano, who wrote the score for Fleming’s recording, as well as composer Roger Ames. On one recent morning, O’Meara found herself laying down tracks in Spanish on her iPhone for trumpeter Gabriel Alegria of the Afro-Peruvian Sextet.
“And the people stayed home,” the poem begins. “And they listened, and read books, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still.”
O’Meara describes the poem as a “call to creativity. The theme of my career has been, name your gifts and use them in the world by making a difference. Start by making that difference in your being.”
Seeing others take her poem and adapt it through their own modes of expression has been an affirmation of that call to creativity. “It seems to have touched a lot of artists who were also searching,” O’Meara said, referring to the disorientation many have experienced when facing the possibilities for good unleashed by a virus that has done so much harm to so many. “We have this time that is frightening and sad. It’s not without loss and grief, but it’s also a time of great invitation for us to be still and joyful together; to learn how to be better listeners; to make art, dance, create, and ready ourselves for co-creation that I hope we will enter into when this passes.”
With publication of the book, the poem will reach even more readers. Tra is backing its publication with a robust media campaign to match the accolades O’Meara has already garnered. An animated version of the book is set to be narrated by Oscar-winning actor Kate Winslet and a give-back program will benefit Save the Children and No Kid Hungry.
The outpouring of support has also prepared the author for a publishing process she used to be hesitant about pursuing. “Had I labored over the manuscript knowing it would become a children’s book, I would have been far more proprietary,” she said. “I keep going back in my heart to the fact that I’m retired. This was a Facebook post. This is all a blessing.”