Joy Thomas Moore, the author of ‘The Power of Presence,’ wants readers to engage with their children
SARASOTA — Joy Thomas Moore says she isn’t a parenting guru. As a single mother who raised three children, including a son who wrote a New York Times bestseller, says it was more trial-and-error than anything.
“I didn’t want to present myself as an expert because I wasn’t,” Moore said. “I was an experimenter along the way.”
Despite her humility, the insights contained in Moore’s 2018 memoir, “The Power of Presence,” have inspired more than 800 locals to join book circles and study how to “be a voice in your child’s ear even when you’re not with them,” which is her book’s subtitle. The Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading is sponsoring the book circle effort, and Moore was the guest of honor at a book talk hosted by the campaign Thursday morning at Bookstore1Sarasota and a book circle kickoff event Thursday evening at Pine View School.
Moore’s book, which she described as “part memoir, part self-help, part inspirational … a love letter to single moms,” is an encouragement to mothers to be “lionesses” and have each other’s backs.
“When people don’t feel supported and like they have to go it alone, that’s when things happen, when choices get made that you can’t get back,” Moore said. People who are struggling “need to be part of the conversation, not the subject of a conversation.”
Beth Duda, the executive director of the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading who moderated the conversation with Moore Thursday morning, said even those without children can learn from Moore’s life.
“Everybody who reads the book, it has resonated with,” Duda said. “I say if you have ever been parented, this book will resonate with you.”
Although Moore is a Peabody Award winner, has started a consulting firm and worked for 15 years on helping disadvantaged children with the Annie E. Casey Foundation, she owes her recent celebrity — in part — to the success of her son, Wes.
Wes Moore’s bestselling 2010 autobiography, “The Other Wes Moore,” examines the question of how two young men, both named Wes Moore, could start life with so many similarities and end up in such different places. The men shared a name and upbringing — both came from fatherless homes in Baltimore, born blocks apart. One became a Rhodes Scholar, decorated combat veteran and bestselling author, while the other became a convicted murderer.
The book made Wes Moore famous, and as more and more people learned his story, he heard a common plea: People wanted his mom to write a book. Her influence in his life helped explain how Wes Moore the author escaped the fate of Wes Moore the murderer. His mom gave in to the pressure and spent the last five years compiling her own stories and those of 15 other women into “The Power of Presence.”
On Thursday Moore said she can’t take all the credit for her son’s success. She pointed to the mentors who guided her son, and she encouraged parents to seek out additional role models for their children.
“Share your kids. They will benefit,” Moore said.
Janet Allen, an 11th-grade English teacher at Venice High School, attended the morning talk. Allen said she assigns her students “The Other Wes Moore” because so many of them are at a “crossroads,” deciding what to do with their lives. She has been trying to impart lessons she learned from the book to her students, especially that “you can make mistakes and forge some sort of redemption for yourself.”
Allen said when she heard that Wes Moore’s mom would be in Sarasota, she took the day off of school to come hear some wisdom.
“I wanted to know what I could learn from someone who is such a great mom,” said Allen, who has a 2-year-old daughter. “It felt like being in a really great class.”