Interview by Suzanne Ordas Curry
Dorothy Papadakos is setting out to make a difference. And she is doing it by reaching children. Her novel, The Kingdom of Winter, has not only become beloved by those children (and adults) that are reading it but has also become invaluable as a teaching tool in several districts, and with good reason. The book is all about our planet, our physical world and it's changes and what we must be doing to preserve it, It's quite the heavy and overwhelming subject but through her writing and plot devices she manages to make it engaging and adventurous. Read on to find out more about this book and what other projects she is taking on. And oh.. find out about just how much she admires Greta Thunberg.
Heroic knights, starry dogs... tell me what The Kingdom of Winter is about.
Dorothy Papadakos: The book is about science-savvy kids who enter a realm never revealed to humans until now: the Kingdoms of the Seasons. This incredible climate science adventure with heroic knight Sir Windham the North Wind takes them into wild & wonderful nature on land, in sea and sky and into our galaxy where the Great 88 Constellations live — lead powerfully by Orion and his starry dogs Canis Major & Canis Minor.
They all have one goal: stop the Fire Witch (global warming) and cool down Earth with the return of Winter on Winter Solstice. If they succeed, the other three Kingdoms — Spring, Summer & Autumn — can get back into their 3-month rhythms. Earth's astonishing built-in mechanisms, at work 24/7 in our soil, water and atmosphere, re-awaken to keep the planet in balance. But … the Fire Witch was just a minion of the true villain who emerges in book #2, The Kingdom of Spring, with a verrrry different climate plan for Earth … a Fifth Season.
What inspired you to write the book?
Dorothy Papadakos: Seeing two things up close: the effects of climate change in my global travels + collective misunderstanding of the mechanics & science of what climate change is/has been throughout geological history. I thought, Why not write climate science as an exciting cool adventure from Nature’s point of view? I’d use authentic science with scientist colleagues advising me; show how Mother Earth brilliantly balances herself, if we’d only let her; work as an activist through my art to get us all to stop pumping & dumping toxic stuff into our water, soil and air.
So you took from real stories of climate change?
Dorothy Papadakos: It was North Carolina farmers and California vintners telling me their stories about changing growing seasons and crops failing that got me going. Then visiting over decades once cold, wet countries like England who are now producing fine wines because their climate has gotten so warm & dry (their Bacchus Wine is fantastic, BTW!)
Above all, my years performing with The Paul Winter Consort since 1984, whose music is about Earth, nature, animal song & indigenous world music, broadened and shaped my world view on our fragile
blue marble floating alone in space.
Superheroes in Soil? What did you draw from to create the characters?
Dorothy Papadakos: Earth’s surreal variety of species who do amaaaaaazing stuff. Suzanne, I’m talking AMAAAAZING species who balance, clean & enrich our Soil, Water and Air 24/7 365. If everyone understood who’s in just one handful of Soil, they’d stop treating Soil like dirt. I have to say, Hydroxyl Radicals, Alcanivorax and Tardigrades are my coolest new friends — talk about Superheroes! I mean, they are mind blowing.
Well, ok, Sir Knightrogen and the Constellations are, too. Well actually, Sir Windham the North Wind, my writing partner, supercedes them all. The Wind is an extraordinary being. His World Wind family is outrageous. Yes, Windham can be stormy, moody — and he’s a terrible flirt! Ask anyone with fur, hair or feathers. I confess learning Wind, the world’s oldest language, has been hard work. The quartet, 4 books for 4 seasons, are Sir Windham’s memoirs of how savvy kids around the world save Earth from human destruction which has accelerated climate change. Windham dictates, I transcribe it into English. There are a lot of Wind words in the book and I always keep a window open so I can hear him … he’s got a lot to say. To each of us.
Your book is already teaching children, our future. What else do you have planned for them?
Dorothy Papadakos: To my astonishment, less than a year after it was published in Jan 2017, the first book, The Kingdom of Winter, was turned into a middle school Science & Literature Curriculum by 30 STEM teachers in Raleigh, NC through an education grant! WOW. Who could've imagined that? Now I hear from educators teaching the book & curriculum in the USA, UK and South Africa. It’s been endorsed by KDP, the International Honor Society of Educators, and in Feb 2020 was put in the State of Indiana’s new “Climate Change Tool Kit” for educators statewide!
Our goal is to have the books and the brilliant curricula in all 50 states' climate science education initiatives. I hear New Jersey wants to be the first state teaching climate science K-12 by Sept 2021. Sir Windham wants to be there! Each book focuses on a different climate science adventure: Winter = Fresh Water, Spring = Soil, Summer = Oceans & Greenhouse Gases, Autumn = Trees. All books are heavily researched with my scientist collaborators so the science is real.
Speaking of "the children are our future, what do you think of Greta?
Dorothy Papadakos: GO GIRL. THANK YOU. KEEP IT UP. YOU ROCK. SIR WINDHAM & I WANT TO MEET YOU!!!
Why is it important for children and especially girls become involved in climate change activism?
Dorothy Papadakos: Children are the inheritors of the mess this and past generations have created. I can tell you from my classroom visits, middle school students are awake and tuned in to what they’re inheriting. What's shocking to see is their genuine fear for their future.
When you’re a kid you should be able to trust that the adults know what they’re doing in your home, your community, your nation and the world. The Paris Climate Agreement is a huge step in showing most people are finally understanding the gravity of the situation. I think it’s critical for both boys and girls to be involved at their local level in environmental activism because it’s not just about garbage, dirty air or water in your neighborhood, it’s infertility, poisoned food supply and extreme weather, all of which threaten survival of all plants and animals, including humans. Like every vote matters in an election, every single act of conservation adds up. My husband and I pick up our electric cars next week.
Is there one thing that people - or children - can do that will have the greatest affect in stopping this devastation to our planet, and hence our humanity?
Dorothy Papadakos: YES. If every single one of us recycles, drives electric cars, uses cloth, not plastic bags, eats less meat, conserves water, it all would add up. But there’s also the larger political pressure + action that makes the broad strokes, the sweeping change. Greta shows us the incredible power in youth rising up against global cultural, corporate & governmental policies which are usually short sighted and greed driven.
But the sweeping changes are also very complex … like stopping the horrifying deforestation of the Amazon, Earth’s lungs, for meat production can only really be achieved if creative sustainable options are given to these ranchers who need to feed their families. The Amazon rainforest is a treasure trove of medicinal & nutritional wonders and plant & animal life we’ve barely begun to understand. If THAT were to become the financial incentive, before it’s all gone, imagine the possibilities. If the Amazon is gone, I do not want to imagine how Earth will fight back. I’ve heard some scientists say, “As humans fight the coronavirus, so Earth will fight the Human virus."
You are in creative overdrive, writing musicals, books and being a professional musician. In fact, kudos for you for being the first female organist at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in NYC! When did your creativity begin?
Dorothy Papadakos: I started piano lessons at age 9, guitar & organ lessons age 15, all in Reno, Nevada. My creative juice from the get go was improvisation. My first two teachers were brilliant nightclub jazz players and they taught me everything they knew about chords, the Great American Songbook and jazz, my first harmonic vocabulary.
Then came World Music (I grew up with my dad’s Greek music in the house) all of which which blew my musical mind because most of it is improv. Then I was accepted at The Juilliard School for classical organ repertoire. While at Juilliard, St. John the Divine’s Cathedral Organist, the legendary Paul Halley, my mentor & predecessor, took me under his wing as his Organ Scholar then Asst. Organist and improvisation protégé — I had never heard anything like his music. Another new world opened: glorious French Romantic organ improvisation.
Paul also brought me on board because in addition to playing Bach et al, I could read Brazilian Samba charts at our Paul Winter concerts and improvise Sinatra, Broadway & pop tunes on the Cathedral pipe organ for special events & services. Becoming the Cathedral’s first woman Cathedral Organist at age 29 was a thrilling, 24/7 high pressure whirlwind job — like drinking from a musical firehose!! I loved every minute as Cathedral Organist for 13 years. To me the Aeolian-Skinner Great Organ in St. John the Divine's 8-second acoustic is the most sublime instrument-room marriage on the planet.
What words of wisdom do you have for children and young people wishing to pursue their dreams in the arts?
Dorothy Papadakos: My words of wisdom to young artists are GO FOR IT. NEVER GIVE UP. You become GREAT at what you LOVE. I've had so many family, friends, even teachers try to talk me out of my music career … and it’s been an even steeper climb as an author and playwright! But no one knows what you’re capable of but YOU. My favorite quote is by Amelia Earhart: Never interrupt someone doing something you said couldn’t be done. You can achieve anything you're willing to put your blood, sweat and tears into achieving.
"You become great at what you love."
- Dorothy Papadakos
What projects are you working on now, and what do you have in mind for the future?
Dorothy Papadakos: Just as Covid hit, we were about to record more trax from my musical UNCORK’D (a super fun musical about wine — Get Your Bacchus On! — which was a record breaking smash hit in our regional production in NC, former title POMPEII). So when Broadway went dark this past Spring, my writing partner Dr. Louis Buffalino & I dove into our scripted TV series, a cool new spin on generations of immigrants in America that’s never been told before.
I also can’t wait to get back to performing my silent horror & comedy films. Covid cancelled my entire 2020 concert season — Oh how I miss improvising on huge pipe organs around the world to these classic silent films. The shows sell out, people come in costume and just love the 1920’s classics. Here’s a link to my shows: https://www.dorothypapadakos.com/silent_films.html
Find Dorothy's Books Here:
The curriculum is here:
Dorothy's Top Reads
Rilke’s Letters To A Young Poet
The God of Small Things, Dickens & Dostoyevsky
… and The Kingdom of Winterby Sir Windham the North Wind
Dorothy's Top Movies
(OHH! Suzanne, an impossible question! I will give you 3 categories)
Laugh: Young Frankenstein, Bridesmaids, Moulin Rouge, Mrs. Henderson Presents, Mamma Mia, Hamilton
Cry: Hidden Figures, Dead Poets’ Society, Miss Potter, Gravity, Shakespeare in Love,
The Bishop’s Wife, Dr. Zhivago
Accompany: 1922 Nosferatu, 1929 Phantom of the Opera, 1920 Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, 1923 Hunchback, 1925 Battleship Potemkin, Charlie Chaplin's Mutual two-reelers
Shows Dorothy has been Binging on
I May Destroy You, Queen’s Gambit, The Crown, Chernobyl, Endeavour, Derry Girls, Bodyguard, Dear White People, The Durrels in Corfu
Favorite restaurants - anywhere.
Tamarind Kitchen (Indian) in the West End, London; Weppler Brasserie (oysters OMG!) in Place de Clichy, Paris; Rasika (Indian) Washington DC; Robert, atop Museum of Arts & Design, Columbus Circle NYC; Avra Greek Restaurant, Eastside NYC; La Masseria Italian & Molyvos Greek, Theatre District NYC; Roko Italian, Wilmington NC