Hopes her book helps children
Illness behind her, Naomi Judd building new bridges to fans
By Jamie Allen
ATLANTA (CNN) -- To hear country music star Naomi Judd tell it, returning to the spotlight bordered on being a religious experience.
It was in December of last year. Judd had spent the previous eight years on sabbatical, forced into retirement by a battle with hepatitis C, a potentially chronic and deadly viral illness. In remission, she decided to return to the stage with her daughter and former singing partner, Wynonna.
The sweethearts of country music in the 1980s -- they sold over 20 million albums together -- were set to perform a song during Wynonna's concert in Las Vegas, and then announce that they would hold a reunion concert in Phoenix, Arizona, on New Year's Eve 1999.
Naomi Judd, who says she believes her faith in God and herself helped her overcome her battle with hepatitis, was standing at the side of the stage, waiting for her daughter to introduce her.
"It was very overwhelming because I'm so metaphysical. I was literally and figuratively standing in the dark, in the wings, watching Wynonna out on stage as I had been for eight years now," Judd recalls. "And when she turned and smiled at me, she mouthed the words 'Go toward the light, Mommy.'
"So I step out into the bright spotlight, and I could feel the warmth of these Vari-Lites, and in the wings it was for some reason very, very cold, almost chilling. And all of a sudden, here I am in this light, feeling her hand, standing up against her, feeling her warm body. It was like the butterfly breaking out of the cocoon again, if you will."
Naomi Judd is certainly glowing in the spotlight again. Along with the planned reunion concert, she's currently promoting a new radio program -- "Heart to Heart with Naomi Judd" -- which she hosts on Sunday nights from 8 p.m. to 12 a.m. ET.
And HarperCollins has just published her children's book, "Love Can Build a Bridge," this month. The book features illustrations by Montreal-based artist Suzanne Duranceau.
'A benevolent spirit with me'
The title of the book has had several Judd incarnations: "Love Can Build A Bridge" is also the title of a top hit single by the Judds, the 1990 album of the same name, the 1991 farewell tour by The Judds, and the 1993 autobiography by Judd, later made into a 1995 NBC mini-series.
In this latest use as title of her children's book, Judd uses the phrase to write about children helping each other, making differences through acts of kindness that, in the end, unite the world.
Judd says she felt compelled to write it.
"I have been disturbed for a long time about what we're doing with our children in this culture," says Judd, who maintains that children's literature opens doors for kids. In fact, she points out that her actress daughter, Ashley, was profoundly affected by reading at the age of 8."
Judd says she had her daughter read from "The Chronicles of Narnia," C.S. Lewis' seven-volume series of books. "And she will tell you that that's why she's an actress," Judd says. "Her imagination just began to flourish. Her creativity blossomed. She fell deeply in love with literature .... I remember her saying, 'Mommy, my book takes me places my feet can't take me.'"
Judd is hoping to have the same impact on other children.
"If you can teach a child that the fabulous world of literature is out there, it will also help keep them out of trouble," she says.
She says she's working on a second children's book called "Guardian Angels," partly based on her own experiences with these "celestial protectors," as she calls them. As a child, Judd says, she had a guardian angel watching over her.
"I had a sense that there was a benevolent spirit with me," she recalls. "And I've never been bit by a snake and never had anything happen to me and I really think it's my guardian angel. I even named her. Her name is Elizabeth. She was so real to me."
'And my motto is ...'
Judd's faith has always been strong, but it has multiplied as she battled hepatitis, which can lead to liver failure or cancer. She maintains that she received no special treatment, and now promotes "psychoneuro-immunology," a concept based on the theory that the mind plays a crucial role in overcoming illness.
In remission, Judd says she has a new perspective on life, and she's taking it to her fans.
The radio show, the brainstorm of producers with Premiere Radio Networks, is broadcast from Judd's home outside Nashville, Tennessee. It includes chances for listeners to call in and discuss whatever's on their minds.
"It's a Sunday night club that meets and I honestly have an empty chair pulled up across from me and I imagine that the caller is sitting there in the chair," Judd says. "If you've got something you're struggling with, let's talk about it, see what we can figure out. And my motto is, 'We may not have it all together, but together we can have it all.'"
It seems that Judd is aiming to have it all again. And, yes, music will once again play an important part in her life, even following the reunion concert.
"I'm writing songs right now, some new Judd grooves," she says. "We're in the planning stages of building a whole new entity."
And she's accepting the spotlight with open arms.
"I'm excited, I'm nervous, I'm scared to death, I'm anxious, I'm giddy," she says.
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