The Magic of Author Visits by Teresa Bunner
Magic. Something we find in Harry Potter books or movies about dragons. But we all know magic doesn’t exist in the “real world.” Or does it? I just wrapped up my third summer running a writing institute for high school students. I’ve come to believe magic does exist and that it happens when you bring authors and student writers together.
I’m a good writing teacher, but the authors who visit with us and write with us are a vital part of our institute. They cast a magic I cannot. You see, my students are students of color and I am a white teacher. Part of the goal of our time together is to expose the students to authors who look like them, whose writings have shaped and are shaping our literary canon, but are often left out of the curriculum, and to help the students see that they have a story, a voice to share with the world.
And so the authors who come to work with my students are all authors of colors. Their work with my students helps them see a connection to themselves as writers. There is much talk right now about the need for diverse books. To be in a room with students who are African-American, Latina/o and Asian-American and watch the enchantment as they read writing by authors whose stories mirror theirs, to watch as they see characters on a cover who look like them and to see the wonder as some of those authors appear before them is transformative. It’s deep magic, powerful and metamorphic.
This summer we had five “magicians” visit us. CJ Suitt and Cameron from Sacrificial Poets mesmerized students with their spoken word and inspired students to share their own pieces. Kelly Starling-Lyons visited for a second year and helped students take the strands of their own histories and weave them into story gold. Mitali Perkins visited us via Skype to help us wave our word wands to use humor in ways that help our readers laugh with us, not at us, when writing about race and culture.
Our final magician visited us the next to last day of our three weeks. At the end of last summer’s institute, Kelli, an 11th grader, said, “Ms. B, do you take requests for authors to visit? Do you think Sharon Flake would come visit with us?” “I’ll ask,” I assured Kelli. I’ll never forget the look on Kelli’s face when I told her Sharon would be joining us July 9th.
The morning came to introduce Sharon to the students. When we walked in to the room, the excitement was electric. The students had a welcome message for Sharon on the board and were awestruck at her arrival. Sharon was warm and kind and walked around to introduce herself to each student, already entrancing each young person in the room. She talked about her journey to becoming a writer and answered questions about the life of a writer.
Then Sharon took out her magic wand (writing activities) beguiling even the most reluctant writers. She introduced an activity and allowed the writers quiet time to write. She made sure every one of the 20 students in that room shared. The words of the students and the images they evoked were amazing! She allowed students to give each other feedback and then Sharon gave her feedback to each writer. She shared positives about each piece, asked questions and gave them things to think about to move their piece forward. And each time she spoke, she cast a spell on the student writer. Each one sat a little straighter and a glow emanated from them. They believed. They believed they could be writers. They believed in what they had written. They were transformed by the spell cast when a real writer, a writer who looks like them, showed them how to enchant others with their words.
Each summer I end the three weeks exhausted, but a believer. A believer in the enchantment of words, the spirit of young people and the power when authors touch the lives of our student writers. Magic.
(You can find pictures and pieces from the students’ work at our SWI website: http://brmaswi3.weebly.com/
Want to know how you to start your own Summer Writing Institute? Contact Teresa at TLbunner@gmail.com.)
Teresa Bunner has been an elementary, middle and high school teacher and reading specialist. She’s been a member of the Nerdy Book Club for as long as she can remember. When she’s not busy sharing books with the kids she works with, she enjoys sharing them with the 4 boys in her house who are avid readers as well. You can find more musings about education on her blog: https://readingteach.wordpress.com/