Life After A Super Successful Conference
Instead of reading non-stop, I have been teaching a graduate class on the history of writing instruction. I have been immersed in Donald Graves, Donald Murray, Janet Emig, Richard Braddock, George Hillocks, Peter Smagorinsky, Anne Haas Dyson, David Bartholomae and Peter Elbow. Thank you Peter Elbow! Peter Elbow saved my life as a young, confident, but fairly ignorant high school English teacher. In the late 1970s, I knew just enough about writing to know that I didn’t do it very well (but, boy did I love to read) and that to get better at writing you had to write. Elbow’s Writing Without Teachers (1973) introduced me to freewriting. I used his freewriting method without excuse and with innumerable modifications to fit my mood and/or lack of talent as a writing teacher.
What does Elbow have to do with YA literature?
Enter Cindy C. Bennet. She is an emerging YA author with seven published novels. Furthermore, she was one of the young students I taught far too long ago for either one of us to admit. When my current college students, both undergraduate pre-service students or graduate student in English education, ask me about the value of Elbow’s freewriting, I point to Cindy. On her “About Cindy C Bennett” page she gives me a generous shout out. Which is turn is a shout out to Peter Elbow.
“I can't remember when I started making up stories and putting them down on paper, it seems I always have. Then, in high school, I had an amazing English teacher, Mr. Bickmore, who really expanded my passion for writing. Every day as we came into class, he had a "ten-minute writing" assignment, which is exactly what it sounds like. I looked forward to that ten minutes each day like you can't believe. He taught me a love of pure, creative writing, and a love of great literature.”
I was flattered when we reconnected several years ago through facebook and she mentioned that the writing activities in my class made a difference. (Thankfully, wasting time online isn’t totally useless.) As a teacher you hope you light a fire. I am thrilled that this one is burning brightly. You understand that YA literature doesn’t exist without YA writers. Reading and writing in the English classroom is an endless circle. Can one really exist without the other? Thank you Cindy, I think I will go home and read Geek Girl again.
Steven T. Bickmore