Sunday, March 16, 2008

CNU's Writer's Conference

If you have a copy of The Joy of Children's Literature, you'll notice that my son, Derek, is in the "author" picture with me. There are many reasons for including him in the picture (read the acknowledgement section), but there is something else that I would like for you to know about him: he is writing a young adult novel (and I must say, unobjectively, it is brilliant!) So, when I found out that a writer's conference was to be held this past weekend at Christopher Newport University, I signed us up. It was a day I'll always remember!


The keynote speaker was Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda, Poet Laureate of Virginia. The topic of her presentation was revision and research in the writing of poetry. She eloquently and persuasively discussed the importance of revision and research in the poetry of greats such as Sylvia Plath and William Yeats, as well as her own poetry. She showed the audience examples of original works by Plath and Yeats in which they had crossed out, scribbled across, and rewrote words, lines, and entire phrases of some of their most well known poems. For many, revision is the hardest part of writing, and I think seeing a visual of some of the greatest poems in literature marked up provided a powerful example of why revision is so important.

An example of revision I use in my classes that is relevant to children is the book Hooray for Diffendoofer Day! by Theodor "Dr. Seuss" Geisel. The book is based on verses and sketches created by Seuss before his death in 1991, and was expanded to book length and completed by writer Jack Prelutsky and illustrator Lane Smith for publication in 1998. In the back of the book is the entire original manuscript in which you can see where Seuss marked out, rewrote, scribbled on the sides, etc. Children can see that even the great Dr. Seuss put lots of work into writing his books!


After the keynote, we attended two sessions by Sara Lewis Holmes, who wrote Letters from Rapunzel (HarperCollins, 2007). I recently found her wonderful blog, Read, Write, Believe, so I was excited about attending her sessions -- I was not disappointed (and neither was Derek). Let me say, before I forget, that you must visit her blog and read her poem (which she read to us) 39 Reasons to Write--brilliant!

Her first session was titled, "Growing a Novel: How to Keep Ideas, Manuscripts and Hopes Alive" and the second session was titled, "Would Somebody Please Tell Me What to Say?" I could write on and on about the content of these sessions, how engaging and meaningful they were for me and my son, but what clearly came through about Sara Holmes is that she is a passionate reader who cares deeply about writing. It was obvious how much time and how much of herself she put into preparing these presentations and I know that everyone who attended walked away with new insight into the process of writing, if not into themselves.

After leaving the conference yesterday, my son came home and started reading one of the books Sara suggested (Looking for Alaska by John Green) and today he is writing. Thank you, Sara!

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