Slice of Life Story Challenge, Day 22 #sol19

“Are there any questions?” she asked.  Craning my neck from the back, I glanced around the crowded gymnasium.  A few young hands shot up into the air, some perhaps more eager than others.  Visiting author Jo Knowles, award winner and writer of ten published books, had just finished giving her prepared talk to our students. Quietly, she now surveyed her audience of seventh and eighth graders from the front of the gym.  Who had a question?

Jo had told her story, an unlikely story of a girl who had struggled in school but who had also been somehow able to find her voice as a writer.  I had listened raptly from the back, as she wove in small bits of her life that had inspired her across her formative writing years– the strength of her parents’ relationship, the encouragement of a college professor, the happenstance brush with Robert Cormier.  She also described the pain of witnessing her brother, one of her heroes, being tormented as a young man for being gay.  Among other reasons, this dark part of her past had inspired her to write about, as she described, “hard things.”

Pointing to a young woman in the fifth row, Jo stepped forward, moving in closer.  “Yes?” she smiled.  “Did you have a question?”

“Why do you write about ‘hard things’?” came the voice of the inquisitive seventh grader.

I watched as Jo gathered herself, looking down at the gymnasium floor as she did so.  Having read a few of her books, I knew the answer to this question would be important.  My blue Pilot pen and notebook in hand, I leaned in slightly to hear her answer.  “Why do I write about hard things?” she repeated.  “Hmm… I write about hard things because bad things happen to kids.  These things are happening.  Good things are happening, too…but if we don’t tell everyone’s stories, stories of these bad things happening…” She paused for a beat.  “Not writing about them won’t make them not happen.  Telling these stories is how we can begin to make change.  It’s how we can build empathy.  In fact, not telling these stories– I would argue– actually makes things worse. “  Jo went on to describe being a frequent member of the banned books club.  She told stories of librarians who “liked the book, but… well, just couldn’t put it in the school library because… well, the community wouldn’t want kids reading about those sorts of things.”

I left school that day inspired by this writer, this writer who has the courage to write about ‘hard things.’

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Author: Lanny Ball

For more than 23 years, Lanny has taught, coached, presented, staff developed, and consulted within the exciting and enigmatic world of literacy. With unyielding passion and belief in the possibility of workshop teaching, Lanny has worked to support students, teachers, and school administrators around the country in outgrowing themselves as both writers and readers. Working first as a classroom teacher, then as a coach and TCRWP Staff Developer, Lanny is now a literacy and reading consultant in Northwestern Connecticut. Outside of literacy, he enjoys raising his three ambitious young daughters with his wife, and playing the piano. Find him on this blog, as well as on Twitter @LannyBall. Lanny is also a co-author of a blog dedicated to supporting teachers and coaches that maintain classroom writing workshops, twowritingteachers.org.

10 thoughts on “Slice of Life Story Challenge, Day 22 #sol19”

  1. I wasn’t sure where you were heading with the prepared speech. I was worried even with the girl’s question as it could have been addressed in the speech, but then I was so relieved with Jo’s words. Sounds like it was a good visit with important messages!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Well, thank you for taking notes! You got me intrigued. An author I haven´t read, so I just downloaded “See you at Harry´s” the only book from this author available at my digital public library. I really like to read authors that write about “hard things” for the very same reasons that Jo Knowles said.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I loved the response to the seventh grader’s question. It is important to acknowledge and to read and write about “hard things.”
    Librarians who self censor do an injustice to their patrons. But we need to help them fight the good fight. It’s hard because there seem to be so many good fights!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I am so glad you shared this and so glad she answered the question the way she did, with honesty. Hard things happen to all of us. Those things help mold us and possibly make us who we are as we get older. I will remember this when we are talking about those things in class and when we are writing.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This librarian is grateful for authors who write about hard things, grateful to work in a district that champions the place those books hold on our shelves. We can’t begin to change and heal until those hard things are brought into the light–and doing so within the safe space of books is a start.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. cmargocs left me a comment saying our posts were similar. (Mine about meeting Jason Reynolds at TC on Sat). I appreciate how you capture the tension as this honest answer to a real question is asked. So important to talk and discuss the hard things, as Jason explained to me, too! Authors are such ROCK STARS!!!

    Liked by 1 person

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