Mahon About Town
PEN/Faulkner Award Winner and Critically Acclaimed Author Benjamin Alire Saenz Inspires Nantucket Students
PEN/Faulkner Award winner and critically acclaimed author Benjamin Alire Saenz visited our island as part of the Nantucket Book Foundation's work with our Nantucket students and our community.
The continuing work--and mission--of the Foundation under which the Nantucket Book Festival falls, is to enlarge our world through the power of words, Work that is made possible with the support of generous grants from the Community Foundation for Nantucket and the Nantucket Golf Club. In a new partnership with the Dreamland, Tuesday night brought a conversation with Ben and Nantucket's own, Rob Cocuzzo, editor of N Magazine and author of Tracking the Wild Coomba.
Looking out at the audience at the Dreamland, Ben said, "I believe in the power of words. Your words have the power to break someone's heart. But your words also have the power to heal someone's heart." A message that was continued the next morning in the visits to three 9th grade English classes.
Hewing to the PEN/Faulkner Writers In Schools program, every student in the class had been given the gift of the book being studied, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. A curriculum guide had been created and given to High School English teacher, Elizabeth Reinemo, to serve as a guide in teaching the book. The book was read, studied, discussed, then followed by the visit to the classroom by the author.
As Liz Reinemo reflected, "Aristotle and Dante allowed students to look inside themselves and engage in honest discussions about identity, and what it means to be a teenager. Using this book as a vehicle to have these conversations inside the classroom was an amazing opportunity. Students rose to the challenge and explored topics that were real to them. Having to meet the author who created two influential characters in their lives was such a fantastic reward."
Ms. Reinemo and her classes took Aristotle and Dante into their own universe, creating the most extraordinary projects that made real the world created in the book.
Great writing and great books take us on a journey to places known and unknown. Lines and lives blur; there are no boundaries within the pages of a book. Within that world, we are not alone. No one has chartered the human heart, with its shared humanity more than Benjamin Alire Saenz. His writing distills larger themes of belonging and displacement and identity and pulls them into our understanding of the commonality of what it is to be human. What it is to love.
In response to one student's question as to what advice he might give them, he answered: "Learn to forgive yourself. Learn to forgive others. Own your mistakes. Don't live in them. It makes you human. Say you're sorry and mean it. Learn to have fun. Learn to breathe. Teach yourself to love and to be kind." And pausing, he left the students with this last thought: "The world needs to be changed and you can change it. It is up to you to change the world. Step up to the plate."
Morowa Yejidé: Ocean of Imagination
April showers brought windswept writer, Morowa Yejidé to our island shores, her first trip to Nantucket and her virgin journey on Cape Air (bit of a bumpy ride!) -- a journey made possible by the Nantucket Book Festival in partnership with the Nantucket High School, and our NBF PEN/Faulkner Writers in Schools program, now made possible with the help of the Community Foundation for Nantucket and Nantucket Golf Club.
Morowa Yejidé's book, Time of the Locust, is an odyssey into the world of an extraordinary autistic boy, the mother who has given all of herself to raising him, and the reach of his imprisoned and isolated father. A realm explored and ultimately redeemed by hope and by love.
Yejidé's book was the work of contemporary literature studied in the classroom of English teacher, Liz Reinemo. PEN/Faulkner supplied the curriculum guide, and the book was given as a gift to all students. It was read, studied and discussed, which culminated with this classroom visit. Ms. Reinemo created a dynamic classroom exploration of this powerful novel. "We tracked various topics throughout the novel, including racial tension, autism, solitary confinement, communication, isolation, hope, the power of love and dualities. We also looked at the writer's craft and the genre of magical realism. We also celebrated World Autism Day and 'lit it up BLUE', in addition to hearing first-hand accounts from families who live with autism in their lives." Additionally, Ms. Reinemo noted that "we also had a former corrections officer come in to class and speak about 'life on the inside'."
This school visit is part of the on-going work of the Nantucket Book Festival -- work that we believe is vital to the collective efforts that all of us bring to our island students. Principal John Buckey, who observed the first of three classes, believes that "these author visits are invaluable to our students as they seek to find their voices as young writers. Reading a text and then having the opportunity to interact with the author opens a door to insights in the narrative that we would otherwise never have." English teacher, Anne Phaneuf agrees, "There is nothing more powerful for students than hearing from authors themselves about how stories come to life. These visits demonstrate for students the importance of personal voice and the value of a well-crafted piece of writing."
Spearheading so much of our joint efforts is Maggie Sullivan, Middle and High School Librarian, "The authors that have come to Nantucket under the sponsorship of the Nantucket Book Foundation have clearly addressed the needs of our increasingly diverse student population. Their stories have painted for readers the difficulty in adjusting to new and challenging surroundings, while also embracing the wonderful array of perspectives and abilities that weave the fabric of our humanity."
Perhaps no one was more struck by the impactful nature of this school visit than the author herself. Morowa was left with this impression: "The imaginative spirit of Nantucket is as passionate and humbling as the ocean that surrounds it. Nowhere else is there such a mixture of intellect, art, and discovery--all floating in a suspension of vision, effort, and hope."
PEN/Faulkner Writers in Schools: Julie Berry
A contagion swept through the Nantucket school system last week, but it was no virus. It was PEN/Faulkner Writers in Schools author, Julie Berry, in town as part of the Nantucket Book Festival's outreach to our island's young people. "Julie Berry's talent as a writer and excitement about stories was contagious," said Cyrus Peirce Middle School and High School Librarian, Maggie Sullivan. "Students were engaged by Julie's presentation and received clear, concise, writing tips for creating their own stories."
Julie Berry and her book, "All The Truth That's In Me
In her assembly-style presentation, Ms. Berry created a construct for conceiving plot: Imagine body-snatching aliens land on the roof of the Cyrus Pierce Middle School...now they have entered the school cafeteria looking for the teachers. Looking out at the sea of expectant faces she asked, "And do you say, NO, NOT OUR TEACHERS! Or do you point them towards the Teachers Lounge?" "THE TEACHERS LOUNGE!", roared the auditorium full of students. And question by question, bit by bit, before they knew it, the groups of students, in two different programs, from both Middle and Elementary School, which included the entire island's 3rd, 4th and 5th graders, had created a story and discovered that stories can be built not only by what they know, but by what they can imagine, with the questions they ask.
A critically acclaimed author of books that range from elementary and middle school readers with Second Hand Charm, The Rat Brain Fiasco, and The Amaranth Enchantment, to young adult high school titles, with her ground breaking novel, All the Truth That's In Me, Julie Berry is an author whose books and message can reach across age levels. Shortlisted for a 2014 Carnegie Medal in the UK; nominated for an Edgar Award for young adult literature, an Australian Inky Award, and named a YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults Top Ten Title, All the Truth That's In Me, is a stunning work of originality and beauty. This book was the perfect fit for our Nantucket High School program; a "serendipitous choice", as English Department Head, Stacey Edzwald, observed of the "small, enthusiastic group of young women, spellbound by Ms. Berry's descriptions of growing up and her writing process."
This is the PEN/Faulkner model: books are given to the students, a curriculum guide is distributed to the teachers, the books are discussed and studied, and the program culminates with the author visit to the classroom. In this smaller setting, an intimacy is established and children feel free to ask questions and to understand, from the actual author standing in front of them, just what it is to have written this book. Hewing to that model, The Nantucket Book Festival distributed hundreds of books as a gift to our island students. As John Buckey, Principal of Nantucket High School commented, "I find it extremely gratifying to have the PEN/Faulkner program bring professional writers into our school. The opportunity it provides for our students to interact with the author in a small group environment is an invaluable experience that supports and encourages our students as both readers and writers. "
We're in our second year of bringing the PEN/Faulkner Writers in Schools outreach to Nantucket, developed through the PEN/Faulkner Foundation, based in Washington, DC. Currently running programs in urban public high schools throughout Washington, DC and Baltimore, soon expanding into Philadelphia, Nantucket is its own "away off-shore" program.
The Nantucket Book Festival is committed to broadening the world through words for our islands' children and our work continues with our second annual Nantucket Book Festival Young Writer Award. Circling the theme of containment, the question posed for our essay contest examines the imprint of growing up or living on Nantucket. How does living on an island, with its geographical boundaries, impact you? Constructed like the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, one winner and four finalists will be selected. Each winning student will be announced during Opening Night of Book Festival and be awarded their scholarship prize and will take the stage amongst some of our nation's leading writers. All essays submitted will also be published so that every student will have the opportunity to have found their voice on a more public stage. This contest is open to all Nantucket High School students. Submissions are accepted through Thursday, April 17 through the high school website.
The author visit, like the Young Writer Award, fosters our students' developing talents for writing, and more importantly, their confidence. "Develop an imagination," Julie Berry told our students. "Inside of you are ideas of value that you cannot imagine. You may have the idea for the poem, song, business, app, play, film, or story that the world is waiting for."