Saturday, October 13, 2012

Listenting to Gary Schmidt

At the University of Tennessee we have this wonderful entity called the Center for Children's and Young Adult Literature. They are pretty awesome. One of the awesome things they do is bring authors and illustrators to our area and then schools are able to share them for the few days they are here. This time also involves a lecture given at UT. This fall's guest was Gary D. Schmidt the absolutely fabulous author of many amazing books including Okay for Now, The Wednesday Wars, and Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy. I was able to go to his talk this past Tuesday and let me tell you, I could have listened to him all night. He speaks as well as he writes. Which is saying something. I didn't bring a notepad with me and so took notes on a pack of post-its that was in my purse. I used a lot of post its.

 Schmidt started out by telling us a story about his uncle to demonstrate how a young minds internalize things. He moved on to tell a story of Naaman from the Bible (2 Kings 5) to illustrate how the world is complex and that, while it would be nice if all situations had a clear right or wrong solution, we don't live in that sort of world. He told the story well. He then went on to discuss how in his books he tries to show some rite of passage from childhood to adulthood. We don't have a key moment in our culture when this happens and some never actually manage it. He blames this largely on the adolescent world we live in. So in his books he tries to explore how that passage takes place, when a person stops looking at himself and looks outward to see how he can change the world. He also stressed that its not important that they succeed, as Turner doesn't in Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, just that they make the decision to try. (He is often asked why that story had to  have the ending it did and his response is, "Because I'm not writing a Hallmark card.")

Some Other Interesting Tidbits:
  • He originally wrote Lizzie a non-fiction and burnt it. He then wrote it from Lizzie's perspective and declared it awful. ("There are issues with an old fart white guy writing from the perspective of an African American young girl.")
  • The first scene of The Wednesday Wars he wrote was the scene of the race when Mrs. Baker tells Hollling to "pass those boys". He wrote it on the inside of a Milky Way wrapper in the car.
  • The premise of The Wednesday Wars actually happened to him. He was the only student left in his class every Wednesday afternoon with a teacher named Mrs. Baker who made him clean everything and then read Shakespeare. He made her nicer in the book. 
  • With Holling he wanted to tell the story of what it was like growing up with a war that was never ending. He pointed out that today's middle school students have also lived with such a war. We've been at war as long as they've been alive-we've just gotten better at hiding it from them.
  • In the Q&A he said that he identifies most with Doug's character. As a first grader he was put in the lowest reading group and by the time he was in 4th grade couldn't make it through a Dr. Seuss book, but another teacher that year took interest in him and taught him how. 
  • He has the most hilarious descriptions and thoughts on Shakespeare ever. He should really write a compendium.
The point he started with and the point he ended with was this: Stories are powerful and the stories we read when we are young are the most powerful. They never leave us. "Give a kid a book that connects and you have created a forever memory." YES! THAT IS WHY I DO WHAT I DO. 


  1. (sigh) can't help but think how AWESOME it would be to have a picture of yours truly WITH the man instead of that same old, same old :-). NEXT time we're at an author visit together, feel free to remind me of my regrets on the lack of photo for this one!!! Glad you wrote it up--it's going to be a while unfortunately for me.... Maybe I'll just link back to yours :-)

  2. I am envious. This sounds like it was a fabulous presentation. Oh, there are so many authors I would love to hear speak and Gary Schmidt is one of them.