by Maggie Shea, Writing Center Co-Coordinator
Writers are often asked, “When did you know you wanted to be a writer?” For author Dave Eggers, the answer is high school. As an awkward teen, he showed up in English class disengaged. He proposed an outlandish topic for the first assignment of the year, a persuasive speech: convince the audience to ride to the inner mantle of the earth on a bicycle. His teacher approved this whimsical topic, and the next Eggers suggested–the coming sheep apocalypse. This affirmation sparked a transformation; Dave began to work harder, connected with other creative teens, and eventually found his home in writing both in and out of class. He says, “This teacher took a boy’s rebellion and redirected it into something like art. Suddenly, the teen had a tribe and the tribe had elders. He found his people, he found his voice, he found a purpose.”
Eggers shared this story as the keynote speaker at the National Council for Teachers of English convention, held in Minneapolis last week. At the end of the story, he announced that his high school English teacher was in the audience, and he presented him with a wrapped gift: the manuscript of his next book. The audience of English teachers rose to their feet to honor Dave Eggers, his teacher, and the transformation that happened in a high school English class.
This successful author is also a writing center legend, and he played a role in our origins. When we opened in 2007, we were looking for models. We learned of a fantastic public writing center in San Francisco—826 Valencia, founded by Dave Eggers. When 826 launched in 2002, the space was zoned for retail, so Eggers opened a pirate supply store and tucked the writing center behind the retail shop. The store sells actual supplies for pirates — glass eyes, planks for pirates and parrots, an assortment of eye patches. The real action, though, is in the writing center: each year, thousands of kids come for free tutoring and whimsical writing workshops. The center enlists over 1,000 volunteers and publishes books written by kids. His model and zest for supporting young writers inspired us to design an inviting space and offer creative programming.
Lucky for the Twin Cities, there is a new 826 Center in our town: the Mid-Continent Oceanographic Institute and writing center, on University Avenue in St. Paul. So if you are looking for deep sea supplies, or if you want to engage in the purposeful work of writing with kids and teens, consider volunteering. Find out more here: http://www.moi-msp.org/about/.
Thankful for a great start to 2015-16
Like Eggers, we at the Writing Center are honored to work with student writers and fantastic volunteers.
We welcomed back 14 experienced writing coaches, along with 16 new coaches and a new Writing Center co-coordinator, Krista Hitchcock. The student coaches hit the ground running with many writing conferences, outreach to Minnetonka Middle School and Clear Springs Elementary, and writing coach training. Krista and I visited Vantage twice to present research writing workshops, and we enjoyed working 1:1 with over a hundred seniors on college essays.
In December, writing fun will extend beyond the school day. On Friday December 4th, the writing coaches are sponsoring Writer’s Studio, a night for students to step up to the mic and read words that move them, either their own or someone else’s. Wednesday, December 16th, we continue a favorite tradition: a Romeo and Juliet writing party! Yes, writing party. Ninth grade students writing their Romeo and Juliet essays can join our coaches after school for feedback and snacks. Finally, on Monday, December 21st, all students are invited to an after-school winter themed writing workshop (bonus: free hot chocolate and cookies).
We are enjoying our updated bright, flexible space, thanks to a generous grant from the Minnetonka Public Schools Foundation, the same folks who initially endowed the Writing Center. Our new chairs and tables are on wheels, allowing for quick shifts to accommodate group work, conferencing, and collaboration. The office has been repurposed as a conferencing space, with an extra table and a whiteboard wall.
Happy Thanksgiving. Perhaps you can take some time to thank those who inspire you. And as always, you are all welcome to stop by the Minnetonka High School Writing Center to talk writing, check out our new look, or just say hello.