Tuesday I had the pleasure and the privilege of attending theannual BEA conference in New York City. BEA? You ask. It is not a traditional teacher conference, although many librarians attend, it is primarily for booksellers-the big and the small, even the part-time weekend warriors like me. To sum it up, AMAZING! The Javits Center was packed with publishers, authors, and buyers. I listened to renowned author Barbara Kingsolver award the PENN/Bellwether prize, lunched with the winners of the Independent Booksellers’ Awards, and finished the day meeting one of my students’ favorite dystopian authors, Ally Condie.
It was a knockdown, flat-out celebration of the written word with book signings, author talks, and an avalanche of books.
At lunch, a welcome rest, Téa Obreht, author of National Book Award finalist and bestselling novel, The Tiger’s Wife, thanked us for ‘inhabiting her world’. This phrase rang true as she described the process of writing as ‘inhabiting’ a world alone, a world of her own creation. A world often filled with awkward moments, created by the people who remain on the ‘outside’. Like the time, she confided, when she was struggling with a particular pivotal piece of dialogue between two of her characters as she entered her building’s elevator. She didn’t realize until her elevator companion started inching into the corner that she was working through her characters’ conversation out loud. “I’m writing a book” she assured him before he, still eyeing her nervously, darted out the elevator door.
This story got me thinking about how we too, as teachers, inhabit our own world. We too, are alone at the start of each year until we entice our students across the threshold. Misunderstood by those who have not yet come inside. We wrestle everyday, like a writer at their keyboard. How do we best engage our audience? How do we craft our work to entice and lure them into inhabiting and sharing our world, to care about what other ideas coexist in this space and feel compelled to stay or welcome to return? Teaching, like writing, is something only done in isolation on the surface—it takes an array of members participating to breath life into the work. This became very apparent as authors stood to thank editors, publishers, booksellers, and readers— and struck another parallel—as teachers also create a product of collaboration with parents, families, communities, and schools. Shouldn’t we too be appreciative of all the parts that bring inhabitants to our ‘world’?
Thanks Téa, John Green, Ann Patchett, et al for sharing your passion, for creating worlds, inviting me in, and working so hard to keep me there, wanting to stay and grieving the loss as I turned the last page. As the year draws to a close, I hope my students feel they have inhabited my classroom, in body and mind, throughout the year and that we have lived our story together.