What a difference a day makes

David giving brief remarks

Hi everyone,

Yesterday afternoon I spent a wonderful hour visiting with Mrs. Hill’s communication arts class at my alma mater, Jarrett Middle School, in Springfield, Missouri. What fun to return after so many years to meet some students and answer questions. I had the honor of being interviewed by the class. The kids will now write articles about the experience and a winner will be chosen to be published in the school paper. You can imagine how flattered I felt to be selected as an alum to write about. Thanks to all!

I’m happy to report that the missing muse showed up yesterday and that first elusive poem fairly jumped onto the page early on. I tweaked it later (after coming home) and am pleased with it. Now I’m set to get this book going.

Busy day today. At 10:00 I’ll do a story hour and sign books as part of a fund raiser for Springfield’s Civic Symphony. This will be another nostalgic event for me. Back in the day I played principal trombone in the Symphony and have a picture on my wall of the orchestra in 1957. I sure had more hair then!

After that I’ll attend the Springfield’s Writers’ Guild to share lunch while listening to Kim Piddington talk about agents. When she’s done, it will be my turn at 1:00 to speak. My title is, “In It for the Long Haul, from Then to Now, a Writer’s Fifty-Five Year Journey.” http://springfieldwritersguild.org

So yesterday and today will make a nice closing to the week, and I even got a poem out of it.



Places to visit during April Poetry Month

I know that many of you enjoyed my guest yesterday, Nile Stanley. There is always something new to learn and Dr. Stanley is a good teacher. Nile, thank you.

Last year during the month of April, Tricia Stohr-Hunt wrote a series entitled Poetry Makers. Each day she posted an interview with a children’s poet. By the way, not everyone might know that our friend and frequent contributor to the Word of the Month challenge is also Dr. Patricia M. Stohr-Hunt, Chair, Education Department, University of Richmond, VA.This year Tricia is continuing with her interviews and began posting the results yesterday on her blog site, which you can find at http://missrumphiuseffect.blogspot.com/search/label/poetry%20makers . Go there if you want to enjoy an entire month of poets, poems, and interviews. Thank you, Tricia, for bringing this all together for us to enjoy.

Another busy person is Greg Pincus, as in http://gottabook.blogspot.com , http://www.thehappyaccident.net , and http://twitter.com/gregpincus
Last year Greg celebrated Poetry Month by introducing a series of 30 poets, beginning with Jack Prelutsky on April 1, ending with Pat Mora, and throwing in a few “beginners” like Jane Yolen, Nikki Grimes, Janet Wong, Pat Lewis, Mary Ann Hoberman, and 23 other fine poets along the way. You can read about last year’s poets and enjoy their work at: http://gottabook.blogspot.com/2009/03/announcing-30-poets30-days.html

This year Greg is back featuring another lineup of 30 poets. He says that his goal is to create an event that gets attention outside of just committed poetry fans and offers something of value (and fun!) too. The fun began April 1 with Alice Schertle and continued on April 2 with Joseph Bruchac. As Greg says, “I hope you’ll join in the celebration.”

This just in from Ralph and Lisa in England:
Hi David,
A quick note to tell you that the response to the launch of smories.com has been nothing short of overwhelming, and we have had fantastic submissions from across the globe. We want to thank you for helping us spread the word – which of course we appreciate.

We will be announcing the 50 shortlisted stories for the March competition on the 5th of April. On the 1st of May, films of these stories will go live on the website.The April competition is now open until the end of the month. The format is slightly different this time:We will have 5 prizes:

First Prize: US$500
Second Prize: US$400
Third Prize: US$300
Fourth Prize: US$200
Fifth Prize: US$100

Stories will be restricted to 750 words.

Please take a look at the site for further info.

As ever, we welcome your feedback.

Best wishes,

– Ralph & Lisa
More Stories at Smories

Mark your calendars for one week from today, April 10, when Beth Carter will be signing books from 3:00 – 5:00 p.m. at Borders in Springfield, Missouri. I asked Beth about the book and this is what she told me.

The book is a compilation of 1,000 six-word memoirs and is entitled IT ALL CHANGED IN AN INSTANT, memoirs from authors famous and obscure. It’s sold on Amazon.com and will be at Borders and Barnes & Noble soon.The book was edited by Smith and is published by Harper. It includes memoirs from famous authors like the late Frank McCourt, Amy Tan and James Frey, as well as memoirs from Pulitzer Prize winners and several celebrities like Marlee Matlin, The Fonz, Ann Coulter, and many others). I attended the last leg of the tour in NYC a few weeks ago and got to read onstage. Quite exciting.Smith received over 200,000 submissions worldwide so I’m quite honored to have been selected. In fact, I’m the only one with two memoirs in the book, according to the editors, and one of mine is on page one!P.S. Another person in this book is celebrity Bob Barker. Contains memoirs from Dave Barry, and many celebs like Marlo Thomas, Neil Patrick Harris, Marlee Matlin, Molly Ringwald, Dr. Oz, Kenny G, Melissa Ethridge and many more.Congratulations, Beth. I hope your fingers get cramped signing on April 10!


42nd annual Children’s Literature Festival


I’ve spent the last three days in Warrensburg, Missouri at the Children’s Literature Festival. This year the event was attended by 5,300 boys and girls in grades 4 – 8 and 1,200 adults. Forty-one authors and artists spoke to four groups of kids each day on Monday and Tuesday. The first day, Sunday, we attended a luncheon and spent the afternoon sitting at tables signing books. Over the 42 years of the festival’s history about 350 authors and artists have participated in the event, which was started by English teacher Phil Sadler and librarian Ophelia Gilbert. Ophelia died last year and Phil died two months ago but their legacy lives on and is now in the capable hands of librarian Naomi Williamson and a dedicated committee.

Among the talented speakers this year were Sandy Asher, Gary Blackwood, J. B. Cheaney, Sneed Collard, III, Jan Greenberg, Vicki Grove, Mary Downing Hahn, Cheryl Harness, Patricia Hermes, Peg Kehret, Claudia Mills, Barbara Robinson, Brad Sneed, and June Rae Wood to name just a few. The entire list was stellar and kids went away with useful information about writing, signed books, and good memories.

If you have an interest in learning more about the festival, contact Naomi Williamson, director, at williamson@library.ucmo.edu . Next year’s festival is set for March 20 – 22, 2011.

By the way, since Kathy Temean created this blog for me last August, my meter tells me that as of yesterday the blog has been visited more than 20,000 times. My thanks to all!


Children’s Literature Festival of the Ozarks

Today I’ll be one of the authors who will speak to groups of children at the 29th annual Children’s Literature Festival of the Ozarks. The event is sponsored by a group of committed women (mostly librarians) and the Missourit State University English Department and is held on the campus of Missouri State University.

Other authors and artists who will appear are J. B. Cheaney, Lisa Campbell Ernst, Vicki Grove, Cheryl Harness, Veda Boyd Jones, Kate Klise, Patricia and Fredrick McKissack, Anna Myers, Brad Sneed, Michael Spradlin, June Rae Wood, Leslie Wyatt, and Judy Young.

I never prepare a formal talk for these occasions when I’ll be in front of young students; no script, no outline, no notes. I feel more comfortable when I can stand in front of the audience, talk for a while about who I am and what I do, and watch their faces to measure level of interest. Before long the first hand goes up and I know we’ve made contact. I love opportunities to visit with young people. Writers need to remain in touch with their audience and the best way to do that is to meet them in their schools and at wonderful festivals like this one.

I don’t know how you’ll spend today, but I don’t see how it can top mine.


How did you get started?

Saturday I’ll begin my hour of reading poetry at the Missouri Literary Festival by discussing how I became a poet. I’m cutting and pasting my prepared remarks below this note. If you write poetry, or think you might like to one day, maybe you’ll find some of this of interest. If you would like to share your own experiences, I hope you’ll post them or join in a conversation about how writers of any genre become writers.

As a young editor in 1963, I was given a book called A Prosody Handbook co-authored by Pulitzer Prize winning poet Karl Shapiro. I read the book twice and loved it. I promised myself that one day I would write poetry. But not yet. Then I was writing stories; reading Hemmingway and Steinbeck, Vonnegut and Friedman, Updike and Caldwell. I kept a copy of The Elements of Style on my desk. E. B. White was my inspiration, my model for elegant application of our language. Poetry could wait.

It waited twenty-five years. In 1988, I picked up A Prosody Handbook again and remembered my old promise to myself. Tentatively, I began to write poetry. I was no longer a story writer. I had evolved into a children’s author. I approached poetry with Shapiro whispering in my ear, but the poems that came out were for children.

I experimented with free verse. I experimented with verse, getting the heft of various patterns of rhythm and rhyme. Some poems turned out better than others. Some were hardly worth the energy to crumple and toss. I wrote poem after poem for a year, then a second year, then a third. By 1990 I had kept 100 poems, some of dubious quality. When I was invited to submit my poems to a publisher, I did so without high expectations.

The publisher said he liked my poetry and proposed to bring out three to five books. By fishing around in my box of poems, an editor identified certain themes such as school and family. We agreed to begin with a book of school poems, which we called Somebody Catch My Homework.

In the twenty-one years since 1988, I’ve written many poems. This year two more collections have been published, bringing the total to fifteen. Shapiro has been joined on my bookshelf by other poets — Collins, Kooser, Simic, Angelou, Missouri’s own poet laureate Walter Bargen . . . Sometimes I read the works of children’s poets, but generally I find my muse elsewhere.

A poem for children should share most of the characteristics of a poem for adults though children’s poetry tends to be more accessible and spontaneous in the reading. Kids live in the same world we do and feel the same human emotions. Writing with their level of experience in mind is not the same thing as writing down to them or winking over their heads. Finger wagging and tsk-tsking drive them off every time.

Children’s poets use words to bridge the gulf of years that separates us from our readers. Children don’t want us to become children again. They want us to be grown up and wise. But they ask us to acknowledge their right to be kids and to respect them as they are. Childhood is their world. We knock at the door and wait. They decide if we’re worthy of admittance.