A Writer’s Education: My Promise to the State of Maine

Last night I went to speak at a local elementary school about The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland. It was a good event with a nice turnout, with a bunch of really eager and interested kids who don’t often get to meet authors. Since the book came out I’ve spoken at a lot of schools, of every socio-economic level from incredibly posh private school to low-income public schools.

Now, I was educated at public schools–all the way from K to graduate school. I moved around a lot and some of my schools were better than others. I went to community college. But it’s always been public school for me and if it’s not too bold I think I got a pretty awesome education there, due in large part to phenomenal teachers. Mr. Danielson, Mr. Crossman, Mrs. Lamp, Mrs. Bonneau, Mrs. Bruch, Mr. Kanna, Mr. Wrightson, Dr. Schwartz, Drs. Edwards, Dr. Clark, Dr. Ringrose, Dr. Dubois–these people made me who I am.

I believe in public school. And I also know how difficult funding, teaching, and running a school has become.

Most of the schools that I go to are pretty well off, in good districts, private schools–because those schools ask. Those schools have had authors in the past. They can afford honorariums. One principal even gave me a silver bracelet as a gift for visiting the school. And those kids get a lot out of an author visit. They learn about publishing and about how a story gets written, they get a chance to see books as living things that grown ups are passionate about, they get exposure to the wider world and to art as a wage-making life choice. Peter Beagle came to my high school when I was in 10th grade. It had a profound and lasting effect on me.

And so I came to a decision last night while talking to the 5th graders in South Portland, and to their teacher, who shook her head and talked about how expensive it was to bring authors in, even to get them to do a Skype visit. That it’s just not possible for them very often. Because Maine, a state I love and have made my home, has a severely underfunded educational system. We have a lot of struggling schools, a lot of districts who could never afford to bring in speakers and writers for their kids. We have great teachers and librarians, but the state has been hit hard by every economic downturn and rarely buoyed by upturns that bring tech money to Boston and maybe even Portland, but certainly not to the vast interior of Maine or the outlying islands.

I live here. It is a place I want to see thrive. So from here until forever, I will waive speaking fees for any K-12 school in Maine that asks me to come and talk to their students.

I will pay for my own transportation, yes, even to Eastport or Presque Isle or Matinicus Island. I will provide any incidentals or technical equipment so that the cost to the school remains zero. Scheduling concerns notwithstanding, I am simply making myself available to Maine schools for free. This does include private schools, for all I’m a public school advocate. Even schools that can afford to pay me should get a break sometimes. Use the fee to buy new books for the library or to bring in a second author.

Why just Maine? Why not extend this offer to anywhere in the US, or the world? Kids everywhere need help, don’t they? Well, the simple answer is: I live here. I plan to for a long time. I feel it is vitally necessary to invest in my community, and for kids to see someone who lives in the same world that they do making something beautiful and putting it into the world. To see someone living and working in Maine becoming a New York Times bestseller with a book she wrote in Maine. More practically, I can’t afford to fly anywhere, anytime. This is what I can do, what I can give back to the place that has accepted me and given me so much joy and inspiration.

Maybe no one will take me up on this. Maybe they will. But I feel it is the right thing to do. Any teacher or principal can contact me through my website or my publicist at Feiwel and Friends.

I get asked a lot when I knew I was going to be a writer when I grew up. And the answer is not until I was already writing professionally. When I was a kid, up through college, I wanted to be a teacher. I wanted to get people excited about the things I was excited about , and do what all those amazing teachers and professors I mentioned (and many more unnamed) had done for me.

I went another way, and I’m not a teacher. But I hope I can give a little help to those wonderful, dedicated women and men who do the good work every day.

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