Elizabeth A. M. Keel is a novelist and playwright. Her plays have been produced by the University of Houston, The Nova Arts Project, The Scriptwriters/Houston, Big Head Productions, Bootown, and MIldred’s Umbrella. Her first novel, Running Into Trouble, was published in 2010. Elizabeth also works as a teaching artist for the Alley Theatre, helping teens write short plays.
Elizabeth’s thoughts on WITS:
All the stories I’ve ever read have stayed with me. They fill my tool box. I’ve read screwy stories, and ones that hammered things home. Sometimes, a certain story was the only thing that could spackle a crack in my life.
WITS is the Home Depot of story-tools. They are aisle after aisle of improved thought, humor, creativity, and hope. My goal is to hand out wrenches and saws to the next generation of thinkers. To teach them to look at problems, and instead of panic, draw on their writing and reading to see them through.
Elizabeth was influenced by Half Magic written by Edward Eager:
“The children generally divided grown ups into four classes. There were ones like Miss Bick and Uncle Edwin… who–frankly, and cruel as it might be to say it–just weren’t good with children at all…
“Then there were ones like Miss Mamie King who–when they were with children–always seemed to want to pretend that they were children too…
“Somewhat better were the opposite ones who went around treating children as though they were as grown-up. This was flattering, but sometimes a strain to live up to.
“Last and best and rarest of all were the ones who seemed to feel that children were children and grown-ups were grown-ups… and there wasn’t any reason why they couldn’t get along perfectly well and even occasionally communicate, without changing that fact.
Mr. Smith turned out to be one of these.”
Florence Sarah Davies is currently an MFA student of Writing & Literature at Stony Brook University in New York. There, she taught for YAWP (The Young American Writers Project) as a Teaching Artist. She received her BA in English-Creative Writing at Texas A&M University. Prior to that, she worked as an editorial assistant at Callaloo: A Journal of African Diaspora Arts and Letters and as a CRLA-certified writing consultant for the Texas A&M University Writing Center. While she doesn’t have any pets, she is the proud owner of three or four stealth blogs. Her thesis is a novel-in-progress for young adults.
Florence’s thoughts on Writers in the Schools:
I hope to inspire a group of young writers to actively engage in their unique and legitimate voices. And I hope, in return, they inspire me to do the same with my own work. It is my belief that the act of writing in its organic form can create a myriad of beautiful symbiotic relationships.
One of my favorite books as a child, though I suppose the context was a bit beyond me when I first read it, was The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. I finally read its original translation, Le Petit Prince in my high school French class, but the words resonate in any language. Particularly:
Voici mon secret. Il est très simple: on ne voit bien qu’avec le cœur. L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.
Here is my secret. It is very simple: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.
photo credit to B. Wise Photography
Pamela’s thoughts on writing and working for Writers in the Schools:
I started writing when I was 14 and never stopped – I wrote for my high school and college newspapers, wrote in my internships, wrote in my undergraduate and graduate classes, and wrote for newspapers and magazines. What’s amazing about writing is there’s no limit to what you can write about. As soon as the ink dries on one story, I’ve awakened to another fascinating idea that I can’t stop thinking about and crafting a well-written story seems the only way to do it justice.
I hope the students I meet through WITS will come to share my passion for writing as a form of expressing themselves and a way to question themselves and the world around them. I want them to know that there is an incredible freedom in creative writing, without having to formulate one right answer or follow a set pattern, and that ability to think innovatively will help them reach their goals, whatever those may be.
A work that influenced Pamela from an early age:
“At the end of class, Mr. Bonner gave us our homework: to write about what our own struggles were.
So that night I spent three hours writing about my struggles. When I started, I couldn’t think of any struggles. No struggles! So that was why I wasn’t interesting.
And then I started to think of struggling with moving and figuring out where I was and why my family had sent me away. I wrote about struggling with homesickness and with figuring out who I was. On and on I went. I was full of struggles! And that made me so happy: If I was full of struggles, maybe I was interesting!”
(from Bloomability by Sharon Creech)
Sarah Jerasa comes to Houston from Bloomington, Indiana where she had been teaching at The Project School, a project based arts infused charter school. She received her BA and MAT from the University of Virginia and has been teaching writer’s workshop for over 6 years.
What Sarah hopes to accomplish as a WITS writer:
I love to learn side by side with young writers by writing daily and sharing books and experiences. As a WITS writer I look forward to finding authentic writing experiences for students to be keen observers of the world around them I want to help make an impact for students of all backgrounds and spark a passion for writing in each student I work with.
What inspired Sarah as a kid:
I wasn’t always a big fan of books or reading growing up. I had the toughest time finding stories that were compelling or interesting to read. As a young writer, I had similar challenges of finding inspiring topics to write about. But the first time I read E.L. Konigsburg’s “From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler“, something finally clicked! I was completely pulled into a book for the first time, connecting with these two ordinary siblings who decided to pull off running away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I had such a mental movie as a reader and loved how the author was able to create an adventure using just her words! One of my favorite parts of the book was how the main character, Claudia, planned each detail of their escape:
by Phil McAndrew
“Claudia loved the city because it was elegant; it was important; and busy The best place in the world to hide. She studied maps and the Tourguide book of the American Automobile Association and reviewed every field trip her class had ever taken. She made a specialized geography course for herself. There were even some
pamphlets about the museum around the house, which she quietly researched. ”
After reading this book, I too wanted to write about my real and make-believe adventures. I wanted my readers to be completely hooked on my stories and to allow them to feel and experience what my characters would go through.
Meghan Gorry is a writer of fiction and native Houstonian. She received her Bachelor’s degree from Rice University, where she studied English and Latin American literature and worked as a Writing Consultant for fellow undergraduates. She has lived in Argentina and spent the past two years studying in Paris at the Sorbonne. Meghan is happy to be back in Houston and excited about her first year working with WITS:
I am really happy to be working with WITS this year. Children have important stories to tell, and I look forward to helping them find their writing voices.
Writing that inspired Meghan as a kid:
The Witches by Roald Dahl
“She might even be your lovely school-teacher who is reading these words to you at this very moment. Look carefully at that teacher. Perhaps she is smiling at the absurdity of such a suggestion. Don’t let that put you off. It could be part of cleverness.
I am not, of course, telling you for one second that your teacher actually is a witch. All I am saying is that she might be one. It is most unlikely. But–here comes the big “but”–not impossible.”
Florence is a wife, mother, retired teacher, and writer. A graduate of Fresno State College, with a BA in Social Science, she later received Texas Lifetime Certification in Elementary Education (EC-8), Early Childhood Education, and English as a Second Language (ESL). Reading Recovery trained through the University of Houston at Clear Lake, most of Florence’s teaching experience has been with the young struggling reader and writer.
Florence on her work, and working with Writers in the Schools:
The need to make individualized books for the child with a limited repertoire, turned into a collection and became Easy-to-Make Books That Target Specific Reading Needs (PK-K-1), published by Scholastic in 2009, to support the early behaviors of reading.
I hope to meet the following objectives as a WITS Writer:
– to weave a thematic thread throughout the framework of each lesson, a thread connecting reading, writing, and the fine arts to content areas of study, an integrated approach that will be meaningful for all children
– to focus on the individual needs of the learner by teaching within what Vygotsky calls the Zone of Proximal Development, the child’s instructional level, learning what each child knows through close observations, analysis of assessments, one-on-one conversations, and personal reflections
– Donald Graves has said, “The teaching of writing demands the control of two crafts, teaching and writing. They can neither be avoided nor separated.” I hope to share that deep understanding with the students I teach.
M. Yvonne Taylor has worked as a professional writer and editor for more than 20 years and in the field of education for 13. She graduated with a degree in English from the University of Houston and earned a master’s in liberal arts from Southern Methodist University. After a few years working as a technical writer during the high-technology boom of the ‘90s, she discovered higher education, becoming assistant director of publications and minority community affairs at Rice University. She was assistant editor of the university’s flagship magazine, Sallyport, and later worked as assistant director of student activities at Reed College, an English instructor at Lone Star College, and a high-school AP English teacher.
An essayist, who occasionally uncovers a poem while crafting prose, Yvonne writes restaurant reviews, bios, web sites and blogs and is working on a book about single motherhood, which helped her attain a Gardarev artist’s residency in Boston in 2011. Her book is to be a collection of personal essays and interviews with other single mothers in her nationwide tribe. Today, an essay was published on xoJane.
Yvonne particularly enjoys teaching young people how to use the personal essay as a vehicle to explore their role in and relationship to the world around them. She’s thrilled to have the opportunity to help students share their personal stories, vision, and talent this school year with Writers in the Schools.
A book that inspired Yvonne as a child was Katy’s First Day, by Jeane Konder Soule with illustrations by Aliki: “My mom read this book to me to prepare me for the daunting first day of school. Like Katy, I was shy and nervous, but I found school to be a fun, exciting adventure. I still remember the surprise Katy’s mom left for Katy in her front pocket.”
Find out more about through Yvonne’s blog.
Layla Benitez-James was born and raised in Austin, Texas. She realized early on that she absolutely loved Texas and studied English, Spanish, and creative writing at Trinity University in San Antonio. She was lucky enough to continue her Texas tour in Houston where she is currently an MFA student in the University of Houston’s creative writing program. Layla enjoys riding her horse, Tonka, and reading and writing poetry and short fiction.
As a new WITS writer I would love to help young writers discover new authors who inspire lifelong obsessions with creative writing. I remember getting obsessed with different lines of poetry or novels and they would just play in my head over and over and eventually find their way into my own work.
I was first introduced to Edna St. Vincent Millay in seventh grade with the poem “Counting-Out Rhyme.” I loved all of its rhymes and rhythms and memorized it so I could have it with me wherever I went. I cannot read it or recite it without smiling.
Silver bark of beech, and sallow
Bark of yellow birch and yellow
Twig of willow.
Stripe of green in moosewood maple,
Colour seen in leaf of apple,
Bark of popple.
Wood of popple pale as moonbeam,
Wood of oak for yoke and barn-beam,
Wood of hornbeam.
Silver bark of beech, and hollow
Stem of elder, tall and yellow
Twig of willow.
WITS Writer Megan Applegate
A southern girl (and proud Texas Aggie) at heart, Megan earned her MFA in creative writing in 2004 and celebrated by spending the next seven years in Alaska. She currently resides in the Katy area with her Prince Charming husband and four amazing children. Life is never dull around the Applegate house. A former reporter who loves to ask a million questions, Megan writes middle grade fiction and specializes in fairy tales, folklore, and mythology… believing every story needs at least one troll!
This year, Megan’s biggest hope in the WITS program is to model the idea that imagination can take you anywhere and that you’re never too young, too old, or too anything to dream (and write!) big. Megan’s inspiration has always been Shel Silverstein, and “Crowded Tub” was the first poem she ever memorized:
There are too many kids in this tub
There are too many elbows to scrub
I just washed a behind that I’m sure wasn’t mine
There are too many kids in this tub.
New WITS Writer Chris Cander
Chris Cander is a novelist, children’s book author and freelance writer whose work has appeared in a wide variety of national publications. Since entering a writing contest in fifth grade, she’s suffered from an insatiable urge to write. Hardly a day passes that she isn’t at her desk, trying to capture the hearts and souls of imaginary people on paper.
Chris graduated from the Honors Program at the University of Houston in 1990 with a BA in French and a minor in Political Science. In 1994, she attended the Ploughshares International Fiction Writer’s Seminar at Kasteel Well, Netherlands. The following year, she attended the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference, where she was able to work alongside some of her favorite authors.
As passionate as Chris is about writing, she is even more so about reading. She can still remember certain passages from Island of the Blue Dolphins, by Scott O’Dell, which is the book that first taught her that literature was the most powerful form of transportation. “I was gripped by Karana’s brave plight, her desires and her determination,” Chris says. “As I read, I can remember being simultaneously drawn into Karana’s story—and inspired to write my own. Listen:”
“Would the four winds blow in from the four directions of the world and smother me as I made the weapons? Or, would the earth tremble, as many said, and bury me beneath its falling rocks? Or, as others said, would the sea rise over the island in a terrible flood? Would the weapons break in my hands in the moment when my life was in danger, which is what my father had said?”
“The power of story is within all of us,” Chris says. “Being able to tell it—to write it—lends a fluency to the rest of life. As a WITS teacher, is my great hope to help others discover, tell and share their stories via the written word. Chris is a member of of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, the Author’s Guild, and MENSA. Her children’s picture book, The Word Burgler (Bright Sky Press) is now available for pre-order!
WITS Writer Shane Lake
Shane Lake was born and raised in Mattapoisett, MA. He left the Bay State for Pennsylvania, where he was a student in the creative writing program at Susquehanna University. In 2012 he received an MFA in poetry from Arizona State, and he is currently a doctoral student in Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Houston. Shane’s thoughts on what he wishes to accomplish with WITS:
As a new WITS writer, I hope to help students find their individual voices, and to help them realize that they all have important stories to tell. I owe so much to the great teachers I have had in the past, and I just want to pass on what I have learned to younger generations of writers.
Excerpt from a favorite childhood writing:
When I was growing up, my favorite book was Maurice Sendak’s classic, Where The Wild Things Are. I always loved the part where Max’s room turns into a forest:
“That very night in Max’s room a forest grew, and grew—and grew until his ceiling hung with vines and the walls became the world all around.”
After reading this, I always wanted the same thing to happen to my room.
Welcome aboard Shane!
WITS writer Miah Arnold began the launch of her first published novel with a book signing at Brazos Bookstore on July 19, almost selling out of the pre-ordered books on hand. Arnold has been on a national book reading/signing tour since.
Arnold is a fiction writer from rural Utah educated at Carleton College, The New School for Social Research, and the University of Houston where she earned a PhD in creative writing and literature. Her stories appear in a number of literary magazines, including Confrontation, Painted Bride Quarterly, and the South Dakota Review. She won a Barthelme Award for nonfiction in 2006 and the Inprint/Diana P. Hobby Award for her fiction at the University of Houston in 2008.
In Sweet Land of Bigamy, the main character, Helen, falls in love with and marries a poet from India, while her first husband is away in Iraq. “The Sweet Land of Bigamy is a funny and surprisingly touching exploration of what marriage can be.” Visit Miah’s web site for more reviews, information about her book tour, and to read her latest blog posts.
Aug. 4 Reading at Auntie’s Books in Spokane, Washington
Aug. 6 Reading at Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle, Washington
Aug. 7 Reading at Broadway Books in Portland, Oregon