I had the privilege of watching author James Howe present to Nauset Regional Middle School today– the whole school. (I have an inside advantage: my wife Bonnie is a guidance counselor there!) He spoke at two different schools today, and will give an evening presentation, too.
I was taking in Jim’s presentation on three levels:
- Enjoying the ethnographic research of being in a middle school– the drastic differences between 6th, 7th, and 8th graders… the ways of dressing, the height differentials, the hair.
- As a writer, it was delightful to hear Jim Howe talking about his writing process, the way he develops character, and his motivations to write.
- As someone who does school presentations and writing workshops, watching the ease and charm with which Jim presented was inspiring.
**Jim read a few pages from THE MISFITS first, to set the scene for his conversation. Many of the students had read the book and were familiar with the others in the series.
**Jim showed slides– but not too many. His commentary was relaxed, conversational. He showed some pictures of his own childhood, pet pictures (a big hit), photos of his process (spreading out his manuscript pages on a large table, the three-ring binder approach, and more). He shared a picture of himself and his daughter when she was at middle school age, and said that her struggles in middle school inspired THE MISFITS. He demonstrated a real empathy for how difficult middle school is– something that must be so powerful for his young audience to hear!
**Jim talked openly and easily about being gay, about being married to a woman earlier in his life, and why it took him so long to come out. It was disarming, simple, direct, and related to his books. His books are responsible for the creation of No Name Calling Day across the country, and he spoke about being very proud of that. I kept thinking about the kids in the audience who were out, or coming out– how powerful to have this author and role model up there, being himself in such a natural and comfortable way!
**Jim spoke about “interviewing” one of the characters in his books in order to get to know to the character more deeply. He showed pages of his interview notes and how they ended up as backstory in the novel TOTALLY JOE. He finished with a Q&A.
Finally some kid notes:
**The middle schoolers weren’t playing it too cool. “There he is!” a boy stage-whispered as he entered the auditorium. Another boy literally jumped up and down with excitement as he had his books signed by Jim.
**Blue hair. Purple hair. Green hair.
**Wedge high-top sneakers are apparently a thing.
**Best middle-schooler’s shirt, in my estimation: hand-lettered with a Sharpie, “May the Odds Be Ever in Your Favor.”
All in all, a perfect experience of a great author visit!