Category Archives: events

American Indian Cultural Festival

A lot of the work of being an author is the dull and dry sitting at a desk (even when that desk is in a tree) and writing day after day. But every now and then an event comes along that you know you’ll remember forever. The American Indian Cultural Festival in The Dalles last week was just such a moment. It was a celebration of literature and poetry and music and dance. It involved a group of books that I admire and authors I feel honored to share the stage with: Elizabeth Woody, Oregon’s Poet Laureate, Craig Lesley, acclaimed author of contemporary western literature, and National Book Award winning writer Sherman Alexie.

I was lucky enough to spend time with an adult book club and share a poetry reading with some truly outstanding young poets. I got to hear the culture club from Lyle school in Washington give their very first performance in the Sahaptian language with traditional dancing. They were simply amazing. I’m so proud of all they’ve accomplished in a year. I meet with some avid writers in the North Oregon Juvenal Detention Facility, and best of all I got to dance with the Taholah drum group from the Quinault Reservation. My favorite part of the whole thing was the series of classrooms who came to hear me and the Taholah drum group speak. They had all kinds of great questions about the culture and art of the Quinault and Makah and the practice of tribal whaling. It was the sort of mind-opening conversation that cultural festivals are made for. I am very grateful to Julian Peterson and Marko Black and all the tribal dancers from Taholah who shared their songs and prayers and dances so generously, and who invited the students to dance and drum along so whole-heartedly. I know those are memories the students will always cherish.

Thank you to Jim Tindale the librarian at The Dalles School District who made this all happen in conjunction with the great booksellers at Oregon’s oldest bookstore Klindt’s who sold all the books and hosted many of the events. Tina Ontiveros is the manager at Klindt’s and Joaquin Perez is the owner. The fundraising for this event was truly a community affair with donations coming from area schools and libraries, educational foundations, local congregations, Oregon’s poet laureate program, the Wasco County Cultural Trust, the Ford Foundation, the Meyer Memorial Trust, and the Confederated Tribes of the Grande Ronde. It’s inspiring to see so many community members come together in support of literacy and the cultural understanding of our local American Indian communities. Thank you!

American Indian Cultural Festival

I am beyond thrilled to be included in the American Indian Cultural Festival held this week in The Dalles. I will be appearing alongside Sherman Alexie, Elizabeth Woody, the poet laureate of Oregon, and adult writer, Craig Leslie. We will be doing a poetry reading which is free and open to the public on Thursday April 13th at 4:00 in The Dalles Middle School Commons. There will be live music and a drum and dance group from the Quinault Nation. Each of the authors will read a new poem. If you happen to be in the area, I’d love to see you there.

Klindt’s bookstore will host a book signing party at 7:00 that same evening. Klindt’s has the distinction of being the oldest bookstore in the state. I am particularly grateful to the owners of the bookstore who purchased hundreds of copies of my book, Written in Stone to give away to the students I will visit the day following these events. I am also very grateful to Jim Tindale, Librarian extraordinaire who did the lion’s share of the work in coordinating this festival which includes coordinating readings and author visits in 7 locations over the course of two days. He also spearheaded all the fundraising that made this celebration possible.

In addition to the poetry event I will be attending a talk by Sherman Alexie at The Dalles High School. Hundreds of children will come in on busses from all over the county to hear him read from Thunder Boy Jr.  which was illustrated by the amazing Yuyi Morales. This event will include drummers and dancers from the Quinault nation.

A Writer’s Panel at the Garden Home Library

First of all I must say that I love my local library for the safe harbor it has been for all four of my children for their entire childhoods. What a blessing to have a place I can encourage my kids to go on their bikes without me. A thousand thanks to the librarians who have staffed the Garden Home Branch over the years.

Snoopy-WriterNext Tuesday the Adult Summer Reading Program will have a writer’s panel and I’m so pleased to be appearing with one of my long-time writing friends Heather Vogel Frederick and a new writing friend Cindy Brown. It should be lots of fun. Here’s a link to the full information. It’s also on my calendar. See you in a week!

Summer Plans

Looking forward to warmer days and working in my treehouse this summer. I’ll be taking a workshop at Fishtrap again this summer. Last year I worked with Gary Ferguson, the author of The Carry Home, about w0926081231riting nature based non-fiction. It was a really refreshing break in my routine to spend some time thinking about what makes non-fiction work. This year I’m going to take a workshop from Erika Wurth and I’m looking forward to working on a group of adult short stories I’ve been fiddling around with over the last year or so. Fishtrap is held in one of the most beautiful spots on earth, Wallowa Lake, and it’s staffed but the least stuffy literary crowd you’ve ever met. I’ve grown as a writer and felt more connected to writers in my region every time I’ve masthead2014gone. If you’re looking for something different in a summer workshop, Fishtrap is still taking applications. They’ve got great stuff for young writers too so if you’re not the only writer in the family this makes a great family vacation.

imagesI’m also looking forward to doing a little teaching in Portland at a brand new young writers workshop headed up by Kari Nelsestuen, a passionate advocate for young writers. I’ll be guest teaching a session for both the younger and older students. It’s called PDX Young Writers Camp and I’d love to send you to the website to sign up but I believe it’s already full. If you have a young writer who’d be interested in future writers camps send me note via the contact button here and I’ll get you on Kari Nelsestuen’s email list for next summer.

I’ll also be teaching two brand new interactive workshops at the Willamette Writers Conference August 7th to 9th.  They are on plotting and revising novel length fiction. Participants will come away with a deeper understanding of plotting long form fiction, ideas for how to strengthen setting, theme and voice, and an interactive outline for their own work in progress. Con-header-20151Willamette Writers always puts on a terrific conference with lots of options no matter what kind of writer you are, and they always bring in a huge range of producers, agents, and editors to take pitches.

My personal goal is to finish up the Heart of a Shepherd screenplay in May so that I’ll have all summer to delve into new work. My book that’s coming out in January is one I’ve been work on bit by bit for more than 4 years. It actually morphed into two completely different books, so it’s been a very long time since I’ve started brand new work.images-1 IMG_0834But now I’m debating between a story about a young Irish harper and the famine era migration of unaccompanied children from Ireland,  and a story told from the point of a view of a wolf but also about migration.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about which story sounds like more fun. How do you make up your mind about which story to write next?

 

Returning Librarians to my School District

A few years ago my children’s school district faced a catastrophic shortfall in their budget. The cuts that followed were many and painful, among them the loss of every single certified teacher librarian in the largest school district in Oregon. Fortunately our funding crisis is over and we’re in the happy position of deciding how to expand services. After some very eloquent 5th graders testified to the frustration of going to the school library only to find the door locked, I added some observations as a former student, a parent, a 20 year volunteer, and a visiting author.

What I had to say may be applicable to your home school district so if you are fighting this battle in some other place, please feel free to borrow my words. If you are a parent or student in the Beaverton School District, you have one more chance to make your voice heard at a budget meeting at 6:30pm on the 20th of this month at school district headquarters.

Here are my thoughts on why my own school district needs a certified teacher-librarian in every school.

1.Teacher support

As a visiting author I am in hundreds of schools all over the country. I work with grade school, middle, and high school teachers to encourage reading and writing and generate excitement for literature. Everywhere I go I meet English and reading teachers who are genuinely excited to do the higher level reading work that new standards ask of them. They want to delve deeper into texts of all genres. They are excited to bring students the best and most current books. But not every book stands up to higher level reading. The Wimpy Kid franchise, for example, is not up to the task. In order to find the books that will bear greater scrutiny and model the best and most elegant use of language, you’d have to read several hundred books each year. It’s wildly impractical to ask every single English and reading teacher to do this every year.

A certified teacher librarian is the person well qualified to winnow the enormous variety of current books to the 30 or 40 strongest candidates so that each teacher can choose from among the best of the best. They are also the ones with the resources to help teachers find books available in translation, audio, and ebook to accommodate the needs of a diverse population.

2. Loss to private schools

There are dozens of private schools within Beaverton’s boundaries. All of them have full time teacher-librarians, and that is a huge draw. It was not always so. When my parents were choosing between public and parochial schools for me they looked at the options and saw, on the one hand, a parochial school that would see to my spiritual development and had significantly smaller class sizes, and on the other hand, a public school with a well funded library and a full time librarian. They chose public schools. The parochial schools in the area are expanding, and we stand to lose high achieving students and highly involved parents if we don’t provide school libraries. Having been in several Catholic schools over the last five years, I’ve seen relatively small libraries with limited technology. But they have a full time teacher librarian and children have full access to that smaller collection. The Beaverton school district libraries far exceed most private schools in the size and quality of the collection but that vital asset is currently behind a locked door.

3. Supporting growing diversity.

Our school district has recently become a majority non-white district. This coincides with a moment when publishers are highly motivated to publish titles with multicultural characters. Looks like a win-win situation. But if nobody is there to buy the books with non-white characters, publishers will stop making them. There is a huge need for kid’s books with non-white characters. At the moment, 90% of titles have a white protagonist. That’s a ridiculous figure and the only reason it’s true is that those books consistently sell. In order for an authentic body of literature to take root for the young readers we have today is for well funded school libraries to buy the books that reflect their populations, and make sure that kids find the books that mirror their own experience and speak to their own values. We could make a huge difference in providing a legacy of inclusive literature for children.

4. Supporting family literacy

One of the things I’ve seen in talking to immigrant students, not just in Oregon but all over, is that for many of them the school library is their only library. Whether the issue is transportation or fear of library fines or reluctance to register an address publicly, lots of kids only have access to free books through a school library. One of the strongest factors in predicting whether a child will read on grade level is access to books in the home. Our families no matter how poor or disadvantaged want to support their children’s reading. By keeping the school library behind a locked door, we deny them the number one tool in learning to read: books!

A fully funded and staffed school library supports literacy better and more efficiently by enabling the student and parent to do their share of the work. With English language learning families we have a golden opportunity in the years when parents are motivated to read aloud to their children. A teacher-librarian is in the position to put into the hands of these families the books and audio books that will, not only support the child, but lift the literacy of the parent. Then we have both higher performing students and more empowered and engaged parents–a win for the entire community.

Please consider testifying in support of fully funded and staffed libraries at the Beaverton School District Administration Center at 6:30 on Monday April 20th. 16550 SW Merlo Road, Beaverton, OR  97003.

If you are not in the Beaverton School District I hope you will consider advocating for school librarians in your home district.