Conversing with Authors: Possibilities and Problems

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So what kinds of conversations can teachers and students enter into as they begin exploring the world of YA lit Who can they talk to Many teachers envision conversations with authors themselves as a natural first step.

Believing that an authentic audience for student writing is just a postage stamp or an email click away, teachers may require students to write letters to authors. During my years as a ninth grade English teacher, I gave this assignment more than once.

However, as popular as such assignments are, required letters don't always foster a genuine exchange, and they can cause problems for authors that teachers don't anticipate. Gail Giles notes that heartfelt letters Jewelry On Sale "make what we do in those dark, lonely hours worth it," but adds that such letters don't tend to come from assignments. "

They come from a lost soul that found a friend in our books and wanted to tell us so. Not to make sure they got all the points for the book report or paper." On the contrary, Giles has found that assignments tend to generate "baskets of email, some nice, some demanding, some downright rudely entitled wanting me to give ten lengthy answers to questions.

Many of which could be answered if they went to my website." Furthermore, when teachers require students to find out something about an author's life not included on the website to ensure the student contacted the author; they may unwittingly violate the author's privacy.

Giles suggests that before a teacher makes an assignment for his or her class to write to an author, he or she should first contact the author and ask if it is a good time. If the author has a deadline looming or personal obligations that would prevent him or her from responding to such letters, the author can say so rather than appear uncaring or arrogant.

Absent such pressures, the author, such as Giles, might be quite willing to answer questions (personal email, May 10, 2008).According to Kelly Milner Halls, Chris Crutcher's assistant, Crutcher also gets baskets of email, often in the form of 30 different "required" messages written by students in the same class who repeat the same question.

When he gets groups of letters or emails like this, Kelly adapts them into a single list of questions that Crutcher can answer and return to the teacher to distribute to the kids.

He won't refuse to answer individual letters, but in the case of a class assignment, it's much easier for him to answer questions in one consolidated email. When teachers do this streamlining them, authors truly appreciate the foresight.

Alex Flinn also affirms the value of letters from readers. "If my book changed the letter writer's life, I totally want to hear Jewelry Store about it! If the letter writer was assigned to read my book and sort of skimmed it ... I don't.

This probably means that the entire class should not write to the same author." Nor, she adds, should students get graded on whether the author writes back. Flinn suggests that teachers offer alternative assignments after a whole class reading experience so that authors do not receive letters from students who have not read or did not like their book.

Students who want to criticize or praise a book could post reviews on websites such as, thus drawing attention to the author's work and at the same time getting a taste of literary criticism. Flinn's suggestion offers a different, but no less authentic, way of joining in the conversation about YA lit.

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This article was published on 2010/10/23