To kick off a running series about “How to Prepare for a WinS Visit,” we’ve asked PEN/Faulkner board member, author, and longtime WinS collaborator Yolanda Young (On Our Way to Beautiful) to guest-blog about how she gets ready to visit DC high schools to discuss her work with students. Enjoy.
If you’re an author preparing for your first Writers In Schools visit, get ready for a writer-reader experience of a lifetime. With the exception of the few readings in which my grandmother, Honeymoon, was present, my WinS visits have been the most fulfilling. The teachers have often gone to great lengths to prepare the students, who are typically 11th and 12th graders.
In anticipation of a class visit, I usually communicate with the teacher by email to determine the size and duration of the class. I also find it helpful to know whether the school has a dress code for such events. Often the teens are in casual school attire; however, some classes choose to dress up with the young men donning ties and jackets.
Student Q&A’s differ from book store readings in that the questions are often more personal and practical in nature. Teachers often encourage the students to write their questions on an index card. At the beginning of the Q & A period, many students shyly read their questions directly from those cards, but they quickly loosen up and start rattling off questions that occur to them in the moment. They want to know what inspired you to write and what challenges you face as a writer. I’m often asked questions like how long it takes to complete a book, how do I decide on a title, and what are my upcoming projects. They are also curious about the mechanics of writing–why did I choose a particular style or device?
I like to leave 10 minutes at the end of the visit to sign each student’s book. Keep in mind, this might be the first (and only) autographed book a student will receive. To ensure that I spell their names correctly, I ask them to write their names on a separate sheet of paper that I view while writing their names. The teachers have often done a great job coordinating everything, so I make a special point to sign their books as well.
If you’re a DC-based writer and you’d like to work with Writers in Schools, please email email@example.com.