Getting to Know You: Baltimore Edition or, What I Learned by Visiting an AP Class with Jean McGarry and then Driving Around

Ocean State book jacket


Yesterday, PEN/Faulkner continued the expansion of its Writers in Schools programming in Baltimore as author and Johns Hopkins professor Jean McGarry visited instructor Sean Martin’s Advanced Placement English class at Friendship Academy of Science and Technology in Baltimore’s Canton neighborhood. Mr. Martin’s students had read and discussed McGarry’s story collection Ocean State, and the hour-long conversation touched on everything from how an author decides what perspective is appropriate for a story to what is most effective to leave off the page in a short story. McGarry, soft-spoken and deeply introspective, took the students questions in stride, and often turned the questions back on the students. When one young woman asked why McGarry had left the text of a letter off of the page in one of her short stories, McGarry replied, “Well, that’s a good question. What do you think?” The playful back and forth made for a wonderful visit, and the students had particularly keen questions about McGarry’s stories “Transference” about a psychiatrist named Dr. Broad and about “Welcome Wherever He Went” about a child with the unlikely name of Mr. Saintsbury  who, as McGarry put it during the visit, is a fully formed, mature individual though only five-years-old and despite a physical disability that remains unnamed throughout the story.   

Suffice it to say, it was a great visit that, much like our long-running programming in Washington, D.C., left me feeling buoyant and optimistic, both about the future of American fiction and about the kind of work that’s being done in our classrooms. 

After the visit, I stopped by a number of schools in Baltimore to drop off some information about PEN/Faulkner’s WinS programs, and in doing so, I felt like I got to know a bit more about the city and its neighborhoods. I drove from Roland Park down to Charles Village and eventually through Fells Point before heading south to Federal Hill. It was a perfect day to see more of the city. As we continue to expand to schools in Baltimore, I’m looking forward to coming to know the place better still. 

If you’re a writer or instructor with the Baltimore City Public Schools and want more information about how your public or public charter high school can get involved, please contact me at nbrown [at] 

— Nate Brown