A letter this spring to The Daily News from Holly Derosiers, Pentucket Middle School, stated, "Writer inspires eighth-graders." I, too, as a wee bit of a writer, was inspired by that statement. The letter referred to author Andre Dubus III's talk with the eighth-grade students regarding his career, personal life and anecdotes.
Dubus had no desire to pursue a career in writing, but was drawn to it after many years as a laborer, private investigator, teacher and bartender, among several other "crafts." He said his inspiration to write came about from his father's serious and disabling accident. As Dubus said, "Sometimes it takes a dramatic event in your life to inspire you to begin writing." I believe that is as true as the statement, "Everyone has a story to tell."
It's never too early to nurture the "seed" that might dwell within a seventh-, eighth- or ninth-grader. You might ask, "What do they know of the world at their age?" But, there are plentiful surprises at all ages! Youngsters can observe, tell us what they see, how they interpret the event and how it affected their life.
What better way to start than with an essay, a simple exercise in putting thoughts on paper, and I'll bet you won't see a "like ya know" in the entire paper. What after all is an essay? Webster's 9th Collegiate Dictionary defines it as "an analytical or interpretative literary composition dealing with a subject from a limited or personal point of view." Essays can vary from as short as 500 words to 1,000, 2,000 or more, or in the case of one written in 1774 for the pamphlet, "Crisis," enough words that Thomas Paine electrified and gave courage to his adopted countrymen when he wrote, "These are the times that try men's souls."
I consider myself fortunate to be among a group who contribute our thoughts, dreams, wishes, as well as declamations or disavowals on a variety of subjects each and every day in the "As I See It" column in The Daily News. You should be familiar by now with some regulars, such as "Bunny" Fernald, Robert F. McGlew, Ralph J. Ayers, Sara-Anne Eames, Richard Astukewicz, Jack Garvey, to name a few.
Interesting is the fact that since its beginning four years ago, the Newburyport Literary Festival has drawn a wide variety of writers, 70 at last count, as well as an increasing number of visitors to acknowledge writers of fiction, nonfiction, memoirs, children's books, young adult books and poetry. Alas, though, there is no "essay" category to share in this interest in writing. Perhaps someday they will; all it takes are some "viewpoints" from readers to tilt the table, so to speak.
I close this essay with the words of an eighth-grader who, after hearing Andre Dubus III speak to her class, said, "It actually made me want to write." The seed was planted!
Robert D. Campbell, an essayist who lives in Newburyport, believes that a sense of humor is essential.