I’ve been asked to speak quite often since I’ve been published. Groups of aspiring writers, book clubs, civic organizations — even a garden club, once, though I can kill a silk plant. I’ve long since lost count of how many speeches I’ve made. I was rather nervous the first few times, but I’ve grown more comfortable with practice. I actually enjoy talking about my career and my experiences as a writer, and my “reviews” have been very positive. It has become one of my favorite sidelines of my career.
Most frequently, I have spoken to schoolchildren — from kindergarten to senior high. It almost seemed that teachers started calling me the day after I sold my first book, asking me to speak at career days and in English classes and at assemblies. (I didn’t speak at the school pictured above; I snapped that photo of an end-of-the-term celebration during a recent road trip through Massachusetts because I thought it was a lovely school setting). I’ve had a lot of fun talking to students — depending on their age, we play word games, make up stories, talk about the importance of literacy and goal-setting, and go through the progress of a book from idea to publication.
I don’t remember all the talks I’ve made to students, but some of them stand out in my memory. Like the time I recklessly agreed to speak to all of a teacher’s English classes for the day — 6 or 7 classes, I think. That was early in my speaking days, and it gave me an all-new appreciation for teachers. Speaking that many times in one day was exhausting, and I’ve never agreed to do it since. By the end of the day, I couldn’t remember what I’d said to which class, and I was having trouble keeping up my enthusiasm. I admire the excellent and committed teachers who are as invested in their late-afternoon classes as they are in the mornings. Now, I ask that classes be combined so that I speak no more than twice in one appearance.
I was delighted to speak at an eighth-grade graduation program at my own junior high school several years ago, being introduced by one of my favorite junior high English teachers. And there was the time I spoke to an entire school — k through 12 — in a little Arkansas town called Leslie. It was a very small school, entire grades made up of less than fifty students, as I recall — and I spoke in the gym while they sat in the bleachers. It was the only time I was ever applauded for anything I did in a gymnasium (let’s just say I’ve never been athletically inclined).
I love it when the teachers have their students write thank you notes after my speeches and then forward them to me. I’ve received some delightful ones through the years — I’ll do a post soon quoting some of the more amusing and touching ones. I always try to leave time for questions after my talks, and there have been some doozies (not only from schoolchildren, I’ve gotten some, er, interesting questions from adult audiences, as well). One of my favorite questions came from an eighth grader. I had just explained that my books are published in twenty different languages in over 100 countries, when a boy’s hand shot up.
“You speak 20 different languages?” he asked in amazement.
“Well, no. I’m afraid I speak only English, though I wish I knew some other languages.”
Looking no less impressed, he shook his head. “I think it’s awesome that you can write in all those languages you don’t even speak,” he said.
Needless to say, while his teacher put her head on her desk, I immediately veered into a discussion about the career of translator.
I often wonder if any of the schoolkids I’ve spoken to remember my speeches all these years later. If they received any inspiration from my story to work hard and follow their own dreams. I hope they remember. They have certainly inspired me.
A few entries have come in for this month’s give-away of the hardcover, larger print copy of LOVE LESSONS. You still have until July 31 to send me your name for the drawing. Your odds are still good! Click on the “Enter to Win” tab above for details.