"Off the Page" is a program sponsored by the Federation of B.C. Writers who has a grant to send writers into classrooms (any ages of children or teens) and talk about the writer's life, read their work, introduce kids to the life of a writer. I've participated three times in the past and found it a most rewarding experience. Yesterday, on my fourth Off the Page visit was, as usual inspiring and lots of fun.
I started writing between the ages of 8 and 10, first writing plays for my classmates and for friends to perform in grandpa's back yard when we lived in Stratford. (What better a place for a budding writer, in that Ontario town with everything named Shakespearean, even the River Avon!) When my family traveled across Canada by train after Dad came home from the war, I got interested in writing about pioneers, and later about the Biblical lands (Dad was a Baptist minister). Then it was the Romans, and by the time I was 16 I got introduced to my hero, Alexander the Great. I wrote stories, novellas, and plays. I recently found a box full of these old manuscripts which I've kept. A play about drugs in Vancouver's East End that I first wrote when I was 18 as a cautionary tale in 1953 and later reworked (without family or society censorship) was successfully produced by Theatre in the Raw in 2000.
But all during that time I was scolded for not paying attention to my school work. I couldn't understand math and science, had no interest in it at all. I wanted to be a writer and that was that! And when I got my first old Underwood typewriter when I was 16 years old I was thrilled beyond words! Now I could write like Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams, my literary heroes! My mom was always being called into the school and told that I should be spending more time at my studies instead of writing. I nearly failed my final year of high school because I was writing my first Alexander themed novel.
Persian school boys
These days, kids are given many more opportunities and encouraged to develop their creativity. And the Off the Page program is just one way that we writers have of helping to stimulate this interest in the written word. My two groups yesterday were Grades 9 and 10. I spoke to them about my early desire to write and how through the years by persevering my dream has come to fruition and now I am a full time writer. I demonstrated the different types of writing including poetry, and with each group I did writing exercises. For the older group I had them write about a place they loved in 50 words to get the gist of writing short for the internet. The younger group had prompts from my Idea Jar and wrote on various subjects. They were shy about sharing but the teachers were encouraging and believe me, there was some excellent writing displayed! It was truly an inspiring and rewarding morning spent at Moscrop School with the fine teachers, Leanne Sjodin and Dr. Gail Joe. I was impressed!
I'll be going back to that school again next month to participate in "The Human Library" which I was invited to do for the second year. I will be a 'book' in the library titled "So You Want to be a Writer?" The children come into the library, choose and book and ask questions. It's really a lot of fun and again, a rewarding experience.
It's important to nurture young talent and give encouragement to kids who have a desire to write. And it's heartening nowadays to see that there are teachers who care and programs to stimulate this creativity. I am proud and glad to have participated in the Off the Page and commend the Federation of BC Writers for promoting such a terrific opportunity for writers and school kids!