A few weeks ago, our middle school was fortunate to spend the day with visiting author and local Columbus gal Lisa Klein. Ms. Klein is the author of several critically acclaimed books for young adults, including Ophelia, Two Girls of Gettysburg, and Macbeth's Daughter. In the fall of 2010, we'll be treated to her next historical novel, Cate of the Lost Colony.
Lisa's writing career began when her college teaching career ended. After teaching English at The Ohio State University for many years, she was denied tenure. Lucky for us, because Ms. Klein was able to turn this bit of adversity into everyone's good fortune. She'd taught Shakespeare at Ohio State and the idea for Ophelia, a sort of alternate history of Shakespeare's Hamlet, bubbled to the surface. As she explains on her website, Lisa found writing Ophelia to be so much fun that she happily moved onto Two Girls of Gettysburg, a Civil War story told in two voices. While she has since published Macbeth's Daughter, another Shakespeare-with-a twist novel, Lisa spoke to our middle schoolers about the research and writing process she undertook for Two Girls of Gettysburg.
Ms. Klein was undaunted by the fact that she was suddenly speaking to twice as many students as originally planned. At first, we thought she'd only be speaking with the 7th and 8th graders, but when word of her impending visit spread, the 5th and 6th graders wanted to join in. In her presentation, Making History--Into Fiction, Ms. Klein shared all of the fascinating aspects of her research of the Civil War and the Battle of Gettysburg in particular. She spoke about visiting the battle site and getting a real sense of the scene, and she enthusiastically shared the primary source document that became the basis for several of her book's characters and plot points. Her wonderful slides brought the story to life, as did the selections from Two Girls of Gettysburg that she shared. It was an impressive presentation, conveying both her sense of wonder with history and her love of the writing process. Hands flew up at the end of the session during Q&A.
After lunch, Ms. Klein ran a writing workshop for about twenty 6th, 7th, and 8th graders who had signed up in advance. These are kids who are serious about writing and who wanted to immerse themselves in the the writer's world. Ms. Klein spoke about how to build a story arc and how to create believable characters through conflict. She engaged the students right away and had them writing for ninety minutes. Afterward, kids crowded around her, showing her their work, shaking her hand, getting books signed, and asking more questions. She was very accessible and open with the kids, and all of the students I spoke to thought the experience was extremely valuable.
I have known Lisa Klein for several years now. We met through a mutual friend and connected quickly through a shared passion for writing. She's a very bright, approachable person who seems genuinely humbled by her success. Her books are excellent- I am particularly smitten with Ophelia- and she connects with student writers in a way that I haven't seen with other visiting authors. I'm certain there will be a long line at the bookstore for Cate of the Lost Colony!