Sharon Dennis Wyeth came to speak at Hollins on Monday, July 2. I had never heard of her before this summer, but she is the Hollins Children's Literature program's Writer-In-Residence this year. I realized when I saw her, and her books, that I was familiar with some of her work.
Sharon Dennis Wyeth began writing poetry because she wanted to make sense of things. She needed to heal from things that had happened in her life. In fact, she encouraged us as writers to tell about an event in our lives, "attaching action to specificity", and to create a narrative that will be healing for ourselves and perhaps for our readers.
She became a children's writer because it sounded important. In fact, she hadn't intended to be a children's writer at all, but she told her college friends that she was going to be a children's writer, and they seemed impressed. It was only later that this became a reality.
Wyeth writes about difficult circumstances and has characters that go through a lot. She doesn't want to sugarcoat their lives. Instead, she writes characters that rise up above their circumstances and survive.
Her advice to writers:
1) Write what you MUST write
2) If you have a memory that you think about everyday, then it is something important to you--write about it.
Some of her books include:
Something Beautiful (illustrated by the amazing Chris Soentpiet)--A picture book for all ages. Sharon Dennis Wyeth talks about her something beautiful here. I can't wait to read this book to my fifth graders at the beginning of the year and do some writing with them!
Orphea Proud--A young adult novel about Orphea, a poet. She is an African American teenager, orphaned, who falls in love with her best friend.
Corey's Underground Railroad Diary (My America Series)--Middle grade novels written by a slave boy who escapes to freedom. She talked about how many slaves were forbidden from learning to read or write, but some of them had been taught in secrecy. Corey's diaries begin with his limited writing, but he improves as the series goes on.
Always My Dad (illustrated by Raul Colon)--now out of print, Picture book, Reading Rainbow selection