This past weekend I attended a children’s literature conference at the University of Georgia. I was unsure of what I might be able to take away from the two days as I am a high school teacher and the conference is very much oriented toward elementary level educators. The speakers were all wonderful and I was able to take some of the ideas from the breakout sessions and foresee their use in a high school classroom; however, the highlight of the conference was hearing the author M. T. Anderson speak.
I only knew Anderson through seeing a book or two of his on a shelf in a media center or at a bookstore. Every time I would pass his title The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, I would get this impulse that I should read the book, but I had always ignored the feeling and left the book on the shelf. But then, I heard the man speak. Mr. Anderson, you have my undivided attention.
The slight irony of hearing him speak is that he really does look just like a stereotypical, young author–lean, slacks, sweater with a collared shirt and black-rim glasses. What he had to say was anything but stereotypical, however.
His speaking style really appealed to me; he was witty, genuine, humorous, and enlightening. One of the most profound statements he made, and I’m paraphrasing here, was something to the effect of ‘what makes literature real literature is an author’s ability to make the familiar unfamiliar again where the reader has to rediscover that world, idea, or theme all over again.’ Am I the only one who thinks that statement is brilliant?
When asked what he would be if he wasn’t a writer, he simply said he’d be
homeless. This elicited laughter across the large auditorium, but I found myself disappointed by his answer. As he spoke, I found myself thinking what an amazing educator he would be if he were to step into a classroom. It is a shame that the world of education has such a hard time pulling in brilliant minds such as Mr. Anderson’s. (He went on to say that if not homeless he might be good as an extra in a werewolf movie, which I did laugh at.)
I left his presentation wishing he would speak for another hour and inspired to write myself. I finally picked up both his Octavian Nothing volumes and I’m currently devouring them. I would highly recommend them to anyone who is into intriguing mysteries, period writing, historical fiction, and doesn’t mind having new vocabulary thrown at them every other sentence. They have been incredible reads thus far. I also picked up some of his younger-oriented fiction and I’m looking forward to comparing the styles as he writes so differently for each level.
To close, Mr. Anderson, if you ever happen to read this, I want to thank you for your time at the conference and re-inspiring an educator to write more than ever.