The writer speaks

Friday morning, I visited the third graders at Reinbeck Elementary School.  The kids were all lovely and quite attentive while I prattled on about poetry and writing, punctuated by the occasional attempt at humor.  (My suspicions that I’m not funny were confirmed – not one kid cracked a single smile.)

Mrs. Fleshner introduced me by saying how surprised she was to discover an author in their midst. I imagine it was something of a surprise; I’ve known her a couple years now, as Tadpole had her for third grade last year and nothing was ever said of my writing then.  But at conferences this year, we happened to get on the subject of books and how we just don’t have the time to read as much or as often as we would like.  I said that my problem was that I wanted to both read books and write them, but I didn’t have the time to do both, and that was how we ended up discussing my writing.  She invited me to speak to the class, and I agreed, despite my intense dislike of public speaking.

I surprised her again when I arrived a bit early, laden with visual aids.  I came armed with a proof copy of my poetry anthology (which you can buy here, here, or here, should you be so inclined), the notebook in which I’m madly scribbling out my current WIP, the other notebook in which I scratched out the very brief (and incomplete) synopsis for my current WIP, and a few of those pre-bound books that teachers used to be so fond of procuring for students so they could make their own books for class projects.  One of them was a book I wrote in third grade called The Beach Day Fight and the other, which occupies two volumes because I only wrote on one side of the page, was called The Paper Punch Monster.  I wrote that little tome when I was ten, partly as a way of coping with my mother’s death, if I remember correctly, but I left that part out of my presentation.

My friends from the Reinbeck Elementary SchoolPhoto by Marcia Koester

My friends from the Reinbeck Elementary School
Photo by Marcia Koester

As this is my son’s class, I knew that the kids were working on some poetry.  He had told me a few nights prior to my visit that they were doing acrostics, so I put one of my own up on the whiteboard before the students arrived to hear me speak.  I also put up a haiku, since that is mostly what I write for poetry and since Mrs. Fleshner had told me they would be learning about those this week.  I had also spent the night before laminating some small handouts of one of my many haiku (if you’re interested, you can read it here).  It didn’t take me long to set up, so I had a few minutes to wait for the kids.  You know, just long enough to grow nervous and lose what little moisture my mouth had left in it. 🙂

But once I left my prepared remarks behind and got talking, things went fine.  The kids asked me to read the two stories I’d written as a kid, which I was happy to do.  I pride myself on my reading skills.  In school, I never put much emotion into it – I droned on the same as every other student stuck in an English class does, even though I loved my classes and generally loved what we were reading.  I just didn’t want to be different.  But when I read to kids – mine or anyone else’s – I always try to put as much emotion into it as I can, because I really suck at doing voices.  Robin Williams I am not.

I took questions from the kids, and Tomcat’s first question involved me reading from my poetry book.  I indulged him.  His second involved me telling about the time I posted his story, “Death Scare,” here for people to read.  He was really excited about that, which made me pretty excited because I know my blog doesn’t have the most traffic on the internet.  But it was a big deal to him, and that made me happy.  He is so his mother’s son.

My visit lasted about 45 minutes or so and I passed out my little handouts at the end, just before all the kids gathered round the whiteboard for a big group picture.  When I get my hands on a copy, I’ll be sure to put one up.  Hopefully I’ll have one in a day or two.  The kids were all wonderful and if I ever speak to a group again, I hope they’ll be as nice a group as my third grade friends.

(c) 2012.  All rights reserved.


12 thoughts on “The writer speaks

  1. themisanthropicmuse says:

    My daughter’s first grade teacher wants me to go speak to her class about writing too. Like you, I am not crazy about public speaking but I guess it would be good for my daughter if I did this. I’ll have to come up with something I can share with the class though and that’s hard when you write mostly macabre fantasy and horror stories.


    • Kay Kauffman says:

      Because I write for adults, I had trouble figuring out what to say to a group of kids. But luckily, I love to write all kinds of things and the kids happened to be working on poetry, so I had something we could share.

      If nothing else, you could always share your love of writing and how you got started on your journey as an author with the kids. That was one of the things that my son’s teacher wanted me to talk about, and I was more than happy to share my love of stories.


      • Roger says:

        When I became a freemason I had to learn how to speak to hundreds of people at a time, but with feeling. Not my happiest time. I learned how in the end but only after a great deal of “ah, umm, Well.”
        Having a Birmingham accent didn’t help much, either.


  2. Ryan Holmes says:

    What a great little adventure – for everyone! I’m so happy you went through with it and really made it successful. My crystal ball tells me more than one of those 3rd graders will be inspired to pen a novel thanks to a special author facing her fears to mentor a few young minds.


    • Kay Kauffman says:

      Aww, thank you, Ryan! I certainly hope I was a positive influence on them. I do so love reading and writing and sometimes it’s hard for me to convey that in speech. I really am a much better writer than speaker. I know I could improve with practice, but I enjoy public speaking about as much as I enjoy hitting deer with my car.


  3. *tara says:

    That sounds like such an awesome time, even if you had nerves going into it! I love that Tomcat was asking questions. 🙂 It was a great idea to bring in stuff that you’d done as a kid and to show them kinds of poetry they can be writing now along with their acrostics. I know if I’d been there at that age, I would definitely have been affected by your presentation. I would have loved it! Sounds wonderful!


    • Kay Kauffman says:

      I remember when I was in elementary school and Maribeth Boelts came to our school once. I was so excited to be meeting a real, live author that it was kind of ridiculous. I already knew a few of the kids from church and from Cub Scouts and because they’re friends with Tomcat. If I had been one of those kids, that would have made the experience even cooler for me.


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