Today our guest was Gail Carson Levine, author of Dave at Night and Writing Magic, as well as the Newbery Medal prize winner Ella Enchanted, which was adapted into a film in 2004. She talked to us about Dave at Night, a story about a boy living in a New York City orphanage in the 1920s, during the Harlem Renaissance. Gail told us that the story is loosely based on her father’s life, inspired by his own experiences as an orphan at the same institution named in the novel until he was sixteen years old. In order to accurately portray the time and setting of Dave at Night, Gail explained, she had to do a lot of research about what life was like in the 1920s and in the orphanage. She collected information from the library, the Studio Museum in Harlem, and the Tenement Museum, as well as living sources – men who had been children living in the orphanage during the Harlem Renaissance.
While discussing the writing and publishing process, Gail also gave our future professional writers some tips about creative writing, like using careful observation from real life or pictures in order to get detailed descriptions of places, people, and things. As for publishing, Gail, like Michael Winerip did yesterday, told us about her long journey towards becoming a published author. While Gail said that it feels “wonderful” to see her books in bookstores (especially airport bookstores), she also revealed that it had taken her nine years to finally get one of her stories there, when Ella Enchanted was published in 1997.
Even with the many books she has now published, Gail has written about a dozen more books that have never made it to an editor. She even showed us a rejection letter from an editor that she’s kept, as an example of the ups and downs of the writing process. Since not all of a writer’s books make it to publishing, Gail explained, what is really helpful in becoming published is simply writing many, many books! But after so many rejections, one camper asked, how does one stay motivated to keep writing? Gail answered that it was her writing class – both the teacher and her fellow students – that gave her the most encouragement and support. After answering all of our questions, Gail then guided us through some fun writing exercises from her book Writing Magic: Creating Stories that Fly, and shared them with each other.
After lunch, we worked with Regina Larkin, our Education Associate, and explored how we can use our bodies and movement to communicate stories and emotions. We then experienced a great example of what we learned when we got to see a special preview of a performance of The Ranger’s Apprentice, a book series from Australia. With the sixth installment of the series already out, the hilarious interactive performance will be touring bookstores and libraries all over the U.S. to promote The Ranger’s Apprentice. Our campers said that, even though the tone of the show is more comedic than the books, it captured the essence of the series and its characters. After the sneak peek performance, we had a chance to talk to the actors and to share our thoughts on all the things we loved about it!