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Thalia Book Club Camp offers up-close interaction with renowned children's book authors and illustrators, book discussions, and book-related field trips around the city. This blog follows the camp's activities.

Thalia Book Club Camp — Week 3, Day 3!

Published on August 18, 2010

Wow!  What a jam-packed day!  This morning we began by talking about the Civil Rights Movement, in preparation for a visit by Kekla Magoon, author of The Rock and the River.  Madeline brought in transcripts from the 1986 PBS documentary series, “Eyes on the Prize,” and we all read aloud selections about some of the defining  moments and people of the Movement,  including the Little Rock Nine, the lunch counter sit-ins, the Freedom Riders, and the march from Selma to Montgomery, and discussed their importance and what lead up to the creation of the Black Panther Party, a focus of The Rock and the River.

Then we all selected postcards depicting scenes from the Movement, picked a person in the photo and wrote first-person scenes — answering the questions, Why am I here?  What’s going on?  This helped us imagine what it must have been like to take part in the protests and sit-ins or to observe them.  We read aloud some of our writing.

When Kekla arrived, she told us a little bit about her history:  she grew up in Indiana, near Chicago, and lived there until she went  to college at Northwestern in Chicago, and then she moved to New York City, in 2001.  Her friends and others have asked her why write about something that happened long before she was born?  She explained that she was trying to understand the Movement, which she felt very removed from, but felt echoes of in our world now.  In particular, she wanted to go beneath the obvious lead characters to focus on the many ordinary people who put their lives on the line.  There were lots of kids 10-12 or 15-16 who took part in the protests.  She wanted to tell their stories.  She wanted young people to know now that we have the power to change our world.

She showed a montage of images of the Civil Rights Movement.  We saw lots of ordinary peoples’ faces in the midst of these events.    We listened to the soundtrack of “The Times They Are a Changin'” by Bob Dylan as we looked at the pictures, and discussed the feelings these images evoked in us. 

We then took part in a Readers’ Theatre version of a scene from The Rock and the River, after which we dicussed whether reading/hearing the scene aloud brought out anything for us, made us think more strongly about what we would do in a similar situation.

Then we did some creative writing.  Kekla handed out objects — a candle with drippy wax, a tiny plastic purse, a tiny parasol to put in a drink, a battery, etc. — and invited us to pick one of these objects or another on the tables and write about it as if it was a person.  It was fun to hear what some campers came up with!  Kekla suggested that using an object as a prompt is a good way to break through a creative block — and even to develop a character profile for a story. 

Finally, Kekla let us brainstorm with her about plot and character development for her new novel, companion to The Rock and the River.  What a wonderful visit, leaving us with lots to think about.

It was off to the park for lunch and a game of Apples to Apples. 

Then back to the theatre before heading off for a visit to the Colbert Report!  This was a treat.  We got a mini behind -the-scenes tour, sat on the set, heard the stories behind some of the set pieces from the audience coordinator, Sasha, and took this picture on the set: 

We met with one of the show’s comedy writers, Max Werner, who told us about a typical day at the show.  He begins his day by plowing through the papers, looking at  news blogs and watching Fox news and making some notes about possible sketches.  At the studio, the team of 12 comedy writers and a head writer meet to brainstorm ideas and begin to sketch them out.  At 10:30am, they meet with Stephen and his producers and pitch their ideas.   Stephen chooses which ideas to develop and the writers go back to their desks to write scripts in pairs, with one person typing and one talking out the ideas.   Later scripts are reviewed and then go back for edits.  At 5pm there’s a rehearsal and then more edits, based on comments from the run-through.  At 7pm the show is taped before a live audience.  Whew!  Max seems to thrive on the breakneck pace and the creative collaboration.  It all sounds like a lot of fun — and hard work!  Max told us that this is his dream job.  And off we went out onto 54th street buzzing with all we’d learned about TV comedy writing.

We’re looking forward to meeting with graphic novelist George O’Connor tomorrow.

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