A Day In The Life: High School Writer Gigs.

posted in: Day In The Life, Word Nerd, Work 7
Picture of high school audience, Ladies Home Journal, 1945. Image: Wikipedia.
Picture of high school audience, Ladies Home Journal, 1945. Image: Wikipedia.


This morning, I beat the sun by a long shot.

I was up at 4 a.m. (gah!) so that I could have tea, go over my materials one last time, get all foofed-up, and get to my rental car, which I secured yesterday evening. By my careful calculations, I needed to be on the road to the northwestern suburbs of Chicago by 6 a.m. in order to be at the first of several high school gigs today.

Every year, a handful of dedicated high schools in the Chicagoland area hold “Writer’s Week” festivals. These festivals — which the students love but always struggle for funding and booster support, dangit — invite professional writers to share their work with the students and to talk and answer questions about the writing life. I have been a featured performer at a number of these festivals for well over a decade, now, which is great but also super weird, because I remember my first few times doing these gigs and it does not seem so very long ago. I remember being a young slam poet and freaking out the night before these gigs, timing my set until it was absolutely perfect because I had a limited repertoire; I remember rambunctious boys in the back of the auditorium one year who threw me off — and how I learned that day, the hard way, how to effectively stop any heckler. (Ninety-nine percent of the time, ignore them. I called the kids out that day and it wasn’t good. They wanted attention and they got it. I learned a lot that afternoon.)

I did first-and second-period at my favorite place, William Fremd High (they saw quilts one year), and then spent seventh and eighth at Bartlett High, a school with students were so respectful and courteous, one gets nervous. I did four shows today, in other words. In case you’ve never performed for 50 minutes in front of an auditorium of 300 or so high school students four times in one day, I assure you: It’s not for the faint of heart and when you come home, you will want to eat food and then face plant into the couch for awhile.

Twice today I was approached by quilters: a teacher at Bartlett and the mother-in-law of one of the Writer’s Week organizers. Both of them were excited to say hi and I could see that both of them were looking at me as the quilting person they’ve watched on TV while trying to square it with the high school poetry/writing presenter they just watched live onstage. Welcome to my world.

For many years, I have had a hard time telling people what it is that I “do.” I’m a writer. I’m a quilter. I’m a performer. I write about quilts. I write poetry and perform it. I perform, in a way, in the quilt world because of the on-camera work. I teach people how to quilt, but also how to write — it’s all this gorgeous, difficult slurry of words and fabric scraps and microphone cords. In the past couple years, I have been really working, with every project I take on, to combine these loves. How can writing and quilting and performance come together? Where do writing and quilting intersect — not for me, but for you? What can I give? And how can I help? (By helping others, giving my art away, that’s how I better understand myself. This is the win-win.)

These are the questions. Thank you, high schoolers and faculty and staff, for giving me an audience today. I move toward answers every time I go to work.

7 Responses

  1. Caroline
    | Reply

    I was at Fremd a looong time (and many countries) ago. It was always a great school, but I love the fact that they get you to speak there!!

  2. deb hanahan
    | Reply

    AAhhh Mary… Bartlett High is right in my home town. My two sons graduated from BHS several years ago. I would have bought you a cup of tea had I known you were headed this way…. And I’m pleased to know the students were respectful and courteous to you! Just curious, which teacher was the quilter? That kind of thing doesn’t seem to come up during conferences etc….

    • Mary
      | Reply

      Deb! I didn’t get her name, but I think she was a former teacher?? Who just came back to say hi to me?? There were many people! She was very sweet and nice. (Typical for a quilter, I know.) 🙂 xoxo, m

  3. Zoe Davidson
    | Reply

    Mary, I don’t know how you do it. I am a slouch. Is it possible that you can make me feel bad about myself and yet inspire me? Of course it’s possible because that is what you have done! I am retiring in three weeks. From day one I plan on living a full day, a meaningful day. I am making a promise to myself to wake up and fill my day with all the things. Thank you, Mary!

  4. Sarah
    | Reply

    Yea, verily. That last sentence. You’re doing wonderfully well, so keep on keeping on.

  5. Nancy Schwall
    | Reply

    Hi Mary, hope you had a good morning at Fremd H.S. I attended Fremd from 65-69. Go class of 69. Go Mary!

  6. Paul
    | Reply

    As a teacher at Fremd it has been wonderful watching you develop as a presenter in this very specific forum. Since the students only get to see you for, at most, four years, they have missed the extended autobiography that some of us in the faculty has had the privilege to hear. You have always been dynamic, open, honest and vulnerable with our kids and I really appreciate it.
    I have been quilting for 7 months (yours was the second quilting book I bought) and was laughing out loud at the image of you arriving in the receiving room with 30 lbs of larger than king sized quilts.
    I didn’t know what to expect when I started reading Love + Quilts, and sighed in relief when the Writer’s Week Mary’s voice carried over into your narrative and instructional text.
    So I guess I go the other direction, you are Writer’s Week /Papergirl Mary first and are now a trusted advisor (and the only Fons I look to) in my new quilting adventure. Both are wonderful.

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