Visiting MHS English Classes
by Mary Wakefield Buxton
Urbanna, Va.— Thanks to Middlesex High School English instructor Christine Pedersen, I’m happy to report that William Shakespeare is alive and well in Middlesex County.
Several weeks ago I wrote a reminiscent column about the joy of studying Shakespeare in high school in Ohio in the 1950s, and wondered if Shakespeare was still being taught in high schools today.
The next week Mrs. Pedersen wrote a Letter to the Editor assuring readers that the Bard was still being taught . . . her students were studying “Romeo and Juliet” and “Othello.”
I called her to thank her for her letter and she invited me to celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday (April 23) with her freshman English class and hear her students recite passages from “Romeo and Juliet,” and “hurl Shakespearean insults” at each other using the poet’s own rich and flowery words. What fun it was to witness authentic Elizabethan language and to have a chance to personally share ideas on the importance of literature with student Dakota Blauser.
Next, I visited Kristi Snow’s creative writing class where I shared what it was like to be a writer. As I stood talking to the class it occurred to me that I had never met a writer when I was in high school. That is truly reprehensible—writers, get thee to the high schools and speak to students!
It also hit me standing in front of such bright young students studying creative writing that our county was spending over $3 million to build a new sports complex for student-athletes, but what are we doing for our very intelligent future writers? I decided right then and there I would make an annual pilgrimage to MHS to speak to students about not necessarily becoming an athlete, but becoming a writer!
Now I don’t have anything against football stars but is it right for us to pour our limited resources into one area of student life and ignore the others? Future writers are usually intellectual and non-conforming. In my day we called such students “book worms” simply because they were always reading. Don’t they need attention just like student-athletes?
I saw immediate interest spark when I asked the students if they thought they might be writers. Nobody ever had asked me that. I had to discover my passion for the pen on my own, and it’s just as important to identify future writers early as it is athletes so they too will have a head start developing their potential.
“Are you already writing stories, poems, books and journals?” I asked the students, “because that is a sure sign you’re a writer.” Future writers are probably already making A’s in English class on everything they write and teachers can easily spot them as up-and-coming writers. Future writers are already reading excessively, already seeing language as a tool, and learning extensive vocabulary because knowledge of language is a writer’s primary power.
Writers must take stands on issues no matter how controversial and speak out for what they believe is right because if writers don’t do this who will? Writers need to be thinking beyond their times and always remember they are entrusted to record the story of man in every age which they have arduously done since the beginning of time.
Writing is an obsession and a writer isn’t happy unless he is spinning a tale. A writer’s mind is always thinking of the next article, story, or book and characters and conversations are always running in a writer’s brain.
To all future writers, write what you know and follow your passion. What do you love? Write about it. Don’t try to write about things you know little about such as the Napoleonic Wars or life in Japan in the last century. Write about your life, family, friends, thoughts and problems right here in Middlesex County.
Keep writing! Don’t ever become discouraged because you may not yet be published, keep sharpening writing skills, building vocabulary and looking for ways to publish your work.
Don’t write to please anyone but yourself. You can’t please everyone so don’t even think about trying to . . . once you start worrying about whether someone will or won’t like your work, it will be spoiled.
Forget your mother, father, teacher, friends, family, church, work, and all other community “suppressors” and write, write, write! If someone is offended by what you have written, well, that’s their problem and not yours. Remember, average writers often offend no one; great writers offend many. (Just think how offended King George was when he read Jefferson’s brilliant Declaration of Independence!)
Future writers of Middlesex County, we may not be building you a million-dollar writing complex, but we do care about you! Keep writing! Society depends on its future writers!
Next week read how a freshman English assignment teaches us to speak like Shakespeare.