WHY I WATCH WHAT STUDENTS ARE READING By Karen Weyant

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I teach at a small community college in Western New York, and I have been known to walk across campus to an unsuspecting student whose face is buried in a book, and say “What are you reading?”

I wish I could say I do this because I want students to read.  But I have to confess that’s not the real reason I stalk student readers.

When I see a student read, it brings me back to my days as a young reader.

I grew up in a tiny town in rural Pennsylvania. Then, of course, we didn’t have Amazon.com or Kindles.  Forget any big bookstores.  My little town didn’t even have a used book store.  So, what was a reader to do?

I didn’t have a lot of choices.  The local library couldn’t keep up with me, and when I had worked my way through the children’s room (which contained young adult books, as well), I went back and re-read my favorites, including the novels by Judy Blume.  My mother would search out Thrift stores and yard sales where she once found the bargain of a complete Nancy Drew set for $25.  On days I was desperate, I would walk up to G.C. Murphy’s to purchase cheap Teen Harlequins.

Then, a miracle happened. Waldenbooks opened only 45 minutes away, and suddenly, I had a whole bookstore full of BRAND NEW BOOKS.  Here, I was introduced to the Sunfire series, a collection that explored American history through fictionalized accounts of important events.  The stories all featured strong and beautiful women who were caught up in both history and love triangles.   I also found Twilight: Where Darkness Begins, a series of horror books that featured teenagers battling supernatural forces.  Then, there was my favorite: Chrystal Falls, a series that took place in a mill town in Pennsylvania.  The setting was hauntingly familiar to me, and I could relate to the way the fictional town of Chrystal Falls was split among class lines.  It was at Waldenbooks that I also fell in love with works of S.E. Hinton, Lois Duncan and Norma Fox Mazer and Robert Cormier – writers who portrayed the world of teenagers without passing judgment.

Today, Waldenbooks is gone, and most of the books I grew up with are out of print.  While Judy Blume is still popular, many of my students don’t know my other favorites.  Duncan seems to be only known for the horror movie, I Know What You Did Last Summer, that was based (very, very loosely and poorly) after her book.  And sadly enough, Mazer and Cormier have both died, with little acknowledgment in the publishing world.  (Although, Cormier’s book  The Chocolate Wars continues to be challenged in school districts across the nation.)

Now, I watch as my students read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins or Twilight by Stephanie Meyer or any number of zombie books or dystopian novels.  Stephen King is a favorite, as is J.R.R. Tolkien.  Many like Jodi Picoult. My colleagues bemoan the fact that today, students don’t read.  (And as a poet, I bemoan the fact that I can’t get people to read poetry).  Other people argue that students don’t read what they should be reading.  This is where I have to confess that I didn’t really read what I should be reading (at least my Academia standards) until I got to college.

But, I was always a reader.  And I’m always looking forward to what my students will be reading next.   I believe we have readers now and we will have readers, although they may be reading ebooks and not physical pages, and they will be entering realms that are a bit different (but yet, somewhat familiar): worlds where zombies have taken over society, dystopian lands full of clones or robots, or apocalyptic  places where manmade technology has run amok.

 

Karen Weyant is the author of Wearing Heels in the Rust Belt which won the 2011 Main Street Rag Chapbook Contest available through the MSR Online Bookstore.

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Confessions of an AWP Virgin

I’m the type of person who when asked if I want to go somewhere, answers, “When do we leave?” I love to travel and find all modes of getting somewhere exactly to my liking. I love boats, planes, trains, helicopters and cars. If it gets me there, I like it. So when Main Street Rag Editor, Scott Douglass, asked if I wanted to go to Boston for AWP, I jumped at the chance.

There are those who would think me quite insane to even consider sitting in a car with Scott for one hour, never mind eighteen hundred miles to Boston and back, but I had a feeling it would not be a problem. After all, we both love to travel. I found him surprisingly easy to get along with and we had a fine time watching the scenery go by and chatting the hours away. I even got a Photoshop tutorial as we navigated through Pennsylvania.

With twelve thousand people attending the AWP conference (Association of Writers and Writing Programs, in case you were wondering) I found the atmosphere rather overwhelming, but I enjoy meeting new people and talking about one of my favorite things, books. It’s particularly gratifying to talk about books with other people who love them as much as I do.

A steady stream of book lovers flowed by our table. Some wanted information on submissions, others were interested in our books. I was thrilled to meet editors and authors whose names I knew, but hadn’t met in person. Dennis Bormann and Gaynell Gavin came up from South Carolina and Steve Taylor and his son Matt came from Glendale, California. Editors from other presses came over to say hi too and I enjoyed meeting Betsy Teter of Hub City among others.

A tall woman with big pretty eyes came up to me at our table and asked rather breathlessly if I was Beth Browne, as if I was some sort of celebrity. She turned out to be the author of one of the novellas we selected last year and I had the immense pleasure of gushing over her book to her in person and nearly bringing us both to tears. Her book about two women crossing cultures form the U.S. to Morocco was such a moving story and so well told I could not put it down. Naturally, it made me cry at the end. I’m prone to that.

In between dashing off to panels and working the table, I endured the long bathroom lines by chatting with neighbors about our favorite books, favorite authors, what we do besides read and write. I even met a lady who came all the way to Boston from St. Thomas for AWP. And it snowed! Locals were apologizing for the appalling weather, but for those of us who have not seen snow in the past two years, a good six-incher was a rare treat. I enjoyed a walk after the storm and waded through ankle-deep slushy puddles to share fantastic Indian food with my dear friend, Carolina Wren Press editor Robin Miura. Totally worth the wet feet.

I’m so grateful to Scott and Main Street Rag for making it possible for me to go to AWP on my single parent/struggling writer budget. We drove through the night to get home and it took me days to recover, but it was worth it. I’m glad for the opportunity to get to know my comrades better, to build relationships with people who love books like I do. We’re all in this together and recognizing that is worth a lot. It’s even worth sitting in the car with Scott, even though he does hate to lose momentum on an on-ramp by braking. I never did have to grab the handrail in spite of his best efforts to make me do so. AWP was a great time, but I’m glad it’s only once a year.

Beth Browne
Associate Editor and Publicity Coordinator
Main Street Rag Publishing Company

Hello, My Name is Scott!

So, Beth, my Propaganda Minister, told me we need to do a blog. Eight months ago. Every week or so since we’ve touched base, discussed titles, authors, upcoming events, the blog. We chat about places we’ve traveled, politics, the state of the economy, the state of Main Street Rag’s business, the blog.

And here we are. I can now say I’m a blogging fool (along with 100 million others). So, what will make a Main Street Rag blog different? For one thing, nowhere else can you get any fresher information about what’s going on at Main Street Rag Publishing Company.

But wait, there’s more. We’re not just a publisher. We’re writers first. We’re people who work at what we do every day like anyone else. We like politics and getting our hands dirty. We don’t mind getting rowdy when the occasion calls for it.

Today I just thought I’d say, “Hello. My name is Scott. I run a publishing company. Sometimes I write. You can find me (or a reasonable facsimile) here every other week. Please stop by to say, Hey.”

I can hear the PM from here: Give them some Main Street Rag news!!!

If you insist.

First, the deadline for the 2013 Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award (contest) is this coming Thursday. If you wanted to enter and haven’t yet, you’re cutting it close. Details can be found: http://www.mainstreetrag.com/PoBkCont.html

Second, MSR suffered a computer crash Monday, January 21 and I’m still picking up the pieces. We don’t appear to have lost anything, but we can’t access everything at this time. Unfortunately, one of the casualties was the mailing list for the MSR Monthly Newsletter. It won’t be functional for at least a few weeks. I will post the newsletter on the website with access from the home page, but I won’t be able to mail direct links to subscribers until the new computer is up and running.

That’s it for now. You can run off to read the other 100 million. Next time I’ll save up and spill a little cleverness into this bloggy thingy.

M. Scott Douglass
Main Street Rag