Island authors visit high school

Pulitzer prizewinners Tony Horwitz, left, and Geraldine Brooks talk to students and faculty at MVRHS about their experience as writers. —Danielle Hopkins

By Rose Engler

Pulitzer Prize winners, novelists, children’s book authors, journalists, poets, and food writers alike, all took to the classrooms of Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) to celebrate writing and inspire students to pursue careers in the field at the third annual MVRHS Writers Week.

In addition to sharing their pieces, visiting writers spoke about their writing lives and the life experiences writing offered them. Junior Miles Jordi said, “I feel like people usually advise students to pursue science, so it was a breath of fresh air to see how many amazing people found such successful careers through writing.”

Pulitzer Prize winning writers Tony Horwitz and Geraldine Brooks kicked off three days of visiting writers by engaging students and teachers in an open discussion about the role writing has played in their lives. Mr. Horwitz and Ms. Brooks are married to each other and live on Martha’s Vineyard, but they came from opposite sides of the world. Mr. Horwitz grew up in Washington DC, while Ms. Brooks spent the first twenty years of her life in Australia. Their shared education at Columbia School of Journalism initially brought them together, and then soon after graduation they were sent on assignment to the Middle East—Ms. Brooks was reporting for The Wall Street Journal, while Mr. Horwitz wrote as a freelancer who goes to a particular area of the world to cover the news there.

After many years of travel and excitement as reporters, they moved back to Martha’s Vineyard to settle down and start a family. “I realized that I needed to stop writing particular types of articles when the scenes of dead bodies from war stopped horrifying me,” Mr. Horwitz said. Both writers decided to make the transition from journalism to writing books—Mr. Horwitz now writes nonfiction, while Ms. Brooks writes novels.

Ms. Brooks said, “It was a relief, but I was unsure of how to go about it. I was lucky that when my book came out people wanted to read it.” Little did she know, her first book March would win the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and she would continue to write six more books that collectively received an assortment of awards. “Winning the Pulitzer Prize certainly didn’t suck,” Ms. Brooks said. “It honestly was a miracle that I won.”

In 1995, Horwitz won the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting for some pieces regarding working conditions in low-wage America for the Wall Street Journal. Mr. Horwitz said, “Winning the Pulitzer Prize helped me to shift from writing for the New Yorker to writing nonfiction history books. Newspaper work was limiting. Books give the author more control.”

The week continued with numerous classroom presentations from visiting writers and opportunities for students to engage in an assortment of writing activities. Junior Kat Roberts said, “I had previously never thought about a career in children’s book writing until Friday when a women came into my class to give a presentation on it. It was cool to see you can make a life out of writing.”

Writers Week welcomed a number of other island writers into MVRHS classrooms, including: Greg Mone, Michael West, Tom Dresser, Bill Eville, Sarah Waldman, Laurel Redington, Moira Silva, Susan Puciul, Ellie Bates, Amy Reece, Laura Wainwright, Lee McCormick, Elissa Lash, Holly Nadler, Lara O’Brien, Herb Foster, Fan Ogilve, John Hough, Jill Jupen, Kate Feiffer, Alexandra Bullen Coutts, Peter Dreyer, John Hough, Jr., Clark Myers, Margot Datz, and Justen Ahren.

In addition to learning from island writers, Writers Week is also about celebrating the writing within our own school. Senior Julia Hart said, “Writers week was eye-opening, as it allowed me to see all the diversity in everyone’s work.”

This school event began a little over three years ago as a collaborative project between various members of the English department. English teacher Christine Ferrone volunteered to spearhead it again this year. Ms. Ferrone said, “We live in a place with so many writers who write not just for work but as a passion, and it’s a unique place in that regard. I wanted to tap into that passion so students understand that writing goes beyond the classroom and can be cultivated for personal growth and inspiration.”

Writers Week is a time for creative exploration as students celebrate their own writing and learn that a variety of possibilities lie in their future. It exemplifies the success and respect a career in writing can bring while at the same time giving students an expressive voice.