How do you teach young children about important, but complicated issues like diversity and poverty? One Hiram College professor may have the answer.
Award-winning young adult author Sharon Dennis Wyeth visited Hiram College on March 29 to discuss her published works and her creative process with the community. Among the 47 attendees were both current and prospective students.
“I think the most valuable lesson she conveyed was that all lives are worth writing about and are worth writing for,” says Jennifer McCreight, Ph.D., assistant professor of education. “Writing your story can be therapeutic not only to you, but to anyone who later reads your story and can connect to it. It doesn’t have to be flashy, or glamorous – it just has to be yours.”
Co-hosted by the Education Department and the Education Club, the event came together after McCreight wrote a proposal to bring a well-known author to the campus and to local schools. She chose to bring Wyeth to Hiram because she is a longtime fan of the author and she used to teach Wyeth’s books to her first graders as a way to introduce personal narratives.
“Many of them saw their own lives represented in the pages of her book, which encouraged them to connect to the content in very meaningful ways,” she says. “I have since read her work in my college classes at Hiram, to share an example of text that represents working-class, African-American families and neighborhoods. In these ways, I have felt close to Wyeth’s work for many years.”
Wyeth has been writing books for children and young adults since 1989 and uses her experiences from her childhood in Washington, D.C. as her source material. Her background growing up in a working-class African-American family inspired her to use the themes of poverty, racial harmony, identity, African-American history, the nature of resilience and the strength found in family and community in her stories.
Wyeth also created characters that are generally underrepresented in literature; she describes them as “ordinary children who demonstrate resilience in the face of adversity.” McCreight hopes that Education students will bring these characters to the children they teach in the future.
“For children who see themselves represented in the books, it’s incredibly validating,” McCreight says. “And for children whose lives are very different from Wyeth’s characters, they are exposed to backgrounds that help them see the world more fully.”
McCreight hopes that Wyeth’s visit has helped education majors understand the creative process of writing and how to relay it to their young students. She said that the visit was meant to help students understand how to tell stories through creative writing, and to experience Wyeth’s perspectives on the representation of diverse Americans in literature and media.
In addition to her talk at Hiram College, Wyeth spoke to sixth graders in the James A. Garfield School District.
“James A. Garfield teachers and administrators have always been supportive of the Hiram College Education Department, and we are always looking for opportunities to partner with local schools in interesting ways,” McCreight said.