Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 17
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
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Visiting Artists Help Students “Imagine the Possibilities”

Ellen Gilbert

“The writer experiences an event like a stone tossed into water,” said young adult books author Ann Turner as she began her recent workshop on historical fiction with seventh grade students at Princeton Day School.

The author of such books as One Brave Summer, Nettie’s Trip South, Mississippi Mud: Three Prairie Journals, and Grasshopper Summer, spoke about “how I do what I do — what’s wonderful about it, what’s horrible about it,” as part of PDS’s “Imagine the Possibilities” program, now in its 12th year.

Coordinated by Lower School Teacher Bev Gallagher, the program brings in guest artists for two-day workshops with students from junior kindergarteners to seniors. Artists interact with students and teachers in a variety of situations, from small-group presentations and workshops to larger readings or demonstrations. Before each artist arrives, teachers make sure to integrate their work into the classroom curriculum. The result, according to Ms. Gallagher, “is an intimate experience of artists at work that both inspires and challenges students and teachers to ‘imagine the possibilities’ of their own creativity.”

Doing it Over and Over

Creativity involves hard work, Ms. Turner told teacher Jeff Vinikoor’s seventh-grade social studies class on Monday, asking how many of them had “torn up” early copies of a paper. (A number had.) She reported that she had rewritten her “Nettie” book about 20 times, while another story, about Sitting Bull, took 15 tries.

Describing the work that went into The Father of Lies, her historical novel about a girl alive in 1692 during the time of the Salem Witch trials, Ms. Turner talked about looking at “a ton of resources,” and spoke to students of her uncertainty about what’s worthwhile and what isn’t on the internet.  She enthusiastically endorsed “primary sources,” accounts of what “absolutely happened” because they were created close to the actual time of an event.

An Outsider

Like the Lidda, the 14-year old heroine of the witchcraft book, Ms. Turner described herself as “an outsider” for most her life. Both of her parents were communists. Her father, an organizer for shipbuilders’ unions, “was willing to put himself in harm’s way for the sake of justice,” she said. Ms. Turner noted that an intriguing twist in Lidda’s story is the fact that she is bipolar and, having an “inner demon” of her own, knows that others are lying when they identify people in the community as witches.

Ms. Turner’s other activities at PDS included a poetry workshop with fifth-grade students and lunch with faculty. She described PDS as an “absolutely beautiful school with a wealth of resources. The kids here are great--responsive and engaged. You know you’re working with kids who know history.”

This year’s other “Imagine” guests at PDS included Angela Johnson, a Coretta Scott King book award winner, and the Korean-born writer Chris Soentpiet, author of Peacebound Trains.

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