October 8, 2008


I have been invited to be a guest speaker at the New York State English Teachers conference to be held on Thursday October 23 in Albany, New York. I look forward to this for many reasons.

The first is: I adore English teachers. At every opportunity, I tell those who gather that Bikeman would never have been written without my having taken Francis X. Nash's English class. We called him FN or simply, Frank. More on Frank in a bit.

The second is: I grew up in Albany, New York. It is an interesting side note that Frank taught me and my schoolmates at the Albany Academy, not far from the Desmond Hotel where this conference is to be held. And I do plan to go over to the school at some point.

And perhaps the most important is this: I will get to talk to the very people who will take Bikeman to one important audience I have long hoped to reach--the young reader. The high school student.

It is no coincidence that we hoped Jim Dale would read the audio book of Bikeman. He read all the parts of all the Harry Potter audio books. The young people know his voice and it was very much part of the plan to get this book to those readers. Jim did, of course, read Bikeman and it is special, I can tell you.

I received a note from an old friend of mine who is a an English teacher. In fact, Dennis Paoli teaches creative writing at Hunter College in New York. He too agrees that this is a book for high school students. I shall read his note at the conference, but here is what he wrote:

"Your book would be good for high schoolers, too, because, though it's grueling at times, it's written lucidly about a watershed historical event in their lifetimes. And it can be taught academically at any level--one can follow the separate skeins of imagery--the references to classical epics, especially the Dante, but also the domestic, almost rural Americana imagery of rag dolls and straw and boxcars and blackberry patches and animals that reaches out from the urban/New York audience to make it a national poem. And it has classic epic structure--the seeking out of adventure, the descent into darkness, and the revival at the river."

If I may, Dennis notes, "...in their lifetimes..." This story is their story. If they are over the age of 10, they lived it in some way, most likely through television. So it's not some ancient tale that takes place in some foreign land with odd character names. This is a relatable story that will take them to a place they know in a language they use, but different, a hightened language. They will learn through this accessible story. Perhaps some one of them, or some few of them, will go on to be writers or English teachers (or both, as Dennis is).

Back to Frank. I give him credit (I sometimes joke that I blame him) for becoming a writer. He had us read Moby Dick which you will note, I am sure, in Bikeman. More than that, I learned about an American epic poem in his class. He had us read John Brown's Body, by Stephen Vincent Benet, written about a hundred years ago.

And here is the real oddity. Many consider that the last epic poem published by an American before Bikeman. We both went to that same school in Albany New York: The Albany Academy.

I would like to have met his English teacher too.


scott@merrittbooks.com said...

I too love the English Teachers. To be able to share wonderful works like yours with their students is a magical feeling. Your poetry about an awful time in our history will allow the students to fully understand and feel the true meaning of that day.
Scott of the Merritt Bookstore and bookseller to the stars, our teachers.

Anonymous said...

FN = Francis "X" Nash???? Tommy: Francis Ignatius Nash!!!! -- P.S. HI. Bill Eckert.