Yesterday, two time National Book nominee Patricia McCormick visited Community Health Academy of the Heights (CHAH) to discuss her book Purple Heart, investigative journalism, and interviewing strategies with Mr. Dickhudt and Mr. Waligory’s 11th graders.
In preparation for her visit, the students have been reading both fiction and non-fiction about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, including Patricia’s novel; the class is working towards writing their own three page non-fiction accounts of how foreign wars affect life at home.
The visit began with students reflecting on what it was like to re-enter a once-familiar environment after a change in perspective; Patricia then gave some insight about her inspiration to write Purple Heart. She told the story of when she volunteered with the Eyes Wide Open exhibit created by the American Friends Service Committee, which features a pair of empty boots to honor each US military casualty, and shoes to represent Iraqi and Afghan civilian casualties. She was responsible for putting out the shoes, and she described the moment when, in placing a pair of children’s soccer cleats, she saw clearly in her mind’s eye, a young boy is blown up. That image appears in the opening scene of the novel.
After a Q&A, and some pointers from Patricia on interviews, students interviewed one another about their re-entry experiences, and reflected on the kinds of questions that got the best responses.
Mr. Dickhudt told us “The kids were obviously into it. Patty provided a lot of insight about her writing process and what she was thinking as she interviewed the veterans. In some poignant questions about specific events in the book, she admitted to the students that she intentionally left certain questions in the book unanswered. To this, the students smiled and nodded, accepting her honesty and, in many cases, relating to it. It was a fantastic presentation all around and we’re very happy and enthusiastic that Behind the Book made it happen.”
In the next few days the class will prep for interviews with visiting veterans: reading articles, listening to interviews, and honing their theses. Check back next week to see how it went! If you want to be a part of this program as a writing mentor, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org