One of our coolest ongoing programs is with the three 10th grade classes at the Community Health Academy of the Heights (CHAH) (check out our other programs at CHAH) where students have been reading Matt de la Pena’s novel We Were Here. Written as a series of court-ordered diary entries, the story contemplates self-discovery and self-worth as the narrator, Miguel, tries to sort through his experiences at Juvi, his complicated family relationships, and what life means. Miguel’s frank, unapologetic voice inspired a couple of students to declare Matt “the best author” ever and, with his fantastic ear for character, it’s not hard to see why they think so.
On his first visit, Matt read the students a short story where a man describes his life in just two words: car wreck. Shifting to workshop mode, he asked the students to come up with their own two word descriptions which later became the basis for a short story. Today, Matt returned to the classroom to teach a lesson on revision; we were all excited to see how the student’s tales had evolved from their two-word-seeds.
“My favorite part of the writing process is revision,” Matt explained at the beginning of the lesson. “I revise my work over and over and over again because I know it will exist forever between two covers.”
He stunned the class by adding he revised We Were Here nearly 30 times before it was finally published. He revised his first book, Ball Don’t Lie, over 100 times!
Several brave students volunteered to read their drafts aloud and have them discussed. Matt laid out the workshop protocol: start first with what’s working, pointing to specific moments in the story, before moving on to the parts that need smoothing out. It’s not always easy to have your work on the chopping block, but the 10th graders took his advice seriously and some great workshopping ensued. Matt wrapped up the class with some tips for revision – check back tomorrow to see the whole list! (In the meantime, check out Doreen Rappaport’s Rules for Writing Biography.)
After the official visit, Matt stopped in for a quick hello and book signing with some 7th graders who were eager to meet him.