Throughout the month of March, JMRL has offered events for all ages based on the themes of this year’s NEA Big Read selection: Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones. In addition to her acclaimed work as an author, Tayari Jones supports the development of young writers. She has served on the Board of Directors for Girls Write Now, an organization that pairs high school girls with women writers and digital media professionals in one-on-one mentorship program. Inspired by this, JMRL has partnered with WriterHouse to offer a similar program for several middle school aged girls in Charlottesville.
These students will read from their work during the NEA Big Read Finale at CitySpace this Wednesday evening, March 29th, at 6:30. The event is free and all are welcome to attend.
In advance of the reading, we asked one mentor and student pair to reflect on their experiences writing.
“What Inspired You to Start Writing?”
Hannah Russell, 8th grader & Mentee at The Village School
Jess Brophy, poet & Hannah’s mentor with WriterHouse
Working with Hannah has shown me that writing can be fun, silly, and a great way to build friendships. She has shown me that I have made my writing life too serious! Hannah was excited to write about her early memories of being a writer in this blog post, so I followed her lead and explored this topic too. I am so pleased that her early writing life was influenced by a positive female teacher who instilled the value of creative expression. Her post made me want to immediately go back to third grade and write about Mrs. Bazarewsky!
Having a very wide imagination, I always loved to make up stories in my head when I was younger. Sometimes my friends and I would act them out, but usually they’d stay locked in my mind, their beginnings, endings and middles always twisting with my memory. In third grade, my amazing teacher, Ms. Brandt, had my class decorate compositions notebooks with felt and buttons during the first week of school. For the rest of the year, we would open them up daily and be given free time to write whatever we wanted. This was the first time I ever put one of my stories onto paper. As an avid reader, the idea of one day becoming a published author made me giddy. I desperately wanted to write a book that a younger me would’ve spent hours reading, and felt just a small amount of sadness after finishing. In third grade, most of my stories were inspired by things I had read. Mythology, Warriors, Harry Potter, and other various series I had eaten through like a bookworm. Of course my first compositions were far from perfect, but they were still stories that I was very proud of and held close to my heart. Over six years, my writing style has improved and become much less erratic (or so I hope), but it was during those fifteen minutes of each school day that I kindled my love of writing.
I have Googled for signs of my third grade teacher, Mrs. Bazarewsky. I would have been her student in 1987. The only things that come up are old real estate records of when she sold her house, School Board notes on her retirement pension, and a few newspaper photos and captions about her third graders. An October 27, 1988 publication of the Rahway News Record has a picture of her class posing on the black top where I used to have recess. They were giving a formal send-off to a balloon in which they had placed a letter. The letter asked “the finder to write back.” Her class actually heard from someone living in Oyster Bay, New York, a few school years prior to mine. But then there she is. She has a puffy permed hairdo. She is standing in the left corner, her students smiling around her in messy rows. They are at ease beside her. Some are standing next to her, some are crouching, some have their arms around one another. I can almost see her frosted pink lipstick. Her short-sleeved blouse shows off her lean and muscled arms. Her white pencil skirt is finished with a skinny belt. She smells like lemon tea, and I am imagining her calligraphy script. Mrs. Baz inscribed all of the award certificates given to students throughout the school year. Her script is the most beautiful writing I have ever seen! Who taught her? How long did it take to master? How did she achieve such technical mastery but still find her own style? She took risks with nib pen and black ink. Lowercase cursive “h’s” were adorned with an extra loop that looked like a baby’s curl. The bottom of lowercase “g” arched back, like a girl in a reclining lawn chair reading in the backyard. The “B” for Baz had overlapping swirls, the synchronized swimmers of letters. It aches a little to think of the pen in her hand, the beauty she scribed year after year, and the sensuality with which her lettering evoked. I want so badly to air-lift a balloon letter to Mrs. Baz thanking her for being so careful with the pen, thanking her for making her students feel like they were recipients of her royal craft-womanship, and thanking her for believing in the power of letter writing, even when our words are received by complete strangers. Her example as a teacher and calligraphy artist has inspired me to love the process of writing—the discipline, the care, the attention to detail, and the artistry involved in how the words appear on the page. Wherever you are, Mrs. Baz, thank you!
NEA Big Read is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest.