Imagining a Writer’s Life

Extending the Connection between Readers and Books

Authored by: Elizabeth Dutro , Monette C. McIver

Handbook of Research on Children’s and Young Adult Literature

Print publication date:  October  2010
Online publication date:  April  2011

Print ISBN: 9780415965057
eBook ISBN: 9780203843543
Adobe ISBN: 9781136913570


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Annie Dillard once wrote a famous little masterpiece, entitled The Writing Life, in which she suggests that the writer “is careful of what he reads, for that is what he will write.” In this chapter, Elizabeth Dutro and Monette McIver take Dillard’s comment even further. They begin with the increasing role of literary texts as authorial mentors for young writers, emphasizing the intertwined nature of reading and writing. But then they up the ante by looking carefully at what kinds of mentor texts are valued both within and outside of school. They argue that literary borrowing does not simply supply a “model of skills, genre, and literary conventions,” but can also serve individual expression as well as resistance to and transformation of the social status quo. The idea of how one’s reading flows into “every scratch of the pen” will be echoed in Hammill’s later chapter on how writing is preserved and serves as a transformational space within museums.

When we consider the relationship between reading and young writers we think of Jo March, the heroine of Little Women (Alcott, 2004), retreating to the privacy of her attic room and writing furiously in her notebooks. Filling page after page, she created the kinds of thrilling tales that she read in magazines and that she was sure were just what publishers wished to print. It took painful rejection, not to mention the burning of her manuscript by a vengeful little sister, to convince her that her own voice and story were more valuable than those she had so carefully modeled. But, those horror tales played an important, intertextual role in inspiring and motivating her to pursue a writing life (Dillard, 1989).

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