Amy Ludwig VanDerwater | Graduated in 1992
Author and Writing Teacher
Posted on Tue, 27 Aug, 2013
As a little girl, I wrote in big letters in a gingham diary and pretended to teach my dog to read. At forty-three, my life is, happily, much the same.
In the late 80’s and early 90’s, I combined my English major with certification in elementary education. It is the poetry I remember most. Professor Joe O’Brien read Roethke’s “My Papa’s Waltz” aloud as the sun sank, and Professor Wes Kennison challenged us to write our first sonnets. Dr. Julia Walker swung wide the doors to Milton, and Dr. Eugene Stelzig introduced Wordsworth and Goethe. My heart beat in meter.
Following graduation, I spent a year substitute teaching (and working retail) and then a year teaching fifth grade in the Sweet Home Central School District north of Buffalo, NY. During that year, I was offered an opportunity to work at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University, to study with Lucy Calkins and work in her office in exchange for tuition and a stipend. I took the offer, knowing this would be a good way to earn my MA.
I did not know that this, too, would change my heartbeat. At Teachers College, I learned about writing workshop: mentor texts, conferring, children’s literature. I stayed for one year and returned to my classroom a stronger writing teacher, completing my MA (newly married) from afar.
When our daughter Hope was born in 1998, I stayed home with her and with Georgia and Henry too. But I did not stop writing or teaching. Rather, I continued to attend conferences and teach occasional workshops for teachers. It is during these years, these what could have been out-of-career-years, that I found my life’s work.
At Geneseo, I learned that people can and will help you if your passion is fueled by sweat. I took this lesson with me, and I have continually reached out to teachers-of-the-world. I am grateful for my generous and wise poetry mentor, Lee Bennett Hopkins, who anthologizes my poems, introduced me to his agent and launched my writing career. My first poetry book for children, Forest Has A Song (Clarion 2013) will soon be followed by Reading Time (Boyds Mills Press, date TBA) and another (still secret) book under contract. I have also co-authored, with Lucy Calkins and Stephanie Parsons, a professional text titled Poetry: Big Thoughts In Small Packages (Heinemann, 2013).
Today, I write poetry for children and teach workshops about the craft of writing. My blog, The Poem Farm, began as an experiment in which I wrote a children’s poem and lesson each day from April 2010 – April 2011, and it is now a popular resource in classrooms across the country. I could not love my work more.
I encourage new English majors to listen: to the voices in literature, to the voices of your professors, and to the voices in your heart. The world is full of beauty, and it is possible to make a living by working to find and create even more beauty with words.