Where is your writing home? For the past week I have returned to visit one of my writing homes, the place where I first began publishing my work – Alaska. I still call it home because some of our dearest friends still live here, memories of teaching in the bush in a Yup’ik village, and raising our children Conor and Meg when I return to this setting in the Northland. This visit feels different because it’s like I am melding several parts of my life. No longer do I just speak about my Alaskan books during presentations, but rather the new ones on women’s suffrage and civil rights. Books I might not have written if Alaska were still my home.
Like me, do you also have several places close to your heart that center your work? Why don’t you take a few minutes today to reflect over your writing life? Hamline MFAC’ers, alums and current students, what brought you to our program? How has your writing life changed because of it? For all readers of this post, where did you start as a writer? Where is your creative home today? Just like other decisions in our lives, we wouldn’t be who we are, wouldn’t write what we do without those places, those settings that have challenged and stimulated us to bring stories to life on the page.
I sometimes think that if I hadn’t started writing in Alaska, where anything seems possible and people do things not quite acceptable in the Outside world, that I might not even be a writer today. Maybe I’d still be directing high school plays or teaching college composition. I was a history major in college, but never taught history. Here in Alaska I taught literature, comp and drama. So my love of history was ignited in my writing instead – by the native cultures, the gold rush mentality that pervaded the oil boom, the can-do attitude that anything is possible if you persevere.
Yesterday I visited two schools on Eielson Air Force Base,
Crawford Elementary and Eielson High School, and when I signed in for a visitors’ pass the setting changed. Outside the building the big sky and tall mountains still advertised Alaska, but the heightened security that slowed down everyday business could be on any military site in our country. And when I arrived at Crawford Elementary, the enthusiasm for books and writing was high. Kids love to see real writers and to tell you about their writing, too, at most any school in America.
At Eielson High School one of my former drama students brought her class. We laughed about the old days and she told me that she now writes too. After school I stopped by North Pole High School where I had produced those musicals so long ago. That auditorium was a creative home for me, too. If I hadn’t directed those productions, I might not have realized my creative potential and been brave enough to try another form – books for kids.
The day ended with a visit to Mary McFetridge’s classroom at North Pole High School. It was filled with literary quotes, beautiful plants, and family photos – a place where a teen writer could find a home. Mary joined our MFAC program in July and we enjoyed a visit as the fall sun shone through the windows, talking about balancing writing with teaching, critical writing with creative, family with career.
This Saturday I will cheer my husband on during the Equinox marathon. Running is his favorite form of creativity. He used to win this race. Nowadays he is happy just to be running. I like that. I want to be happy writing all my days, even with the cricks and crinks. Mary and I talked about that too. How we have to keep moving, keep writing, even when the words on the page don’t seem very good.
Next week I’ll be back in Spokane working in my current writing home, waiting for the next round of packets from my three hardworking, talent students. But before that, I’ll be trying to write on the airplane and in the airport, too. Let’s find our writing homes wherever, whenever we can.
Claire Rudolf Murphy is the author of seventeen books of fiction and nonfiction for children and young adults, including Children of Alcatraz: Growing Up on the Rock; Daughters of the Desert: Remarkable Women of the Christian, Jewish and Muslim Traditions; Marching With Aunt Susan:Susan B. Anthony and the Fight for Women’s Suffrage; and her latest, My Country Tis of Thee: Song of Patriotism, Song of Protest.
Claire's 17th book, Martin and Bobby: A Journey to Justice will be published in September of 2018 during the fiftieth year commemoration of King and Robert Kennedy's tragic deaths in 1968. Recent events have renewed her passion for political activism and preparing her presentation on theme helped her deepen her theme in this upcoming book and other current projects.