Past Conference Speakers
Jill Bialosky is the author of four acclaimed collections of poetry, most recently The Players. Her poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Kenyon Review, and The Atlantic, among others. She is the author of three novels, most recently, The Prize, and a New York Times bestselling memoir History of a Suicide: My Sister’s Unfinished Life. She is an editor at W. W. Norton & Company where she oversees the Norton poetry list and lives in New York City. In 2014 she was honored by the Poetry Society of America for her distinguished contribution to poetry.
In “POETRY WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE” (Atria Books; August 15, 2017), poet, novelist, and New York Times bestselling author Jill Bialosky takes a wholly original approach to memoir, refracting her life through the prism of poems that have shaped, inspired, and helped her make sense of the world around her. At once highly personal and marked by keenly observed universal themes, Bialosky’s probing exploration touches on both familiar poetic classics and lesser-known gems that have had special significance.
“Poems are made from the lives lived, borne out of experiences and shaped by solitary thought,” Bialosky writes. “Like a map to an unknown city, a poem might lead you toward an otherwise unreachable experience, but once reached, you recognize it immediately….This memoir is also a form of mythmaking, for experiences are heightened, altered and shaped by the form in which they are told….and the poems I present provide to a certain extent a window into my way of thinking and associating. Such is the mystery and wonder of a poem.”
Bialosky’s lifelong immersion in poetry began in the fourth grade with the discovery of Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.” An awkward child whose father died before she was old enough to remember him, Bialosky finds that the poem speaks to her of an alternative life where her father had lived and her mother was happy and offered her a way to think about her own path she might forge. As her life progresses from girlhood to adolescence to adulthood and motherhood, poems bear witness to her experiences, large and small, to the ways in which we live in the world and to our shared humanity. Emily Dickinson provides insight into questions of faith, Sylvia Plath illuminates the mysterious pull of depression, Louise Gluck on envy, James Wright and Keats on first love. Poems offer signposts for the significant moments in a life—sexual awakening, leaving home, the loss of a parent and the deaths of a child, the joys of motherhood, a sister’s suicide, a mother’s aging, the day in New York City when the Twin Towers fell.
Bialosky frames each poem with its Life and Afterlife—chronicling how the poem spoke to her at a formative time and also how its meanings and implications have deepened for her over time. As an acclaimed poet and editor herself, Bialosky moves beyond the personal to investigate the essence of what makes these poems more widely significant, explicating the art of poetry for readers who will surely find their own connections to these poems—and to others and in doing so demystifies poetry and makes a compelling argument for its necessity in our lives.
With equal parts candor, empathy, and passion, Jill Bialosky shows how intricately tied poetry is to our own experiences and, at the same time, offers a celebration of the power of an enduring art form. “POETRY WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE” is a singularly moving and illuminating work from “a fearless and clear-eyed and compassionate writer” (George Howe Colt, author of November of the Soul).
Author, teacher, coach, and speaker, Laura Robb has completed more than 43 years of teaching in grades 4-8. She presently coaches teachers in grades K to 8 in Virginia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Robb always works with those students who need the most support from teachers.
Laura Robb has written more than 25 books for teachers. In 2016, two new books were published: The Reading Intervention Toolkit, by Shell Education in April 2016 and Read Talk Write: 35 Lessons That Teach Students to Analyze Fiction and Nonfiction, published by Corwin Literacy in October 2016. Corwin Literacy also published Robb’s Vocabulary Is Comprehension: Getting to the Root of Complex Texts was available in September 2014.
Her newest for Heinemann is a First-Hand Curriculum: Smart Writing: Practical Units For Teaching Middle School Writers and a book, and a professional book, Teaching Middle School Writers: What Every English Teacher Needs to Know.
For Scholastic, Robb has completed several bestsellers including the second edition of Teaching Reading in Middle School, Differentiating Reading Instruction, Teaching Reading in Social Studies, Science, and Math, and her newest, Unlocking Complex Texts; the book provides teachers with detailed reading and writing about reading lessons. Robb has designed classroom libraries for Scholastic for grades 3 to 9. She developed, with Jeff Wilhelm, XBOOKS for middle school readers: nonfiction print texts with an online curriculum organized by themes such as forensics, tyrants, war, medicine, and strange.
Robb is a keynote and featured speaker at conferences and leads workshops all over the country and in Canada. She writes articles for education journals.
She is a regular contributor to www.therobbreviewblog.com and has a series of podcasts with her son, middle school principal, Evan Robb on https://therobbreviewpodcast.podbean.com.
Liz Rosenberg is the author of five books of poems, six best-selling novels, and more than 30 award winning books for young people of all ages. She has won an IRA Choice Award, The Patterson Prize, and served on the National Book Award committee for Young People’s Literature, and for more than 20 years wrote a book review column in the Boston Globe.
She teaches English and Creative Writing at SUNY Binghamton, where she won a Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching. Her newest books are HOUSE OF DREAMS: A Biography of L. M. Montgomery (Candlewick Press) and INDIGO HILL, a novel (Lake Union Books).
Alfred W. Tatum
Alfred W. Tatum is the Dean of the College of Education at University of Illinois at Chicago and the director of the UIC Reading Clinic. Tatum’s research focuses on the literacy development of African American males, particularly the roles of texts and writing to advance their literacy development. He is interested in how texts can be used as tools to preserve one’s humanity.
He is the author of Reading For Their Life: (Re) building the Textual Lineages of African American Adolescent Males, and Fearless Voices: Engaging the Next Generation of African American Male Writers as well as the the NCTE James N. Britton Award–winning Teaching Reading to Black Adolescent Males: Closing the Achievement Gap.
Kwame Alexander is a poet, educator, and the New York Times Bestselling author of 24 books, including The Crossover, which received the 2015 John Newbery Medal for the Most Distinguished Contribution to American Literature for Children, The Coretta Scott King Author Award Honor, The NCTE Charlotte Huck Honor, the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, Passaic Poetry Prize. Kwame writes for children of all ages. Some of his other works include picture books, Animal Arc and Surf’s Up; novels Booked, The Playbook, He Said She Said and the forthcoming Solo. Kwame believes that poetry can change the world, and he uses it to inspire and empower young people through his Page-To-Stage Writing Workshop published by Scholastic.
A regular speaker at schools and conferences in the U.S., he also travels the world planting seeds of literary love: Singapore, Brazil, Italy, France, Shanghai, and recently, Alexander led a delegation of 20 writers and activists to Ghana, where they delivered books, built a library, and provided literacy professional development to 300 teachers, as a part of LEAP for Ghana, an International literacy program he co-founded. In 2015, Kwame served as Bank Street College of Education’s Inaugural Dorothy M. Carter writer-in-residence. The Kwame Alexander Papers, a collection of his writings, correspondence, and other professional and personal documents is held at the George Washington University Gelman Library.
Visit him at KwameAlexander.com.
Elfrieda H. Hiebert
Elfrieda “Freddy” Hiebert (Ph.D., University of Wisconsin) has had a long career as a literacy educator, first as a teacher’s aide and teacher of primary-level students in California and, subsequently, as a teacher educator and researcher at the universities of Kentucky, Colorado-Boulder, Michigan, and California-Berkeley. Her research, which addresses how fluency, vocabulary, and knowledge can be fostered through appropriate texts, has been published in numerous scholarly journals and books.
Through documents such as Becoming a Nation of Readers (Center for the Study of Reading, 1985) and Every Child a Reader (Center for the Improvement of Early Reading Achievement, 1999), she has contributed to making research accessible to educators. Hiebert’s contributions to research and practice have been recognized through awards such as the American Educational Research Association’s Research to Practice award (2013).
A few things about me… I have written five books altogether, with three of them on writing (the first is Wired Style, the second is Sin and Syntax, and the third is Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch). The latter is intended as a romp through the history of language and, in particular, English. It is filled with ideas to play with in your writing. Sin and Syntax is a subversive guide to grammar and good writing and contains “catechisms”—quirky grammar quizzes and writing prompts. Wired Style was intended to fill gaps back in the early days of the Web. The books have gotten me dubbed “Marion the Librarian on a Harley, or E. B. White on acid.” That works.
If you are a writer or a lover of all things syntactical, you might also be interested in my eight-part series on sentences for “Draft,” in the Opinionator area of The New York Times. (The essays there by other writers are awesome.)
My other books, though, are an intellectual coffee-table book on hula titled The Natives Are Restless and a picture book for children, set in Hawaii‘, called Iwalani’s Tree. I also write articles on politics, culture, history, and travel, as well as essays on everything from the name I share with my grandmother and my odd taste in food. (More on all my work at www.constance-hale.com.)
I grew up in Hawaii, speaking “proper” English at home and Hawaiian creole (or “Pidgin”) with friends. This weird bilingualism explains my fascination with language, which didn’t stop there. I left the islands to get a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature from Princeton, after which I spent a few years writing short stories and performing monologues in dim San Francisco coffeehouses. I can’t say I went straight after that, but I did earn a masters from the Graduate School of Journalism at UC Berkeley, after which I worked as a reporter and editor at the Gilroy Dispatch, the Oakland Tribune, and the San Francisco Examiner. I really started dabbling in the idiosyncrasies of the mother tongue, though, while copy chief at Wired.
Freelance writing suits my personality, as I have eclectic interests. I’ve written about Latin plurals and Latino culture, Berkeley politics and Hawaiian sovereignty. My stories have appeared in newspapers from the Los Angeles Times to the Miami Herald, as well as in magazines like The Atlantic, National Geographic Adventure, Afar, Smithsonian, Health, and Honolulu. I love the travel essay as a form, and have been published in many anthologies including France, A Love Story (Seal Press) and Best Travel Writing 2006 (Travelers’ Tales).
I am as passionate about editing and teaching as I am about writing. I worked at Wired Books and today edit for Harvard Business Press. I have also directed conferences for mid-career journalists, including the Nieman Conference on Narrative Journalism in 2008 and 2009, and the East Meets West conference in 2012 and UC Berkeley’s Latest in Longform conference in 2014, 2015, and 2016. I run an annual writers retreats in Hawaii in spring and speak and teach all over the place. I am a founder of The Prose Doctors, an editor’s collective, and work one-on-one with many published writers. And, almost every day, I work at the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto.
Oh, and if you’ve heard that I dance a damned good hula, I do.
Gae’s most recent young adult novel, The Memory of Things, has been a hit in middle and high school classrooms across the country since its publication last fall. The Memory of Things is set on 9/11/01 in New York City; it follows a sixteen year-old high school student named Kyle, who is evacuated from Stuyvesant High School after the twin towers are hit.
During his trek home across the Brooklyn Bridge and in the midst of chaos, he finds a girl his age who is disoriented and covered in ash. Although she is a complete stranger and he is trying to escape the frantic scene around him, Kyle decides to take her into his home and tries to help her reunite with her family. While trying to assist this girl in finding her family, Kyle is also anxiously awaiting a reunion with his own family because his mother and sister are in California and his father is an NYPD detective who is on the scene at ground zero.
The Memory of Things is a coming-of-age story about the formation of an unlikely friendship between Kyle and this mysterious girl that unfolds during a national tragedy. These two young strangers must support one another in order to persevere through this immeasurable tragedy. Ultimately, The Memory of Things focuses on maintaining hope, finding unity and resilience in times of unimaginable tragedy, and social responsibility to strangers, family, and the community.
In addition to writing The Memory of Things, Gae is also the author of several other young adult titles, including The Summer of Letting Go and The Pull of Gravity. Gae is very well-connected in the world of higher education, and she even co-hosts teachers Write!, a virtual writers’ camp for teachers and educators. She has been enthusiastically received by middle and high school English and social studies teachers; she has even done speaking engagements and classroom Skype sessions with middle schools and high schools across the country.
Some of the topics that Gae frequently speaks on are the importance of memory, and how students can gain empathy through literacy (including through reading historical fiction). She believes that empathy is key to being a good citizen. We also featured the memory of things at the 2016 NCTE annual convention, and educators flocked to our booth to pick up copies and gush about Gae. Given this year’s theme, she’s a perfect fit.