More Than Words
Students Meet Famous Authors
Spring semester at Armstrong was punctuated by a series of visits by famous authors. From meeting Stephen King to hearing a lecture by Melissa Fay Greene to workshopping with Jamie Ford, personal interactions with successful writers made dreams tangible for Armstrong's Pirates.
“When I first found out I was going, I screamed,” Brittany Cook, copy editor for the Inkwell, said. Screaming is a common reaction when one encounters an author who has been inspiring fear and anxiety in his readers for decades. But for Cook and 19 other Armstrong students, bouts of yelling and dancing were due to joy, as they were given the opportunity to meet Stephen King.
20 Armstrong students won a writing competition to see King before his closing address at the Savannah Book Festival. Choosing the winners was not an easy task for Monica Rausch and the other professors who judged the competition.
“It was really hard to choose the winners for the Stephen King contest—so many people had good reasons for wanting to see him, and so many students are fans,” Rausch said.
But choose they did, and Brian Allum, an electrical engineering major, was one of the lucky Pirates to receive his golden ticket in an email.
“When I opened it, I was like ‘Wow! This is cool.' I've read a few of his books and watched a few of his movies, so it's awesome to actually see him,” Allum said. For Rebecca Farthing, a junior psychology major and self-proclaimed Stephen King “biggest fan,” meeting the author was akin to meeting a mentor.
“He has had such an impact on my life. The first book of his I read was the Talisman when I was 8 years-old,” Farthing said. And while King quickly became a favorite author during her younger years, he later became an inspiration during Farthing's adulthood. “His book on writing is what got me to go back to college,” she said.
The discussion was held at the Southern Motors Acura Showroom on Broughton Street for 80 students from the local colleges and universities. Orange curtains and stage lights transformed the room, providing an intimate setting for eager fans. A hush fell the minutes before he was set to appear, and following a rather unnecessary but brief introduction, King finally stepped out to greet the crowd.
He sat down in a shiny leather wingback chair on the stage and got straight to business. He gave a brief history of how he got started as a writer, mentioning cartoons his mother contracted him to write as he lay sick in bed with scarlet fever. But the jewels of the speech were King's craft advice and insight. He urged students to constantly read, to do due diligence to the editing process, and most importantly, to just write.
“There is nothing mysterious about me,” King said, “but there is something mysterious about what I do and what you do, and that is the actual act of writing. When it comes, it comes, and it lifts you up.”
“Watching and listening to him was one of the most inspiring experiences in my entire life,” Lauren Geiger, a junior English communications major, said. “Not everyone gets to see Stephen King, much less hear him talk about his work and open up about aspects of his personal life. It will definitely be one of those things that I will tell people about in the future.”
The Armstrong community was further exposed to fame when Melissa Fay Greene, author of Praying for Sheetrock, The Temple Bombing and Last Man Out, lectured to more than 100 people on “Capturing Georgia History: Incredible True Tales Are All Around Us” as part of the Savannah Book Festival.
While this Georgia Hall of Fame author currently resides in Atlanta, she admitted to strong ties to the Hostess city. “Savannah first entered my writing through adjectives,” she said. “The marshes are hysterical with life, I wrote. Sunlight drifting through a canopy of oaks, Spanish moss looping out of the branches, the warm air smelling of fried chicken.”
Greene also lived in a small flat on Whitaker Street while researching and interviewing people from McIntosh County for her award-winning book Praying for Sheetrock.
“My mother was not impressed by the title,” she said to the packed room. “She said Sheetrock is a trade name and that the book should be called Praying for Wallboard because that was the generic name. We made fun of my mother for weeks, until the book was published.”
A week after the book's release, Greene received a letter from the lawyers of the manufacturers of Sheetrock, listing trademark infringement complaints. Her publishers eventually reached an agreement with the manufacturers, and Greene agreed to never tell her mother.
“She was wonderful,” said Betty Rushing, a Savannahian and Landings resident. “I'd like to hear more about what's going on at Armstrong. This was a great event.”
Five students from Monica Rausch's creative writing course on fiction also got the chance to attend a workshop with Jamie Ford, author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. Ford read and critiqued two writing samples from Courtney Richmond and Terraya Smith.
“He told me to keep writing, and that I needed to develop my characters more for the plot I had created. He was very nice and extremely helpful pointing out places in my writing that would make my story better,” Richmond said.
“It means a lot that he actually took the time to read my work. To have someone who is established and successful read my work makes me want to continue writing. It makes me think, if a professional is willing to read my stuff, maybe other people are too,” Smith said.
Both students made sure to have the author sign their papers. After the workshop, Ford also took the time to answer questions about his writing life and the publishing industry.
“I think it's so important for students to see real writers and to know that it is possible to become a writer,” Rausch said. “Students also tend to see literature as a ‘dead' art—and that the ‘best works' were written years ago. Living authors sharing their work can show students that literature is still a living, evolving art—and they can be a part of producing that art in the future.”