Friday, October 28, 2011

The Day Jenny Hubbard Came to Class

Jenny Hubbard

Alexandra said, "I know, I'm just awkwardly walking around with a science project."  

Alexandra's science project

This is her coffee cup.  Her science project regarding capillary action

I'm sitting in a room full of 13 year-old girls who aren't afraid to be smart, and I can't stop smiling.  

I'm at the Village School, a middle school for girls, in downtown Charlottesville and the guest speaker is Jenny Hubbard, author of Paper Covers Rock, her first young adult novel, which was published by Random House this summer.  Her book, which has been named to the top 10 list of "New Voices Among Young Adult Authors", and which just earned a gold medal from The National Parenting Publications Awards, is a creative, poetic and brilliant book that takes the reader into the boarding school world in a way you haven't been there before.  
I am tagging along.

She could just read them pages from her book.  It's so good, and it's polished and they would hear it and they would want to buy it and read it (and they should), but Jenny is a former teacher of college and high school English, and she's got more to offer them than a reading.  She wants them to help her with her new book.  She wants to know what they think.   

If Jenny Hubbard had come to my classroom when I was 13 and given me the first 10 pages of her second novel and asked me to critique it, to give her my opinion, to point out what I didn't understand, I would've left that room and wanted to be a writer.  I would've thought it was the coolest thing EVER.  Maybe they will.  Some of Proal Heartwell's English students already know they want to be writers.  There are tips and quotes all around the room from Eudora Welty and other famous authors.  

Jenny talks to them about what publishers want to do with covers, what happens from agent to publication, and how long it took her to write this book (6 years total, she says, "I know that's going to scare you, but some of those years I was teaching full time and could only work on it during the summer.")  She reads the first few pages.  She tells them she really wants their input.  She's got to send the first 10 pages away to her editor who is "going to go crazy with red pen", so she might as well make it as good as she can before she sends it.  Mauve raises her hand and asks about a plot point.  Jenny says, "That's an excellent question." 

Her generosity doesn't surprise me.  I've known Jenny for over 15 years.  As a poet, teacher, actress and friend, I've never known a more disciplined multi-discipline person.  She's also incredibly encouraging to other artists and students -- she gets it and she also has the capacity to really enjoy your work, which is a selfless gesture that can't be underrated.  I've always wanted something Disney to happen between us, like maybe we could switch bodies for a day and then we could both write about it.  I would love to have a chance to pick from her closet AND sit down to write exactly when I said I would.  

With five minutes left, she asks the girls to write a poem in the voice of a character we haven't heard from yet.  They grab some paper and jump right in.  After one brave student reads hers aloud, Jenny asks them to put their names on them; she's going to collect them.  For a moment, it could be any last moment of any English class across the country right before lunch.  But it's not.  It's the day Jenny Hubbard came to class, and I don't think it will soon be forgotten.