Award Winning Author Conducts Writers Workshops at MCHS
Paul Volponi, author of 15 popular books for young adults, visited Michigan City High School on April 21, meeting with several groups of students in the school library to discuss his novels and lead them in writing workshops.
During one session with Monica Handley’s AP English Composition students, Volponi shared that even though he was a good student in school, he was not a reader.
“I used to pretend to read books,” he said, admitting that he would participate in class discussions just by rephrasing things others were saying. “I was wrong,” he said. “I never came up with any solid ideas of my own.”
Then, a teacher gave him a copy of a book based on the first James Bond movie – a movie he loved. “That was my first book. I am so grateful to that teacher.”
Volponi went on to become a successful writer, teacher, and journalist living in New York City. From 1992-1998, he taught incarcerated teens on Rikers Island to read and write. That experience formed the basis of his ALA Award-winning novels Rikers High and Black and White. From 1999-2005, he taught teens in drug treatment programs, inspiring his ALA Award-winning novel Rooftop.
During the workshop at MCHS, Volponi urged students to write about what they know and feel passionate about. He said his first book, Black and White, was rejected by one publisher because his protagonist was black, yet he is a white author. “People are going to tell you what you can do and what you can’t,” he said. “Don’t listen to them. Do what you want.”
During his workshops at MCHS, Volponi gave students writing prompts based on a character named Jessup, who was wrongly accused of beating a corrections officer at a juvenile facility. “Pick up Jessup’s story… tell me what happens next. Write from any perspective – Jessup’s, his mom, the guard, other students. Take it into the past or the future. Give him superpowers. There are no limits. What will you do with Jessup?”
After students wrote several sentences, Volponi encouraged several to read their passages aloud, offering tips and critiques. “This is how you sharpen your skills. I am so impressed with the creativity here.”
Volponi visits classes across the U.S., either in-person or via video conferencing, to discuss the novels and encourage students who wish to pursue their own writing. According to MCAS Library Media Specialist Gwen Hudson, who arranged his visit to MCHS, several of his books are available at MCHS and middle school libraries. “We truly appreciate the time he spent here in Michigan City,” she said. “His passion for writing and his expertise really inspired our students.”