Monday, January 19, 2009

First Hamline MFA in Kidlit commencement

I had the pleasure of attending Hamline University’s first-ever graduation ceremony from its MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults (ask me how much I love the separate billing for YA).

Kate DiCamillo gave the commence address, and honestly she was amazing—something rarely said of commencement speakers. She built her speech around a quote from an essay by Ian Frazier (a quote that has more to do with John Cheever than Frazier). Here, Frazier relates a story he heard from a man at a soup kitchen, would apparently attended a writers’ workshop Cheever gave in a prison:

“Cheever, you understan’, he was a brilliant writer. When he wrote something he always had two things going on at a time. He told us, when you writin’, you got this surface thing, you understan’, goin’ on up here”—he moved his left hand in a circle with his fingers spread apart, as if rubbing a flat surface—an’ then once you get that goin’ on, now you got to come up under it”—he brought his right hand under his left, as if throwing an uppercut—“come under this thing here that’s goin’ on up here, you understan’. That was how John Cheever said you write.”

DiCamillo, like any great writer, not only told her audience that this is valuable advice, she deftly showed it. It was a memorable address.

Congrats to all the graduates.