Teachers’ writing passions recognized

On Oct. 8,  authors Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan, and Deborah Biancotti visited the Upper School. During sixth period, the authors spoke, took questions and signed copies of their new book, Zeroes. While guest authors generate a lot of excitement, Westminster students may be unaware of the many authors within our own faculty. English teacher Maggie Bailey, history teacher Julie Elb, and foreign language teacher Jason Smith are all officially published authors.

Elb has recently published an article in The Oxfordian, an annual journal printed in September by the Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship.

“It’s about Love’s Labours Lost, which is a Shakespearean play I taught for 10 years at another school,” said Elb. “I’d say it probably took me about four months to research and several months more afterwards because they have to send [the article] out to blind readers to read it, and then they decide whether or not to accept it.”

Since the process of publication can be so long and arduous, Elb stresses the importance of finding balance between writing and teaching.

“I think you have to be really really organized and you have to compartmentalize your thoughts,” said Elb. “I also get up extremely early.”

Elb devoted a great deal of time to researching and analyzing the complex aspects of Love’s Labour’s Lost.

“Research has always been a part of me, so I just wanted to research everything,” said Elb. “I’ve always been interested in getting back into [Shakespearean plays] and researching things I never had time to think about.”

Similarly, Elb’s exploration of Shakespeare took on a number of different forms, including one of her old passions: opera.

“I haven’t done much [opera] singing since I moved to Atlanta,” said Elb, “but definitely being in an opera based on Shakespeare makes you think about Shakespeare differently.”

In addition to her feature in The Oxfordian, Elb has a number of other pieces in circulation.

“I have another article coming out in the spring,” said Elb, “but there is also a short story and some other fiction pieces out there right now.”

Another faculty member who shares Elb’s passion for the written word is French and Spanish teacher Jason Smith, whose first novel was published by Mascot Books, located in Herndon, Virginia.

“It’s a coming of age story dealing with being comfortable with yourself, and it involves witches,” said Smith. “It takes place in Salem, Massachusetts, and has a connection to the Salem Witch Trials. It also deals with the Native American people who lived in the northeast before the Puritans came.”

Although his career began in English, Smith doesn’t limit his writing to only one language.

“I have a book of Spanish poetry called En Ser Vivo,” said Smith. “I self-published that book, and it contains some poems I have been working on since graduate school.”

Even with Smith’s heavy teaching load, he looks to squeeze in some writing during any chance he gets.

“Any time I have down time, I write, even if it’s only for five minutes,” said Smith. “I jot down notes and try to plan out what will happen next.”

The enthusiasm that Smith has developed for writing began when he was young, soon becoming a lifelong hobby.

“For as long as I can remember, I have been writing,” said Smith. “My mom kept a box of memorabilia and I have short stories that I wrote from first grade.”

Smith believes that integrating his passion for writing into his profession has helped him with his teaching career.

“Writing also makes me a better teacher because my writing deals with diversity, which helps me be a better teacher because I can deal with students from a variety of backgrounds,” said Smith. “Writing also helps me give the students the tools they need to express themselves and to be comfortable expressing themselves.”

Overall, however, Smith’s fervor for writing and for teaching stems from an underlying love of one unifying theme: language.       

“Language is just something I am passionate about and if I can share that love and passion to other people, I am happy,” said Smith. “I like teaching foreign languages because it teaches people that there is so much more outside the states and even inside them that they might not realize.”

English teacher Maggie Bailey adds poetry to the impressive collection of literature published by Upper School faculty.

“My first book, Bury the Lede, is coming out this month and the title poem, “Bury the Lede,” was nominated for a ‘Best of the Net’ award,” said Bailey. “That poem is about how we often talk about one thing when we really want to talk about something else. It comes from a journalism term that means you buried the interesting point too far into the article. I think we often do that with our own emotions.”

The profound nature of Bailey’s poetry has allowed her to generate her own unique writing style, a style that often focuses on topics that directly affect her own life.

“Generally speaking, I write relatively short poems in free verse,” said Bailey. “I often write about nature and there is sometimes a surreal component to the imagery. I also write about family dynamics, especially now that I am a mom.”

To Bailey, writing amounts to more than just simply words on a page; it helps her learn to be resilient and even how to teach her students the same.

“Writing keeps me humble and vulnerable because I know what it’s like to send out a poem and get rejected,” said Bailey. “Or have a great idea but no idea how to bring it to life. Writing is hard. Revision is hard. It’s easy to doubt yourself or feel discouraged. I know that and I want to help my students believe in themselves and believe in their words.”

Building on what she started years ago, Bailey plans on publishing her newest poetry collection in the coming few months.

“The book that is coming out this month took about a year of active revision to get it ready to send out to publishers,” said Bailey. “And, it has poems I have been working on over the past 10 years.”