Pushing through the Gap: Molly Wizenberg, Karen Finneyfrock and Elizabeth Austen Visit Seattle Schools

By Erin Langner, WITS Program Associate

Every so often, the excerpt of Ira Glass’s interview on storytelling that was made into a short animation several years ago resurfaces on my social media feeds. The acclaimed writer and radio producer’s words about making your own creative work align with your ambitions, and eliminating the gap between them, are the kind that people go back to over and over, particularly when they are in a darker place, creatively speaking. When Seattle memoirist and food writer Molly Wizenberg spoke with a room full of eleventh graders at WITS partner Franklin High School about her story of becoming writer recently, she mentioned those words to the students; they resonated particularly strongly against the writer’s own story of making her way from working in a grocery store, to studying anthropology, to building food memories into blogs and memoirs, over the course of twenty-six years.


Molly Wizenberg speaks with students at Franklin High School.

Later that same day, I accompanied Seattle poet and young adult novelist Karen Finneyfrock on a visit to McClure Middle School. When a student in the audience asked the author how she found her writing style for her books, she divulged how much more difficult writing her first novel was than she had expected. The writer explained how she had already published books of poetry, but when she shifted to writing stories, she had to bring much of the style into her work in later drafts, during the editing process. She assured the lunchroom full of over one hundred middle schoolers listening with the intensity of people about to go home and start their own novels, “Writers spend at least as much time editing a book as they do writing it.”


Karen Finneyfrock speaks with students at McClure Middle School

The following week, when Washington State Poet Laureate Elizabeth Austen spoke among a small circle of students who attend the Hutch School, the harder aspects of writing came up again. Telling the students of the way she had transitioned from acting to writing poetry, when she was in her 30s, the poet shared some of the similarities she encountered across her two professional lives. One was related to what might normally be called rejection, whether it be from a part in a play or of a piece of writing from a publication. She explained to the students in the room, who ranged from first graders to high school students, how such moments didn’t always mean that a piece of creative work wasn’t good, or was necessarily worse than someone else’s work. “It’s a selection, not a rejection,” she said with the concise intent one would expect from a poet laureate.


Elizabeth Austen Performing with the Sandbox Radio Collective. Photo credit: John Ulman. Image from elizabethhausten.wordpress.com

Whenever I re-watch Ira Glass’s interview, the disclaimer that begins the video always stays with me the most: “Nobody tells people who are beginners—and I really wish someone had told this to me…” As I sat beside the students, hearing advice and anecdotes and lesser known insights from accomplished writers like Molly Wizenberg and Karen Finneyfrock and Elizabeth Austen, I felt reassured about these kids—someone was telling them things that could affect their relationships with the creative work, now and later on. Those students will hopefully find themselves with smaller, less daunting gaps to close than the rest of us.


One Response to “Pushing through the Gap: Molly Wizenberg, Karen Finneyfrock and Elizabeth Austen Visit Seattle Schools”

  1. Erin Malone Says:

    Nice post!


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