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Author Showcase

Summer 2005 Featured Author, Anna Egan Smucker

RT: In addition to broader writing, from textbooks to a history of West Virginia, you have published three children’s books, each for different age groups. Do you have a favorite audience for whom you like to write?

Anna Egan: I love Children’s Literature for all ages, and it is what I prefer to write. In terms of how it ranks compared to literature written for adults, poet W.H. Auden said it best: “There are good books which are only for adults, because their comprehension presupposes adult experiences, but there are no good books which are only for children.” I was very pleased by a recent reviewer’s comment on my novel To Keep the South Manitou Light — “Truly exciting and not just for the young reader.”

RT: No Star Nights (1989, 1994), your first book, was drawn from your experiences growing up in Weirton, WV. Publisher’s Weekly characterized it as an “oral history embellished with illustrations.” Several of your books, and much of your poetry, center on life in Appalachia. What do you hope readers learn about this unique place in reading your work?

Anna Egan: I would hope readers learn just that — that Appalachia is a “unique” place. In the introduction to my book A History of West Virginia, I describe West Virginia, the only state entirely within Appalachia, as "a place whose hills and hollows are a part of its people, a place where family has always been important ... where people are proud to call this beautiful, rugged land home."

RT: Your most recent book, To Keep the South Manitou Light (2005), just like your first one, grew from personal experience, a family vacation. In doing your research about life in a lighthouse, what did you find to be most fascinating? Were you able to capture that in the story?

Anna Egan: Before I began my research I had no idea how difficult a light-keeper’s life was. In addition to keeping the light burning throughout the night, the light-keeper put in a full day of work taking care of the lighthouse, the other buildings, and the grounds. The strict rules and requirements of the job are in a 100+ page book titled Instructions to Light-Keepers. That book was invaluable to me in reconstructing the daily routine of the real keeper of the South Manitou Island Lighthouse. Accounts of the bravery of light-keepers can only leave one with a sense of awe and admiration for these dedicated men and women — and their children. Hopefully the real details I incorporated in my fictional story will help the reader travel back to the time when lives depended on these keepers of the lights.

RT: On your Website, you link visitors to additional activities that can help children explore the material you’ve offered in your books. How important is it for parents and teachers to bring a book to life with this type of ancillary information?

Anna Egan: Nothing exists in isolation. Ancillary information, be it literary, cultural, geographic, historical, scientific, etc., emphasizes this interrelationship enriching the reading experience, opening windows to the world—that is the joy of reading. Historical fiction lends itself especially well to this. In extending stories in this “across-the-curriculum” way, parents and teachers model the skills of life-long learners. I can think of no better way to guide our children along this path.

RT: As a teacher and librarian, there have likely been a number of moments over the years where you could visibly see “the spark” that energized or inspired a child to a love of reading. Is there any particularly poignant or memorable story? Have these events inspired or influenced you as a children’s author?

Anna Egan: I treasure the stories librarians and teachers have told me of how some people have responded to my books, such as the librarian sharing my book No Star Nights with a group of low-income women who grew up in the shadow of Pittsburgh’s steel mills, and who, until they heard my story, didn’t think their lives were worth writing about. The response of a care-giver who reads No Star Nights to the Alzheimer patients with whom she works, telling me how the story helps stimulate their memories. Most recently, it is the story of a second grader who heard her teacher read To Keep the South Manitou Light, and immediately went to the library and checked it out — her first “big” book read all by herself. I concur with the authors who say that in many ways we write for the child within ourselves — that child who remembers the excitement, adventure, stimulation, and solace that we found, and continue to find, in books.

RT: Do you have any plans to write more children’s books?

Anna Egan: Yes, I am working on a children’s picture book and beginning research for another historical fiction novel. I have several stories, including a novel, sent out to various publishers. I will be hoping for some good news on those.

RT: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Anna Egan: I would just like to thank you and those who work with you for all the work you are doing to promote reading — connecting readers with good books.

Website: http://www.ferrum.edu/applit/authors/AnnaSmuckerAP.htm


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