“Oh! You’re a writer? What do you write?”
Well. I wrote stories and poems as a kid; was deep into SLAM as a teenager; transitioned to creative nonfiction in college; focused on picture books in graduate school and published one; and now I have a young adult novel coming out. So I’m never sure how to answer that question without launching into a monologue.
The truth is that the boundaries between the genres aren’t solid for me. I firmly believe that all fact is infused with fiction and all fiction is born from fact. I also believe that the best poetry tells a story, and, perhaps most importantly, all prose should be poetic. Prose written for young people, in particular, should be written not just for the eye and the mind, but also for the ear.
When we write for the youngest audiences, the sounds of words are as important as their meanings. Rhythm, rhyme, and repetition give the lap-sitter an experience of literature that is pleasurable, engaging, and intimate. When books are performed for a child like poetry or music or theater, the child learns to love reading before he or she can even begin to decipher the symbols on the page.
I think that the “performative” quality of literature continues to be important, even for teens. How can we infuse our writing for these audiences with rich, complex language that engages all of their senses? And how can we encourage older children and teens to continue to savor the sounds of words and the rhythm of a well-crafted sentence? We can endorse genre-bending, and inject our prose with poetry.
A book has to have labels so that it can be found by the reader who needs it. Libraries and bookstores have to be organized somehow. But calling yourself a nonfiction writer does not mean that you don’t spin stories, and saying that a book is fiction does not mean that it isn’t poetry. I have never published a poem, but I like to think that both my picture book and my forthcoming novel are filled to the brink with poetry. I hope that reading them will inspire kids and teens to love language, and encourage them to find poetry everywhere.
Molly Beth Griffin is a graduate of Hamline University’s MFA Program in Writing for Children and Young Adults, a teacher at the Loft Literary Center, and a recipient of a 2012 Artist Initiative Grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board. Her first picture book, LOON BABY, came out in 2011 with Houghton Mifflin, and her first YA novel, SILHOUETTE OF A SPARROW, is due out with Milkweed Editions this fall. Although her writing reaches across age groups and genres, it all demonstrates her passion for exploring young people’s changing relationship to the natural world. For more information about Molly’s books, events, school visits, manuscript critiques, and writing classes (including a novel writing workshop for teen writers this summer!), please visit www.mollybethgriffin.com.