Dinner for Books

29 Sep, 2011

by Stacie Williams

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“Life is a bunch of crazy!” interjects the young man seated across from me at a table in one of the back rooms of Mason Street Grill, as he shakes his head with slow acceptance of this fact.  Nate, 14, is the son of one of the dinner guests, herself the long-lost childhood friend of the guest of honor, Lisa McMann.  Lisa’s other guests are all fairly nondescript, which is not a surprise once you find out they’re all booksellers or librarians.  Book people aren’t known for their flamboyance, but they certainly get animated when you get them going, as Lisa has with a game she’s proposed to the group.  The premise of which is this: the group owns a 24hr television network and gets to decide on the programming.  Each person takes a turn saying what show(s) would be fun to share with the world.

As the appetizers arrive, a sampling of nearly everything on the menu, half the lineup is set, ranging from reality shows (Survivor and The Biggest Loser) to British classics (Dr. Who, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and Fawlty Towers) to contemporary sitcoms (Modern Family, and How I Met Your Mother).  By the time the entrees have been ordered and wine glasses have been refilled, the lineup has rounded out with some kids programming (Reading Rainbow, of course, and Phineas and Ferb), fun educational shows (Mythbusters), dramas (Deadwood and E.R.), and some “news” (Colbert Report and Daily Show).  Book people, it turns out, watch more T.V. than you might have thought.

Naturally, the conversation turns to the written word.  Lisa has been in in town for three days doing events at schools and libraries in Milwaukee and Waukesha counties while promoting her new kids’ novel, The Unwanteds.  Imagining a world where artistically inclined kids are separated out from society, Lisa was inspired to write it when her own creative kids (her daughter is into theater and music, while her son loves to draw) came home with letters saying their school’s arts programs had been cut.

Considering this, it’s an exceptionally wonderful thing for her to interact with middle grade students in a way that encourages them to take up the pen for themselves.  Lisa says she tells them, “You don’t have to be an adult to write a good story.  You don’t need a college degree.  You can be an inventor today.”

In fact, one of her visits was to Lincoln Avenue School, which supports a selection of artists-in-residence who get free use of studio space in exchange for helping out in classes.  As a result, there is art everywhere in the school, which enthralled Lisa to no end.

That same desire to connect and inspire is why Lisa arranged this dinner at Mason Street Grill.  When she was 19yrs old, working as a bookseller, and writing in her spare time, she watched a lot of authors pass through the bookstore.  One night, one of them invited her out to a dinner after a reading.  That author?  Madeleine L’Engle, author of the children’s classic, A Wrinkle in Time.  The ensuing conversation at dinner with such a literary superstar pushed Lisa to become the writer she is today, with an emphasis on reaching out to inspire others to write.

“This kind of setting is really important,” she says, with a big smile, as she passes the desserts around to the librarian at her elbow, “you never know when you might inadvertently encourage a fledgling writer.”  I smile back.

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  • Lissa

    Madeleine L’Engle and A Wrinkle in Time were the catalyst for me to want to become a writer. I was fortunate enough to take a class from her and have her read my assignments. I still have my grade and her comments framed above my desk. She is still one of my heroes and an inspiration to me.

  • http://blog.thepfisterhotel.com/?tag=pfister-narrator Pfister Narrator Stacie

    A Wrinkle in Time is definitely one of my all-time favorite books. It’s interesting to find others who’ve been inspired by her to take up the writerly mantle, and I’d love to find out just how many writers (especially those writing for kids) are in the same boat as yourself and Lisa.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003406080071 Jamil

    Lisa sugar! That is too funny ANOTHER writer named Lisa Mason. I’m going to guess that anthniyg the two of you write will be completely different as no two people have the same outlook or experiences in their lives. I’m so excited to hear that you’ll be signing soon and I will be sure to be there, as long as there’s no conflict with my job. Please keep us up to date an when things happen, and give me a call when you have the time. Nothing important, I just love to hear your smiling voice. Best to you – Suzanne

About the author

Stacie Williams

With a love of stories and storytelling, Stacie Williams has worked at a local Milwaukee bookstore for six years, and has experience in travel writing and blogging. In 1998, she moved from California to study theater at University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee, and stayed.

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