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Okanagan Arts

Culture and Community


An Ongoing Series of Lectures and Presentations that Celebrate the Creative Okanagan

Okanagan Institute
Thursday Express
5pm Thursdays
at the Bohemian Café

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Arts Council of the Central Okanagan
Arts Council of the
Central Okanagan

100-1690 Water Street
Kelowna BC Canada V1Y 8T8
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Elke Lange, Executive Director
Telephone: 250.861-4123

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Okanagan Arts: Summer 2008

David Korinetz: The Art of Reader Raising

The Raise-A-Reader program has brought many local authors into classrooms throughout the South Okanagan, thanks in part to a generous donation by the Penticton Herald, and Canwest. I was invited to speak with some grade six and seven students about writing fantasy. Having just published my first fantasy novel six months before, my excitement was mixed with an equal amount of apprehension. Told to expect about thirty students, I never dreamed the number would swell to one hundred and ninety-seven.

Since I had never done anything like this before, I had to figure out just what I was going to do. I tried to imagine keeping a roomful of youngsters entertained for upwards of forty-five minutes by talking about the business of writing and reading a chapter or two from my book. Forty-five minutes was starting to seem like an impossibly long time, but as it turned out my concerns proved to be groundless. The most rewarding experiences are often found in unexpected places, and spending time with these blossoming young adults was no exception, but I'll get to that in a moment.

Fearing that these young people would soon become bored with just my own experiences, I decided to talk about some famous authors as well; authors who I was familiar enough with to answer the inevitable questions with a modicum of credibility. Some might say that a man of my years wearing a big floppy wizard hat had already forfeited his credibility, but that's another matter. Tolkien and Rowling were obvious choices, but I also chose Christopher Paolini, because like me, this young man self-published his first book. I was so impressed with how he sold his books by dressing up like a medieval wizard that I borrowed the idea; hence the hat. Paolini, by the way, went on to become a millionaire when Knopf Books For Young Readers published Eragon in 2003.

Though I actually visited two different schools, one week apart, for brevity's sake I have blended both events into one telling. Once I had introduced myself and talked for a few minutes about my book, I asked who had read Lord of the Rings, or had at least seen one of the movies. The majority of the students quickly raised their hands. I then asked who knew that Tolkien had been an English professor. To my surprise some hands came up again. I was impressed. Then I asked who knew that Lord of the Rings was written between 1937 and 1948, which meant that Tolkien's epic Fantasy would have been influenced by the grim realities of the Nazi Blitz. This time there was not a single hand and I had their undivided attention.

Smiling, I held up one of Rowling's books. "Who has not heard of Harry Potter?" I asked. Every hand in the room remained lowered, save one. "You've never heard of Harry Potter?" I asked somewhat shocked. The student in question just smiled and shrugged his shoulders, so I walked up to him and held out the book. He accepted it, so perhaps I added one more to the millions and millions of Harry Potter fans who have enjoyed that series. The staggering volume of book sales alone should be proof enough that J. K. Rowling has done more to promote literacy among our young people than any of her predecessors.

To round out my talk about authors, I lifted up Eragon, by Christopher Paolini, and asked who had read the book or seen the movie. Again, nearly every hand was raised. That was expected, but when I asked who knew Christopher was only fifteen when he wrote the book, I hadn't expected to see so many hands raised yet again. I suddenly realized that these young people knew more than I gave them credit for. The question period that followed was to take this revelation even farther.

They asked the standard questions that I get all the time, like how long did it take you to write your book, who published it and are you writing another one, but there were some surprisingly mature and insightful questions too, like do you make a living writing books or do you have another job, and how did your life experiences effect your writing. Wow. Now I understood why we need the term Young Adult.

With just barely enough time left, I stopped taking questions to read a short chapter from my novel. There was an excruciatingly long pause after I closed the book, which was thankfully followed by a round of enthusiastic applause. The experience left me so charged with energy that it seemed like I was walking on air. As I watched the students file out the door, on their way to the next class, I finally understood why teachers do what they do.

David Korinetz was born in Winnipeg and grew up on the prairies. He relocated to British Columbia in 1993 and has made the Okanagan his home since 2000. His fantasy novel, FireDrakes: Chronicles of the Daemon Knights, is at Mosaic Books or online at artistoutofcanada.com

Wild Blue Yonder at Thursday Express