Mentor Monday ~ Ellen Wittlinger

Welcome to Printz Honor Winning author, Ellen Wittlinger! Such a pleasure to have her here!

Ellen is the author of 14 books for young readers. Her third book, HARD LOVE, was a Printz Honor Book (among many accolades it received!). This is such a poignant book—and one of my faves!

Her newest book is entitled, THIS MEANS WAR, a terrific story set in the 1960’s.

From Booklist:
Wittlinger latches on to a poignant metaphor for war in this lively and readable tale set against the backdrop of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. Fifth-grader Juliet lives near a growing military base, which has brought in an influx of new kids, including the rowdy Patsy. It’s a good thing, too, because Juliet’s longtime pal Lowell has abandoned her to hang out with boys, including the overgrown bully, Bruce. This division turns into an all-out battle of the sexes when Bruce devises a nine-day competition that tests the strength and bravery of girls versus boys. These increasingly dangerous tests (entering a dog pen, shoplifting) bring most of the children closer together, though for Patsy and Bruce, they only escalate the conflict. It’s a clever concept that keeps the proceedings fun even as the darker drama of potential world collapse provides a weighty element; young readers will be shocked to learn of Juliet’s daily prayers, including “Dear God, please don’t let the world end today.” A warm way to introduce the cold war. Grades 5-8. –Daniel Kraus
See all Editorial ReviewsAs Director of The Whispering Pines Retreat, I met Ellen when she was kind enough to attend as our author mentor. She was a wonderful addition to our faculty that year, as she was so knowledgeable but also kind, approachable, and generous with her time and wisdom. She gave thoughtful, thorough critiques to our writers that year and also gave a terrific presentation on writing humor, which I continue to refer back to even today. By the end of the weekend, I felt very fortunate, that I had made a friend in Ellen, and that makes me lucky indeed!

Here is Ellen Wittlinger:

My Mentors
By Ellen Wittlinger

There are many people who helped me along my crooked path to becoming a writer, but four in particular I’ll never forget. I was an art major in college, partly because I was a slow reader and I wasn’t sure I could get through all the Milton and Chaucer that English majors had to read. But I was writing all the time anyway, and in my senior year I took a poetry course from a young faculty member by the name of Kelly Yenser. Both Kelly and his wife Pamela were poets (and still are,) and they encouraged me to follow that dream too. They were sympathetic readers of my early work, they put books into my hands I hadn’t known to read, and they convinced me to apply to the Iowa Writer’s Workshop for graduate school. I would not be a published author today without their example and support.I wish I could say my years at the Iowa Workshop were also full of wonderful mentors, but they were not. I had a few good teachers, but the classes were large and I was not one of the stars. In those years I worked hard mainly to show those guys (and they were mostly guys) that I was worthy of being there too.

After grad school I was incredibly lucky to get a fellowship to write at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts–a living space and a stipend for seven months and nothing to do but live in one of the most beautiful spots on earth and write. In fact, I got a second year fellowship there too and ended up living on Cape Cod for three years. During that time the person who made the biggest impact on my life was a wonderful poet by the name of Alan Dugan. Dugan (as everyone called him) was a big, rough-voiced, heavy-drinking guy who’d won a Pulitzer Prize before I met him, and went on to win a National Book Award. I was a bit cowed by him, to say the least. But during my first week at the Center Dugan called all ten writing fellows together for an informal chat during which he repeatedly referred to us as his “colleagues.” He always, from then on, treated each of us as an equal, as people whose writing must be taken seriously. Which is when I really began to take myself seriously as a writer. If Dugan believed in me, it must be true.During my third year in Provincetown, another well-known author became involved with the Work Center, the wonderful short-story writer Grace Paley. Another tough cookie on the outside, Grace was incredibly generous to all of us younger writers, reading draft after draft of the same story and giving honest feedback. I still have a message pinned to the corkboard in my office which has been around since Grace first said it to me: “Write what you don’t know about what you know.” She was right.

I am a writer today because of the generosity and support of these four people. Since I’ve become part of the children’s writing community, finding helpful people is less unusual than it was when I was in the (so-called) adult writing world. In that harsher climate, these folks were my saviors, and I thank them for it.

Thanks a ton, Ellen! So grateful to have had you visit MENTOR MONDAYS! 😉


3 Comments on “Mentor Monday ~ Ellen Wittlinger

  1. Another great Mentor Monday, Lynda! Very interesting to hear about Ellen's mentors, especially the ones in Provincetown. What an experience that must have been! Looking forward to the next one…


  2. Thanks so much, Laurie! I agree-would love to ive on the Cape for a while…But you know that!!! And you've done it!!!


  3. I'm fascinated to learn that Ellen began in that highly competitive world of writing for adults. Glad she's moved to our side of publishing.


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