Authors are my superstars. Although I haven’t been to many book signings or speaking events, I recently started connecting to authors through Instagram. A few years ago, when I created my own book account as a way to share reviews, library tips, and other bookish ideas (@bookswithkg), I didn’t expect it to bring me closer to the writers I admire. Not only has the #bookstagram community brought another layer of satisfaction to my reading life, but it has also helped me connect to authors in a personal way.
After reading The Lost Boys of Montauk: The True Story of the Wind Blown, Four Men Who Vanished at Sea, and the Survivors they Left Behind, by Amanda M. Fairbanks, I announced on Instagram my love for her book. Fairbanks sent me a private message thanking me and also shared my story to her account. This led to a continued online conversation between us that resulted in me inviting her to speak at my high school. Since our school is located on the same island where the events of the book unfold, I had chosen her book as the subject for the community book club I co-host with an English teacher, and had also included it as one of the choices for an 11th-grade nonfiction independent reading project we collaborate on.
Once Amanda accepted my invitation, we worked out the details. I met with my principal, library director, and English department head, summarizing the book and explaining why I thought it would resonate among our students and staff. We agreed upon a speaking fee, based on our available funds. After sending out the appropriate emails and making sure each administrator signed off on the event, I worked with Amanda to secure a date and time. I emailed her the required security/Covid forms that she would need to fill out before entering our building. Lastly, I made a flyer and posted copies throughout the school.
High school students don’t often make the connection between literature and the people behind the writing. Even those who are readers are not likely to see many author events or go online to do deep digging. Because of this, I wasn’t sure whether the event would be well-attended or if we would have only a few students show up. Though we originally planned to open it to the public through our community book club, we had to restrict it to students because of the continued Covid protocol.
On the day of the event, I breathed a sigh of relief as I watched dozens of teenagers pile into the library. We had over 60 students show up in addition to the principal, library director, English coordinator, and several teachers and TAs. Amanda sat in front of the students and spoke for about 45 minutes, sharing the story of her writing career and her investigative reporting that resulted in this book. As I looked around the room at all of the students watching her, I noticed that not one of them was distracted by looking at a phone. That, to me, was a testament to how engaging she was. Her personable, warm manner endeared her to all. Afterward, she took questions from students and teachers. They asked her about her reporting career, writing practice, and the people and tragic event she wrote about. It was rewarding to see how her words sparked their interest.
Though we weren’t able to have the large community occasion we’d hoped for, and we had to wear masks, which makes these types of speaking events a little less comfortable for all, we were grateful that we pulled off this exciting, in-person experience. It’s proof that social media has the power to bring people together.
Author: Karin Greenberg
Karin Greenberg is the librarian at Manhasset High School in Manhasset, New York. She is a former English teacher and writes book reviews for School Library Journal. In addition to reading, she enjoys animals, walking, hiking, and spending time with her family. Follow her book account on Instagram @bookswithkg.
Categories: Student Engagement/ Teaching Models