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My love affair with Dr. Peter Elbow started in the mid 1980s. My mother, a professional author, handed me his book Writing with Power as one of her chief sources of writing inspiration.
I got midway through the first chapter and my margin notes said things like, “Wait, that’s what I do!” and “I never realized other people wrote this way, too!”
Writing with Power put my writing life into words and identified the processes that came naturally to me. Even more, Peter Elbow gave me new ideas to test and new methods to aid me in expanding and exploring my mind life in writing. Writing with Power popularized the term “freewriting” and Peter’s work cascaded into a revolution of writing practices at all levels of the school system in the 1980s-1990s.
Over the ensuing decades, I’ve studied his writings eagerly adding to my “Elbow book shelf.” In 2000, after I published The Writer’s Jungle, I packed up the three ring binder and shipped it to Peter without pausing to consider the audacity of that move. Peter served as the head of the writing department as a professor at University of Massachusetts, Amherst. I told him how his work had inspired me and shaped what I teach in Brave Writer. I thanked him for his ground-breaking ideas and the influence they had on me.
I never expected to hear back.
A month later, an email arrived from Peter! Imagine my shock (and anxiety). What if he thought I was a hack? Instead, the warm voice I had come to know in his books greeted me immediately. Peter thanked me for the manual and told me he was glad I was taking his ideas to the homeschooling market since he had no access to home educators. He liked what I had written. Satisfaction and a big confidence boost came along for the ride.
A few years later, Peter’s secretary contacted me and invited me to hear Peter speak at Miami of Ohio University. I couldn’t believe he even remembered who I was! I attended a writing workshop for professors as Peter’s guest, was seated in the front row, and got to spend time talking with Peter before and after the seminar.
We’ve since had a few email exchanges, including a recent one where I praised Vernacular Eloquence. The pattern had repeated itself. As I read his latest book, I discovered that what we do in Brave Writer is exactly what his writing theories set out to assert—only in this case, we were successfully practicing the principles long before he had completed his 7 year magnum opus! All I could think was how glad he’d be to know that his deepest, most sacred beliefs about writing and process and reader response were most effectively experienced in the home, not school. I couldn’t wait to tell him!
When I realized that I would be traveling to Seattle (where Peter and his wife, Cami, now live), I let him know. Peter invited me to lunch. Cindy and I joined him at his lovely home and followed the meal with a Periscope (live video) where he and I freely dialogued about our shared writing values and strategies. It is not an overstatement to say that spending time with Peter is on par with meeting Bono in person.
For me, Peter is my writing “rock star” and I feel privileged to know him and call him my friend! We played off one another, I learned more from him, he seemed genuinely interested in what we are doing in Brave Writer, and we laughed and laughed.
His most gratifying comment to me came after we turned off the camera.
Peter said, “I meant to say this while we were filming but we kept moving forward. You articulate many of my ideas even better than I have!”
I can now die happy.
Dr. Peter Elbow is 80 years old. His commitment to the writing process and to gently holding a writer’s self-expression while giving meaningful carefully worded responses to that writing is inspiring.
With this introduction, I give you my writing guru, Dr. Peter Elbow. (Yes, I gush, blush, and fawn like a fangirl.)
May you find new inspiration for how to support your children in becoming free, brave writers.
The conversation with Dr. Peter Elbow was recorded on Periscope.