"All people are storytellers, and the most fundamental form of tale-telling is gossip, the delicious story of our everyday lives. And when those tales are shaped and polished - passed from one hand to another, from one generation to another, they transcend whatever they started out as ... and simply become Story. And that's what I was hearing at the supper table as a child. And I don't think I've stopped listening and telling ever since."
A glimpse of Marc Harshman
Marc Harshman has lived in West Virginia for more than 50 years. He taught in Marshall County grade schools for more than ten years till he retired. A former WV English Teacher of the Year, he has been West Virginia's poet laureate since 2012.
Marc grew up on a farm in Indiana, where his family and neighbors routinely told stories around the supper table. They were "the stories of our days," he said. "The air was filled with talking: who was dead, whose cattle were sick, what went on at Wednesday night prayer meeting. And mixed in all that, you would hear stories."
Young Marc soaked those stories in. Each week, his parents drove him to the library. "Our house
was filled with piles of books," he remembers.
Today, Marc Harshman lives in Wheeling with his wife Cheryl, a writer and artist. He travels around
West Virginia as poet laureate, stirring up interest in "the magic of storytelling" and poetry at schools ,
senior centers and public events. His books and poetry have received many awards, including the
Weatherford Award, the Blue Lynx Prize, and the Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award.
He packs his down-to-earth stories, books and poems with humor and humanity. In one book, neighbors help put out a house fire. In another, a disabled boy saves the family horses during a tornado. In another, a family takes in strangers during a huge snowstorm. In another, two children learn to love Uncle James, a recovering alcoholic.
In this program, Harshman offers wonderful advice for young writers. Pay attention to the rhythm of words, he says. "I love the sound of language, so from the get-go, I'm trying to make the lines sing
and have color and brightness." See the beauty and value in everyday stories, he advises people. You can take a couple of details from your own life, then let them lead you to even more details and on to your very own story!"
A sample of Marc's writing, from The Storm,
a Smithsonian Notable Book
Jonathan lives on a farm with his parents. He is in a wheelchair, and he hates the fact that there are many things he cannot do.
One day, after the schoolbus lets him off one day, he goes to the barn to care for his beloved horses, Henry and Buster. There is a tornado warning. Jonathan is worried, and the horses are uneasy. The sky is changing. What should he do?
... "But that rising wind. He wasn’t sure he liked the low wail of the wind that began moving through the farm yard, nor the green-yellow tint of the sky. They were signs the oldtimers said meant twister. “Better get to seeing about closing things up,” he said to himself. “Who knows?”
The radio was still running the same advisory. Wind, hail, tornado watch. He called to the horses, reached up from his chair and undid the latch, backing away as the gate swung open. Buster nuzzled his ear as he wheeled along beside them into the barn. Once inside, he gave them each a scoop of oats. Usually, he liked to linger here, thinking and talking. But as he felt the barn creak and moan under the wind, he turned himself back out to take another look
He could hear now a continuous rumble of thunder, and to the southwest, the sky had turned a deep, deep blue. Here and there, it was fractured by lightning. For a moment, the wind stopped. The cackling of the hens, the snorting of the hogs, the chittering of the birds, all went silent.
Then a sharp whistling rose up from somewhere. There was a worried nicker from Henry. Jonathan looked again at the sky. And there he saw it, saw the strange black thumb press itself down out of the bulging mass of clouds and stretch into a narrow tongue, just licking over the surface of the ground. Tornado.
It was so incredible that, for a moment, he simply stared. From the rise of the farmyard, he watched the snakelike funnel slowly twist across the distant fields and broaden into a larger blackness. Before his eyes, it became a black wall headed straight for the farm.
Fear replaced amazement. He hurried back across the lot. The wind was shrieking. But before he could get to the house, he heard horses. Looking back, there were Buster and Henry, tearing madly about the inner lot.
How could they have gotten out?"
Here's an activity that goes with this passage:
What should Jonathan do? The horses may be badly hurt if they're not in the barn. Write at least three paragraphs that tell what you would have him do next if you were the writer. Then read the book to find out how he did more than he thought he could!
~ Go to the Activities page for more ways to learn from these writers. ~
Five ways to get the most from this web site:
1. Listen to the entire program. Enjoy hearing Marc's voice, stories, readings, advice.
2. Read / download program script. Read it as you listen. Mark passages you want to remember.
3. Read / download the table of contents. It's an outline of the program. It will help you find the passages you want.
4. Using the script and/or table of contents, find short tracks you can drop into classroom sessions, presentations, or papers. How? It's easy! Click here for instructions.
5. Explore activities that help you use these writers to teach writing and storytelling skills.
Marc Harshman, poet
Marc Harshman is also a nationally-known poet and West Virginia's poet laureate. The empathy for others that laces through his children's books also shines in his poetry. A sample:
The rain is hurled in gusts, whipped across the lot, the cold like salt in the wound of their breathing. Husband and wife forty years, more bad times than good and little to show but their thin-skinned trailer on its half acre of steep ground. Photographs on shelves below counters. Colored lights in windows once lit for Christmas. The coop of chickens is rocked by the storm’s battering. They wade toward it, one shadow over frozen mud, dimming light. It must be ritual or habit, pain deep in the why of it all that carries them forward. Reasons? I don’t know any that can be found. There are simply things that must be done, repeated necessarily. They repeat a pattern of a labor that maintains a living. Now is the time to feed the chickens. The shed is glazed with ice in the morning. Twenty degrees colder since yesterday. Even more difficult on such a day to understand what is there beyond what is enough to keep them going, their arms linked, helping each other over the slippery path. There is that, each other’s arms in the hard times. There is that knowing how to find each other without looking. Knowing that where they are going, they are going together.
But where now, this day? Familiar places. They return from henhouse to table, its chrome and linoleum, cracked and dull, piled with cereal boxes and mail. egg cartons and tools and dishes and coffee that burns at, but not through their cold, stiffened limbs. They sit quietly a moment, touch at memories with only the barest of words, familiar talismans of shared identity. And the going on of the day itself? The most of it requires not even this. Only gestures, independent of memory. No language, only endurance. Persistence. No charity, no welfare. No creed, no church.
As for where they are going, why, they are going to town for groceries. They are going to the henhouse for eggs. They are going to sleep in the same bed. They are going to all the familiar places and someday beyond and going each without looking to the other.
Activity: Think of somebody who is very different from you. It doesn't have to be someone you know. Watch that person. Describe something they are doing, then describe your own questions about what they are doing. Do not tell their name. Follow Marc's example and write a non-rhyming poem, answering your own questions.
Research Marc Harshman, his books, and poetry:
* Go to YouTube for videos of Marc reading his work.