Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Children Who Write

I was one. In some ways, even with a half-century clocked in (gasp!) I still am. So I was intrigued by the story of Nancy Yi Fan, who wrote Swordbird in response to class discussions about war and terrorism, then sent the manuscript by e-mail to the CEO of HarperCollins. Her book is doing the rounds now in galleys. Speculation is that it will serve as part of a larger plan to gain Harper a presence in China. That's all been amply covered elsewhere. There's information on the book on the publisher web site, and admiration from fans to be found too, so I won't go there. Reading Swordbird reminded me of my own writings in childhood. They ranged from wild to earnest, and stamped me in a deep and personal way. For many years I lost writing as a tool for making sense of the world. When I found it again in my thirties it was like coming home. There was something about the process of writing as a child, something both tactile and visceral, that grew to be part of my structure of self.

For years I thought of the writing of children either as preparation for adult writing (Austen, or the Brontes, or Ruskin) or as in the case of Daisy Ashford, a path that led nowhere, in that the writer did not live up to early potential. But then I read The Child Writer from Austen to Woolf, edited by Christine Alexander and Juliet McMaster. It's a weighty collection of essays examining the writings of children, suggesting that juvenilia ought to be an area of study by itself, regardless of whether those children grew up to be famous writers or not. Here's a comprehensive review of the book from JASNA, the Jane Austen Society. Many of the essays explore the childhood writings of famous 19th century writers, but the most interesting ones are about the inner worlds of child writers, of writing as an empowering act in itself, regardless of publication, of imitation as an extension of play. There's something interesting and authentic to be found here, these essays suggest, if we take the time to think about what they mean for us, the ex-children who sit in judgment.

1 comment:

  1. Nancy Yi Fan's SWORDBIRD was wonderfully written. It also reminded me of my own writings in childhood. I just found a website about SWORDBIRD at
    There's some background info. about it!