Marc Harshman provided the following information to Judy A. Teaford
December 1997 and April 1999
Until few years ago Marc Harshman taught fifth and sixth grades at the Sand Hill School, one of the last of the three-room country schools and a 1995 West Virginia School of Excellence. Raised in Indiana, he has lived his adult life in West Virginia with his wife, Cheryl Ryan (author of Sally Arnold, Cobblehill, 1996), and his daughter, Sarah. The author of numerous picture books for children, he is also a poet and storyteller. His children's books have been published in Spanish, Danish, and Swedish. Only One was a Reading Rainbow review title on PBS. Mr. Harshman was honored in 1994 by receiving the Ezra Jack Keats/Kerlan Collection Fellowship from the University of Minnesota for research on Scandinavian myth and folklore. He was also named the West Virginia state English teacher of the year by the West Virginia English Language Arts Council in 1995. Most recently he has been named the recipient of the WV Arts Commission Fellowship in Poetry for 2000. The fellowship was presented in ceremonies at the state capitol, Spring 2001.
He holds degrees from Bethany College, Yale University, and the University of Pittsburgh.
My wife and daughter and I live in a small house in a small town in the foothills along the Ohio River. Here and there goes on on among a few the kind of independence, self-reliance, neighboring, and husbandry that I value and which reminds me of the energetic attentiveness necessary to pursuing any craft well and so nurtures, in part, my own writing. It so happens that this place has a name. West Virginia.
To speak of West Virginia in the sense of its political boundaries and histories I find has less to do with any influence than its larger sense as part of the Appalachian region. To paraphrase Wendell Berry I find that region, in the sense that it matters to me, is a place where "local life is aware of itself." I have nearly always lived in such places. I know the name of the next ridge and the creeks and hollows that surround it. I know the man next door and he knows me. And he, too, knows these names. And with these and much else we can still speak with a shared accent and a shared knowledge of our community. this is what matters most to me about the place where I live.
I was born and raised in the farm country of east-central Indiana and have now lived the past twenty-five years in West Virginia. I have also traveled in eastern Canada, England, Wales, Denmark, and Iceland.
My poems are frequently narrations springing from specific and local geographies, be they the rural Indiana where I was raised, the West Virginia where I have lived my adult life, or the towns and farms of Canada, Britain, or Scandinavia where I have traveled. I believe the poems reveal perceptions of value gleaned from the bleaker aspects of lives lived either alone or in communal isolation from the mainstream. The free verse in which I compose is intended to be voiced, to be heard, and is informed by the harmonies and rhythms of traditional verse.
I believe our language holds the power to challenge and persuade, comfort, inform and, ultimately to reveal truths about who we are. I approach teaching understanding that through our language the best of who we are is preserved. An artist's manipulation of words through rhythms, images, and countless other figures is high calling. It is my duty as a teacher to remind others that the language is their language, a living language renewed by what they, its speakers and writers, bring to it. I also see teaching as a children's writer as a special opportunity to promote a vision of writing and storytelling that is natural to everyday living, giving students a means of responding to the world.
It always brings me great pleasure to visit with children. I love being able to tell them stories and to talk with them about writing and books. I enjoy seeing them discover that writers are real people who use the same language that they do. I want them to see that they have at their fingertips possibilities like I do for creating new visions of themselves and their world, visions that will not only help them be better students, but better people, richer in the wonder that makes life what it is at its best.
A Little Excitement. Illus. Ted Rand. New York:
Cobbelhill Books, 1989.
Living far in the country the fear of fire can be very real. My wife and I were living on Sally's Backbone in Marshall County in 1984. One winter evening our car caught fire. It was cold. There was a foot of snow, and after midnight. The blazing auto was also very close to the house under some spruce trees. I used that real fear to guide my creation of the tale of a chimney fire. Having lived on a farm and heating my own house with wood, I was easily able to borrow the rest of the details upon which I could invent the rest of the plot.
In 1991 my family left Sally's Backbone where we had lived for nearly a decade. It was a bittersweet move and one afternoon shortly after we had resettled in town I found myself wondering what it might feel like for a kid to have to make a move similar to the one I had just made. The details were fresh and still all around me. I went from there.
Only One. Illus. Barbara Garrison. New York: Cobblehill Books, 1993.
A line of poetry came to me one afternoon as I was scribbling in my notebook: "There may be a million stars but there is only one sky." I still don't know where those words came from but it is from that line that Only One had its birth.
Rocks In My Pockets. Co-Author Bonnie Collins. Illus Toni Goffe. New York: Cobblehill Books, 1991.
The core of this tale comes from my co-author, Bonnie Collins, a true, traditional Appalachian storyteller. Having shared the storytelling state at the Vandalia Gathering (West Virginia's premier folklife celebration) where we also judge the state's liar's contest, Bonnie has been both friend and inspiration. Several years ago my wife and I were asked to interview Bonnie for Goldenseal magazine. It was in the course of this interview that I heard this amazingly delightful tale and realized at once that it had great potential for becoming a children's picture book which, with Toni Goffe's inspired pictures, it did.
I often tell students and teachers that the most important event in my young life was falling in love with books and stories. I was lucky. The once a week trop to town from the farm for groceries always included, as well, a trip to the Carnegie Library. My clearest, early memory of home was of mother in one chair, father in another, a stack of books at both their elbows. I recall, too, the similar good fortune of hearing my father's voice wrapped around the poems of James Whitcomb Riley -- this was Randolph County, Indiana near the small town of Union City -- "Little Orphant Annie's come to our house to stay,/An' was the cups an' saucers up, an' brush the crumbs away, . . ." To this day I am enchanted by dialect, by real voices informed by local culture. I believe, too, that had I not had such a "language rich" extended household as I did, I would never have gone on to write a single, published word. This early start I earnestly believe was far more important to my development as a writer than all the fancy university education I would later receive.
I remember my grandparents, the supper table there, how, when the dishes were 'red up' we would continue to sit for what seemed to me hours at a time, stay put, sitting and talking and, I realize now, storytelling -- the rich reminiscences of the old ones mixing with the day's gossip and news: whose cows were down sick, how great grandad had shot a wildcat in the woods behind the very house where we're now sitting, giant black snakes, the talk from the Wednesday prayer meeting. It was all there, creating what I think of now as a story table. It is a table I fear is now lost from most of our families, a table I feel we must, need re-create as authors, teachers, librarians wherever we encounter children today, a table at which not only shall we bring our stories, but at which we, too, shall sit and listen. My favorite remark from the large wisdom of Thomas Merton is this: "The peculiar grace of a Shaker chair is due to the fact that it was made by someone capable of believing that an angel might come and sit upon it." I like to have that chair in mind when I think of our children, their chairs, and the tables around which they gather for which of us knows how precious that little life before us might be?
Lucky. In many ways. I was also sick a lot as a young person and, though I doubt that I thought of it as lucky at the time, I wonder now if, in fact, it wasn't for there were days there spent under the counterpane deep inside the wonders of countless books. Thomas McGahern, the Irish short story author has written that "There are no days more full in childhood than those that are not lived at all, those days lost in a favorite book." I believe a good part of my childhood was so lost. Would that more of our childhoods today were being so lost.
Which of your books is your favorite?
I have no favorite. They are still too close to me, like children in a way. I would hate to say one is somehow better than another. Yet. Someday, further in the future, I can imagine that I might begin to find that one does seem better. But that time has no yet come.
Who is your favorite character?
Like the preceding answer, I find it impossible as yet to choose. I must also admit that inasmuch as many of the narrators are a fictionalized me, I find it therefore even more difficult to respond to this particular question.
What is your all time favorite book?
I presume this asks not about my own but about others. This, too, is a most impossible question but for a different reason. There are so, so many great books. Briefly, I will point a few directions. I have always had a fondness for a thick, historical novel. The works of R. H. Delderfield have always been special favorites -- read sheerly for pleasure. I try at least every couple of years to work through a Dickens' novel. I am a fairly consistent reader of all poetries, finding especial favorites in Wordsworth, Whitman, Dickinson, Frost, Edward Thomas, and all the more recent poets following Ezra Pound both here and in the UK. I have always had the highest admiration for David Jones, the Welsh poet and painter. And in a somewhat similar vein I have long been captivated by the example, not only in literature but in art and politics, which William Morris set. I have read many of the late 19th and 20th century women writers represented in the English Virago series. I still admire James Joyce -- an oddly unfashionable statement these days. I must also add the historical fiction of Edith Pargeter, the wonderful prose of William Faulkner and Sherwood Anderson. Oh, I see no, I have begun what I can not end and so I end it here.
How do I get my books published?
I began by sending out a perfectly typed manuscript of a story (or two) to various, respectable children's book publishers. I always enclose a stamped, self-addressed envelope. I was relatively lucky in that after only a dozen or so rejections, I found Rosanne Lauer, my current editor, who has continued to publish my work since she accepted the first title around 1986 (subsequently published in 1989). And I continue to send my new stories to her first.
How much money do you make per book?
I am not comfortable answering that personally. I can, however, describe how authors are paid. A reputable house always pays an advance (advance against royalties) -- I would guess that these days the advance ranges from $1000-3000 for beginning and younger authors. Then, once the book is published and once it has made over the original advance, the author receives a certain percent of every sale, the standard royalty being ten percent; however, for a picture book author that percent is five because it is shared with the artist. That is not as bad as it may sound since I would remind you that picture books sell very well.
What do you do for fun when you're not writing or teaching?
Obviously, I read. I spend a great deal of time listening to classical music, attending symphonies and chamber concerts, going to the ballet, etc. I'm also very fond of jazz, traditional Appalachian music, and as a member of my generation a certain amount of rock, though I find the necessary dosage reducing over the years. Indeed, all the arts provide a nearly infinite pleasure -- I find that painting, sculpture, dance, etc. enrich me, fill me, drive me to more words. I also love to garden -- spend large amounts of time with my hands in the dirt. Camping and hiking are pleasures, as well. And I value travel, recommend it for writers. Being elsewhere helps clear the vision.
What type of book do you like best?
Beyond what I said about my favorite pleasurable reading above, I would say that I do spend a great deal of time reading non-fiction, especially titles regarding history, geography, and current politics.
Who is your favorite children's author?
Again, I believe I may have responded best to that earlier. I will say here that I highly recommend among children's authors the following: Gary Paulsen, Cynthia Rylant, Lois Lowry, Jill Paton Walsh, Rosemary Sutciff, Janni Howker, Jean Little, Margaret Hodges, Roberto Innocenti (actually illustrator), Judy Blume, Valerie Worth, George Ella Lyon, Jenny Davis, Janet Lunn, Graham Oakley, Phillipa Pearce, Robert Cormier, Jane Gardam, and Katherine Paterson. And as a separate notation I must mention that there are many immensely talented regional authors who I not only recommend, but several of whom I value as friends and critics, including Anna Smucker, Gerald Milnes, Elizabeth Howard, and Brenda Seabrooke. Of course, my first critic has always been my wife, Cheryl Ryan, whose instincts regarding both literature and children I find infallible. Her first book, Sally Arnold (illustrated by Bill Farnsworth, Cobblehill/Dutton, 1996, NY), has just been published.
William Marc Harshman.
PO Box 2111
Wheeling, WV 26003
Something About the Author, vol. 71, and vol. 109-year 2001
Author(s): Stoodt, Barbara D.
Title: Multiply Math Skills with Literature. Literature Letter.
Source: Learning v23 n4 p16 Jan-Feb 1995
Abstract: This column discusses five children's books selected to develop math concepts involving problem solving, reasoning, and communication. The books are "Only One" (Marc Harshman); "The Librarian Who Measured the Earth" (Kathryn Lasky); "Counting Jennie" (Helena C. Pittman); "The Search for Delicious" (Natalie Babbitt); and "The Toothpaste Millionaire" (Jean Merrill). (JB)
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