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Putting imagination on a page

Minnesota author Alison McGhee thinks writing is a "cool" job because her job is whatever she imagines it to be.

McGhee spoke to Middleton Elementary classes on Feb. 9 about writing and reading as part of the school's observance of "I Love to Read Month. "

"You are just making up your job out of thin air because it's just you and your mind," she said. "Usually I just pluck random images or objects out of the air and start writing and see where it takes me."

McGhee is also on the creative writing staff at Metropolitan State University and Hamline University.

"Those who are drawn to reading have a rich inner life, a rich life of the imagination," she said. "I just love getting lost in other worlds. I spent my childhood in a book."

McGhee said becoming an author was the last dream career she landed on in a long line of artistic jobs.

"When I was really little I wanted to be an actor, and then a ballerina, and then a singer. And when I learned how to print I wanted to be a writer," she said.

"Now that I think about it, they all seem so different but the one thing is that they are all an art. I think I just wanted to be an artist more than anything, it probably wouldn't have mattered to me what form the art took."

McGhee originally started out writing adult and young adult fiction, which earned her several awards, before diving into the world of children's fiction and picture books in 2002.

"I always like a new challenge, I'm very restless in most ways, so I thought 'I'll try a picture book, they can't be very hard because they're so tiny,'" she said. "But they turned out to be very hard to write."

McGhee kept with the children's literature genre because she thrived on the challenge and the creativity that comes with it.

In addition to posing new challenges, transitioning into children's literature still had some of the same challenges McGhee had already encountered.

"There's always that fear of a blank screen, it's that 'Here I go again, I don't remember how to write a book,'" she said. "I usually don't know what the story's about before I start writing."

McGhee says she often looks to other sources for inspiration, such as poetry, memoirs and picture books.

"Basically, any kind of writing will inspire me," she said.

All of those challenges do come with rewards though, in the guise of McGhee's readers.

"I always forget that people are reading the books," she said. "But when someone comes up to me it's, 'Oh yeah, it's just not me alone in my room.'"

McGhee said there is no greater reward than hearing from a child and knowing that she helped inspire them to read.

"To inspire reading in children, all you have to do is know who that child is, and really honor who that child is, and find a book that seems to speak exactly to their personality and their interest," she said. "Kind of a one by one approach."

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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