“Columbus is a town in which almost anything is likely to happen, and in which almost everything has.” – James Thurber
Fall may be approaching, but my head is still back in Columbus, Ohio, where I was lucky enough to spend the better part of the summer as this year’s Children’s Writer-in-Residence at Thurber House, a literary center and museum located in James Thurber’s former home.
I already miss it! For me, there could be nothing better than five glorious weeks of writing, teaching workshops to brilliant kids, touring Columbus, and soaking up Thurber’s wit—all while fulfilling my childhood Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler dreams of living in a museum. A haunted Victorian mansion, no less.
The summer was a perfect combination of retreat and inspiration. Most mornings I’d have the chance to work with kids in the community, either at Thurber House’s own creative writing summer camp or at various community outreach organizations and libraries, such as the Dowd Center for Homeless Families and the Old Worthington library. The students wowed me with their inventive ideas involving mysteries set in everything from other dimensions and haunted taco stands, and their enthusiasm spilled into my own work each afternoon. I’d even frequently take writing breaks to hash out my own plot troubles with fourth and fifth graders: they made the perfect lunchtime critique partners!
Columbus certainly lived up to Thurber’s famous description: Not two hours into my stay I nearly died of a heart attack when I stumbled across a mannequin in period dress as I searched for a light switch.
The next afternoon I accidentally had my groceries delivered smack in the middle of a donor’s birthday party and a tour group’s afternoon visit of the mansion.
Over the course of my month there, I managed to call the police on the police (what can I say? I heard a squeaky gate at midnight!), got pulled into a musical flash mob to celebrate a couple’s engagement, and happened into no fewer than four summer festivals underway – including a Hitchcock film series!
Then, there was, of course the day the “ghost” got in. The security alarm accidentally went off, landing me squarely in a Thurberesque tale when the police came (again!), guns drawn, to search the house.
My favorite moment might have been settling into Thurber’s parlor to read The Thirteen Clocks aloud with my pal, Caroline Carlson, who came to visit for the weekend.
It’s so rare for a writer to be able to strike a balance between having time away to dream and filling the creative well. Thurber House was a magical place where I had the best of both worlds – along with more than a little inspiration from the ghost, the wonderfully nurturing staff, and the many visiting writers who’ve come before me. I’m deeply grateful for the experience — and honored my picture will hang next to so many writers I admire.
If you’re a children’s writer with fewer than five published books out, I highly recommend you apply. Don’t just take my word for it, either! Past residents Lisa Yee, Donna Gephardt and Alan Silberberg have shared their own Thurber adventures online. (Many, many thanks to them and past residents Keith McGowan and Hope Anita Smith for reaching out to welcome me and offer advice)
And—if you have kids who are interested in writing—I wouldn’t think twice about booking a vacation in Columbus for a week so they could attend their incredible writing camp. I’ve taught for 15 years and haven’t seen anything like it!