“You can make a living in the arts. I make my own hours and make my own rules and I’m here to tell you that you can make a living making art.”
Exeter alum Amy Sarig King ‘88, known professionally as A.S. King, author of more than a dozen young adult books, such as “Switch,” “Dig,” and “Still Life With a Tornado;” recipient of many literary awards, including the Michael L. Printz Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize; and champion for teenagers everywhere, returned to her former high school on Thursday and her former junior high on Friday to inspire a new generation of Eagles to make characters, to make stories, to make art–and to push through some of the most difficult–yet foundational–years of their lives. “Teenagers are going through a lot. I survived (those years) because this is where I learned to write.”
Describing herself as a student who was “weird, with an arty brain,” King pointed out the exact assignment that perhaps was the genesis for her entire career. In 9th grade, she was assigned to write about an inanimate object; she chose a can of succotash. Her teacher, Patti Vroman, was enthusiastic about King’s results and, “made me feel like I had done something right.” From there, she says, she started to find her voice and develop her confidence as a writer.
During two days filled with presentations, workshops and discussions, it doesn’t take long to discover that King writes for teens because she deeply appreciates these formative years and the complicated journey they go through as they discover themselves. She also says that it was her own journey here in Exeter that deeply affects and influences her writing–with some of those events finding retold homes in her books. Today, she says that both her writing and teaching work is meant to lift up the generation who she describes as not being appreciated by the general public. “They’re hurtful toward them,” she says, her voice softening. “I want to give them a place to express their feelings and give them an outlet… I want to be able to help teenagers understand that what they have to say and what they feel is actually important. I don’t think they’re given that message enough.”
When she’s not writing novels, speeches or teaching, King holds writing workshops and lectures all over the world for little kids to big kids to Ph.D. students–and everyone in between–as Exeter students were so lucky to have found out when she delivered two full days of presentations, workshops and discussions with students at both the Junior and Senior High this week. Exeter librarians Nancy Gajewski and Kate Sowers organized the event and invited King because of her ties to Exeter–and because “I love her novels,” said Junior High Librarian, Kate Sowers. Nancy Gajewski echoed the same sentiment, and added, "Her life experiences are also amazing and her honesty with the kids was refreshing."
Interestingly, King’s writing workshop for dozens of 9th through 12th graders on Thursday afternoon mirrored her assignment back in Exeter during the 80s as she began the workshop asking students to develop a character by writing from the point of view of a relatable inanimate object.
“Trust me,” she said, as if she knew the success of the assignment.