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The Author-featuring Silverlight Cafe 2016 Historical Fiction Issue – Looking Back at a Group of Interesting Writers

I think that I was one of two writers from the USA – the others were Europeans – which lent credence to my longstanding theory that Europeans are more interested in American history than are Americans.

I once had an NYC student say, “Why do we have to learn about history Mr. Dorion? History is about dead people.”

Yes, it is about dead people, primarily, on one level.

Yet, for writers of historical fiction, it is so much more. That Silverlight Cafe, March 2016 issue featured Jana Petken, Jana Zinser, T.E. Taylor, Erin Riley, Kathyrn Gauci, and ‘your’s truly’ – all making insightful commentary on why they love and write in the genre and telling their readers how and why the gravitated to historical fiction.

The issue begins:

Gary Dorion

In the 1870s, Tolstoy rejected his own great novel, War and Peace, calling it “verbose nonsense.” He was on another mission: the education of the Russian peasants which earned him the scrutiny of Tsar Alexander II, and his secret police. The rejection, however, did not last as Tolstoy later wrote his second great novel, Anna Karenina, considered by many to be the greatest novel ever written.

“After thirteen years teaching literature in New York City high schools, a bizarre thing happened in my final week or so before retirement.

I happened to be covering for another English teacher for about three months at George Washington High School in Harlem. After my mid-town high school closed in 2011, I was supposed to get another full-time classroom job while rotating from high school to high school weekly. But I began to like the rotational program and I also was a bit defiant about the political decision to close our high school to make way for another, more influential high school in Midtown right near Park Avenue.

I was supposed to give resumes to each different principal every week. I didn’t. So, I found myself two years later – 2013 – after teaching in 80 Manhattan high schools, at George Washington High for a three-month stint. I had guessed that the powers-that-be were trying to light a fire under me to end my exploration of all of those Manhattan high schools. I didn’t like the school and students were difficult mainly because they had had 4-5 teachers before me in that school year – 2013. Rebellion, I guess. So, I took early retirement rather than being forced to remain there after three months. Also, the administration promised my students B’s because they had so many teachers and everything was chaos until I got there. I objected to the principal for promising them B’s and undermining my efforts. Many students refused to do any work and would tell me they were all getting Bs so why should they do my assignments. I also took the early retirement because my wife wanted to go back to Thailand where we live now.

Anyway, as the school year was ending, there was a student in one of those five classes who clearly disliked me – that is, until after I told him my story.

He was in the 11th grade. I was in the 11th grade many years earlier when a similar situation occurred. It was June at George Washington. I was going to give this boy a failing grade – not that it would stick – because he did none of my assignments, and failed all tests because he had tuned out, intentionally. It was irksome because I knew he was very intelligent. But he was somewhat combative whenever I approached him to try to get him to do the work. He acted like the assignments were utterly beneath him.

Talking with his parents on parent-teacher’s night didn’t impress him. No, he was going to do his own thing. He usually would read some other book rather than do assignments. He wasn’t helping out with the classroom management thing as he was setting his own agenda and a bad example, I guess, being defiant and all, just like I did in the 11th grade in 1968. Finally, just before grading, I thought I’d give him one more chance to do some assignments and get the passing grade. After all, I assumed he wanted to go college and getting an F wasn’t going to be helpful. I guess he didn’t care, just like I didn’t so many years ago. I went up to him after I saw him reading this
book, completely immersed in his own world.

“What are you reading?” I ventured.

He said nothing, and showed me the cover – probably expecting a mini-lecture. He was about mid-way through the book.

I looked and I was astounded! It was War and Peace. I wasn’t amazed simply because he held War and Peace in his hands. I was astounded because I did the same thing with the same book in the same grade, and in class with the similar teacher’s strong disapproval (my class had been reading Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, etc.) with the same defiance decades earlier in my high school in Townsend, Massachusetts, followed by Anna Karenina. I got a failing grade, went to summer school, got the A.

I told the boy my story. He smiled at me for the first time, and said, “You read this book?”

“I read it twice,” I replied. “Do you like it”? I asked.

“It’s incredible,” he said.

He didn’t get any of my other assignments. “Give me five pages – more if you like – on why you think it’s such a great novel.”

He didn’t get the passing grade. He got the A.

Read the rest of the archival Silverlight Historical Fiction Issue at the following link. Scroll down after clicking the link and then click on the historical fiction edition.


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