This Artist Spotlight interview with COMPAS writer Stephen Peters was originally published in October 2014. With comments like, "Working with kids has allowed me to stay in touch with the joy and hopefulness the world seems so determined to beat out of us," you can see why we wanted to share it again...
* Hey Stephen, can you tell us what your art form is?
I've written and published poetry and non-fiction, but the form I teach and that I consider my "art form" is the short story. I write short stories.
* Will you share a piece of advice for aspiring writers or artists in general?
Write, of course, and then write some more and then rewrite all of that. Don't just talk about it. And, if you want to have a career, make friends with other writers and editors. Go to conferences and do programs and workshops. However, going to conferences and workshops is the easy part; seeing to it that you don't get sucked into group-think and received opinion is the hard part. What's the saying from the Chinese Book of Changes? "Do not allow your ambition to dull your vision."
* How does teaching your craft to youth affect your own art?
It has in the past. The second year I was doing residency work, I had five schools in a row around the state, and I came up with a quick way to get students through a draft of a story. It's a simple method using character and dramatic structure as starting points. My kids were producing wonderful stories and getting really excited about reading and writing. Fast forward a year or two or three and I went off to India on an Arts Board fellowship. I journaled every day for the months I spent there and then came home. In the first six weeks after returning I wrote six brand new stories using the method I developed on the residency circuit. Two of them won national awards.
* By the end of a week with you, what do you hope students have learned?
Aside from having been exposed to the nuts and bolts of storywriting (and perhaps actually remembering the terms I used without being reminded by their teachers), I hope my students have learned that they can surprise themselves with their own creative energy, that I leave them with a renewed appreciation of themselves as creative people. Along with that, I hope that they catch a glimmer of the joy of story—writing story, reading story, and listening to story.
* What does being a COMPAS artist mean to you?
It's been a great thing in my life. Working with kids has allowed me to stay in touch with the joy and hopefulness the world seems so determined to beat out of us.
* Why do you think arts education is needed in our community?
If there were no arts education and the production of art were left to a small priesthood, then we would all be tempted to lean back on our couches and passively take in what greater minds than ours had created. We would become physically and mentally slack. Our spirits would falter and we would little by little give over the very governance of our affairs to an active elite that did not necessarily have our best interests at heart. Oh, wait. What's that you say? They are? They do? So I guess we need more, not less arts education at all levels.
* Do you remember how you first became interested in the arts?
I didn't learn to read above a first grade level until the end of fifth grade. That year I made the jump to reading at about a tenth grade level and my world changed. Since my grandmother and her companion, a retired Army colonel, my aunts and uncles, and my mother were all great raconteurs, I had always loved stories. Being able to read opened up a whole new universe of stories to me, so I guess I just caught the bug along that path somewhere.
* What part of writing do you enjoy the most? What part of teaching?
The best part of writing is finishing so I can stand back and, as an old carpenter I used to work with would say, look over the job and enjoy the handiwork. The next best part is going back over the work over and over again and feeling that rush of discovering what the story is trying to be about.
The best part of teaching is seeing kids get excited by their own possibilities.
To explore how your students can get excited by their own possibilities, check out Stephen's artist profile page to learn how you can bring him into your classroom.
To read more Artist Spotlights, please visit our Newsroom.