Mentor Text Wednesday: The Writer’s Bio

Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 9.55.05 AMMentor Text: Author Biographies from various anthologies

Writing Techniques:

  • Biographical writing
  • Brevity
  • Voice
  • Writing for social media

Background:

It was last period, the day before Spring Break began. My Lit Focus class was writing or reading. They didn’t need me at the moment, so I did what I often do in that moment — I grabbed something to read. I headed to the bookshelf of poetry, knowing that I was planning to hit the poetry pretty hard with my Grade 10s, and after the break, we’d be in April, Poetry Month.

I grabbed Aloud: Voices From the Nuyorican Poets Café from the shelf, and headed for my desk. I grabbed some sticky notes to mark poems I wanted to add to my poetry notebook, and popped my feet up. Aloud had been a thrift store snag last summer, but I hadn’t looked in it yet. I flipped at random, and found a couple of beautiful poems.

about-the-author-cropped

Image via blog.bookrix.com

However, there was less than an hour left before the holiday, and I was likely the least focused individual in the room. I flipped around the book listlessly, until it opened to the pages of poet bios, and this entry leapt out at me.

 

“Yo, Pauly! PAULY ARROYO, autentico nuyorriqueno, nineteen years on the scene Low Ball Slam Champ, icon, Black belt karate, black belt poetry.”

 

And I was pretty blown away by that. I read author bios when I read anthologies, but most often for the purposes of adding to the To Be Read pile. The thing is, until I read this one, they always sort of read the same to me — a couple of sentences that outline where they’re from, and what they’ve written. The character that this bio of Pauly Arroyo had just leapt right off the page. I flipped through more of these bios, and found more great entries.  I looked at my writers and thought of how much fun we could have writing these kinds of author bios for ourselves.

I popped that book into my bag when the bell went, knowing that I’d be digging through anthologies at home over the break, finding a few more to add for inspiration.

How We Might Use Them :

Biographical Writing — Well, this one is sort of obvious, isn’t it? I think it’s important though. In this case though, I think the purpose is refined. Our writers would be writing for a specific purpose, to communicate who they are as writers. The examples from Aloud have character, or talk about what called the poet to poetry. They use quotes and humour. The examples from Geektastic focus on the author’s geek credibility. As I mentioned in a previous column, I have a heap of anthologies that skew to the geeky side of things, and many of them do the same thing, establish why the author was a good choice to write something that would fit that anthology. I just love the idea of my writers establishing who they are as writers, following the pattern established in these anthologies.

This one came up for me when I took on this column. You can click around the site, and find my own writer’s bio. It was actually a challenging task, because I can be a wordy dude. I actually used a mentor text, following the lead Allison and Rebekah had established here. No doubt, with these new mentor texts in hand, the next time I do this will probably be a bit different!

Brevity — I actually focus on this a lot when I work with my writers. They’re often expected to write long, to expand and explain. I like the length of these author bios. Some are but a sentence, others longer, but rarely longer than a paragraph. I find given the opportunity to talk about themselves, many of our writers can get wordy, as it is one of their favorite topics to write about! Whatever model we use with our writers, it will establish the expectations for the writer’s bio, giving them a guide as they write their own brief bios. Following this guide gives them a focus, and they only need write what they’ve been asked for. Showing them these bios in an actual anthology, in the real world world so to speak, would highlight the fact that these pieces are brief, existing for a specific purpose.

Voice —Voice was the first thing that drew me to these writer’s bios as a mentor text. Arroyo’s bio popped off the page for me. It was fun, it was unique and it got my attention. I love the idea of my writers doing something like this in a few sentences. I think this is especially important in a brief task like this, something that may seem like a throwaway. Perhaps it is the almost unnecessary nature of this task for our writers that may allow them to have a little bit of fun with it. Perhaps it’s just me, but I would love my students to announce themselves as writers with some brash bragging or humour.

Writing for social media — The combination of voice and brevity seems to me to be a great fit for a medium like Twitter. Their writer’s bio could work as their bio on Twitter. Writing like this is great for tweeting too — a quick, snappy, focused post. If you consider the fact that many of us are either using social media in our work with our students, or have adapted the medium in some way, this would be a great mentor text activity for that kind of work.

Even though this mentor text popped up for me at the 11th hour before Spring Break, I saw places where I’d use it. There are a number of places where I can see my students doing this in the next month or so. Some colleagues and I have been discussing putting together a divisional anthology, so we’re likely to ask this of our students. And let’s be honest, if we’re going to encourage them as writers, then we need to expect the things that are expected of writers. Giving them this task would do this, giving them voice and authorial intent.

What other uses could you see for these writer’s bios? Are there other examples of great writers’ bios we could use? What are some of the authorial things we could encourage our writers to try?

–Jay @doodlinmunkyboy

 

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