Lies, Light, McCarthy Visiting Author Program at Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred Heart in Princeton, New Jersey

2015 Visiting Author, Mark Salzman

2015 Lies, Light, McCarthy Visiting Author, Mark Salzman. Photo by Jessica Yu.
2015 Lies, Light, McCarthy Visiting Author, Mark Salzman. Photo by Jessica Yu.

Read about Mark Salzman's visit to Stuart this April.

Mark Salzman is an award-winning novelist and nonfiction author who has written on a variety of subjects, from a graceful novel about a Carmelite nun’s ecstatic visions and crisis of faith to a compelling memoir about growing up a misfit in a Connecticut suburb – clearly displaying a range that transcends genre. As a boy, all Salzman ever wanted was to be a Kung Fu master, but it was his proficiency on the cello that facilitated his acceptance to Yale at the age of 16. He soon changed his major to Chinese language and philosophy, which took him to mainland China where he taught English for two years and studied martial arts. He never gave up music, though, and Salzman’s cello playing appears on the soundtrack to several films, including the Academy Award-winning documentary Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O’Brien. He has also played with Yo-Yo Ma and pianist Emanuel Ax at Lincoln Center. Salzman’s unusual combination of talents – as both a well-known author and a concert-proficient cellist – led to a feature profile about him in The New Yorker magazine. He was also recently presented with the Algonquin West Hollywood Literary Award.

A number of Mark Salzman’s books have been chosen for “book in common” reading programs by more than a few schools and universities for their elegance, humor, and portrayal of our shared humanity. His first memoir, Iron and Silk, inspired by his years in China, was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in nonfiction and received the Christopher Award. His book True Notebooks is a fascinating look at his experiences as a writing teacher at Los Angeles Central Juvenile Hall, a lockup for violent teenage offenders. Salzman is also the author of the memoir Lost in Place: Growing Up Absurd in Suburbia, and the novels The Laughing Sutra, The Soloist, and Lying Awake. Common to each of his works is a theme of how people struggle to reach an ideal but often fall short, and the quiet change that takes place in facing the discouragement and the possibility of never achieving their goal. Salzman writes with gut-wrenching honesty and unalloyed warmth, combined with a sharp sense of humor. His newest work is the non-fiction title The Man in the Empty Boat.

About the Visiting Author Program

The goal of the Visiting Author Program is to bring world-class authors to Stuart who will share their knowledge and experiences with the students. Work on the program begins many months prior to the author's visit and culminates with Visiting Author Day.

In 2012 Naomi Shihab Nye gave a public reading in Cor Unum upon her arrival. Her reading was followed by a book signing and a private reception in her honor. The next morning, Ms. Nye had tea with selected Middle School students, and then spent time in the Lower School where she led a Q&A discussion with our young students. An impromptu sing-a-long with our youngest in the preschool was followed by lunch with our Senior Scholars and the faculty of the English Department. The afternoon concluded with a private reading for Upper and Middle School students.

Bringing the Best Contemporary Authors to Stuart

At Stuart we believe that every student, from the youngest preschooler to the graduating senior, should read and hear the best contemporary writing of her day. To that end, Stuart’s Visiting Author Program was created in 2008 to bring the best contemporary writing into our curriculum.

Every year, the works of our Visiting Authors are integrated into every class level. In 2009, students encountered the Pulitzer Prize-winning poetry of Paul Muldoon; in 2010, the fiction of Jonathan Safran Foer was a particular highlight; and in 2011, students were honored to read the essays and fiction of Pulitzer Prize winning novelist, Jhumpa Lahiri.  In the fall 2011, Stuart students eagerly began preparing for the 2012 Visiting Author, Naomi Shihab Nye, whose picture books, poems for girls, essays, fiction, and poetry collections shaped and inspired English and Language Arts classes. Through her writings and visit, 2013 novelist Edwidge Danticat gave our students a social awareness of the Haitian-American experience. The success of the Visiting Author Program in the Lower and Middle School curricula in particular is one of our proudest achievements.

Connecting Students through Experience

Senior students do much of the work. Every year, a select group of seniors, known as "Senior Scholars," visits preschool - grade 8 classes to engage students with the work of the Visiting Author. When Jonathan Safran Foer came to visit, a student talked about the motif of a scavenger hunt in his book, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, and read some excerpts of the novel to kindergarten students. She then designed a magical scavenger hunt with kindergarteners that wove together a narrative. The hunt was followed by an extremely interesting conversation comparing the work of understanding a narrative to the work of a scavenger hunt. These conversations have a profound effect on the way students think about their own writing and what the role of an ideal reader should be.  To then meet the author a week or two later, and to ask him or her questions, is to make the connection even stronger.

Stuart's Language Arts and English faculty works very hard, at grade every level, to embrace and honor the work of a new author, and spend months preparing the students for Visiting Author Day. The result is a truly unique and magical day.

Lies, Light, and McCarthy

The Visiting Author Program was the dream of a beloved alumna, faculty member, and former English department head, Victoria Flournoy McCarthy '71. A fund to support the program was established in her honor after her death, and is named after Stuart’s three former English department heads: Betty Lies, Nancy Light and Victoria McCarthy.

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Poetry in Motion 5K Run 2015

The Lies, Light, McCarthy Visiting Author Program at Stuart is supported by generous donations as well as The Poetry in Motion 5K Run held each spring at the school.

Jane Hirshfield. Photo by Nick Rozsa
2014 Visiting Author, Jane Hirshfield. Photo by Nick Rozsa
2013 Visiting Author, Edwidge Danticat
2012 Visiting Author, Naomi Shihab Nye
2011 Visiting Author, Pulitzer Prize-winner Jhumpa Lahiri
International best-selling author Jonathan Safran Foer will be the featured author at Stuart Country Day School’s second annual Lies, Light, McCarthy Visiting Author Program.
2010 Visiting Author, International best-selling author Jonathan Safran Foer
Students in the Lower School with Paul Muldoon during his visit to the school for the first Visiting Author Program.
2009 Visiting Author, Pulitzer Prize-winner Paul Muldoon