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2018 Visiting Author Program: James McBride

2018 Visiting Author Program: James McBride

Each year, one book is carefully chosen as the all-school reading requirement. The story's message must exemplify our own school's motto, Aspirando et Perseverando, to aspire and persevere. This summer, the boys of Avon all read James McBride's Five-Carat Soul – a collection of short stories called ‘a vivid, often funny story collection that examines serious topics with a deft hand and a fluid, musical voice’ by Entertainment Weekly.

When the National Book Award–winning author took to the podium in Avon’s Brown Auditorium the morning of September 20, 2018, his first words to the school community were, “I forgot how smart a young person can be.” And with that, McBride spent an hour fielding questions from a room of eager students who looked to the author for advice on writing, asked about his journey to becoming an esteemed author, and much more.

McBride spent the day discussing serious topics covered in his book, including race, war, history, and personal identity.

On McBride’s website, he explains that the stories in Five-Carat Soul spring from the place where identity, humanity, and history converge. They’re funny and poignant, insightful and unpredictable, imaginative and authentic—all told with unrivaled storytelling skill and meticulous eye for character and detail.

In his stories, McBride explores the ways we learn from the world and the people around us: An antiques dealer discovers that a legendary toy commissioned by Civil War General Robert E. Lee now sits in the home of a black minister in Queens; Five strangers find themselves thrown together and face unexpected judgment; An American president draws inspiration from a conversation he overhears in a stable; Members of ‘The Five-Carat Soul Bottom Bone Band’ recount stories from their own messy and hilarious lives.

During the course of McBride’s stay at Avon, he shared advice with aspiring authors – ‘writing is rewriting’ – and encouraged students to take their time at Avon to discover who they are – and, maybe more importantly, who they are not.

“The fact that you are here at Avon Old Farms School is a sign that you are already a success - my advice to you is take your time here to learn how to fail,” he said during an all-school assembly in the Brown Auditorium. “Growing up is the process of eliminating what you are not. So, try new things, find your passions, and once you do discover those passions, don’t ever let them go.”

McBride’s messages of discovery, compassion, and openness were well-received by the Village of Old Farms.

The Visiting Author Program at Avon Old Farms School is in its 18th year, bringing notable authors such as Daniel James Brown, author of The Boys in the Boat, and Steven Callahan, author of Adrift: 76 Days Lost At Sea, to campus to inspire our boys. The program is generously funded by the Parents of Avon who raise money through the annual event, The Blue Blazer Ball.

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