2020 Visiting Author Day at Avon Old Farms School:
A Day with Pulitzer Prize-Winning Author Jeffrey Marx
It’s not every day that high school students get to interact with Pulitzer Prize-winning authors. But, thanks to Avon Old Farms School’s Visiting Author Program, that is exactly what Avonians were able to do on Thursday, October 15, 2020.
In preparation for the 2020–21 school year, Head of School Jim Detora first reached out to author Jeffrey Marx nearly a year ago to share how much overlap there was in Avon’s mission to be the best school for boys by cultivating young men of integrity who honor wisdom, justice, service, and the pursuit of truth, and Marx’s themes in his book The Season of Life. Following those initial conversations, Detora picked two of Marx’s books as the all school reading for the summer of 2020: The Season of Life and The Long Snapper.
Season of Life is a book about what it means to be a man of substance and impact. It is a moving story that will resonate with athletes, coaches, parents—anyone struggling to make the right choices in life. This book is the story of Joe Ehrmann, a former NFL football star and volunteer coach for the Gilman high school football team, teaches his players the keys to successful defense: penetrate, pursue, punish, love.
The Long Snapper is the story of Brian Kinchen and second chances. Brian Kinchen was a thirty-eight-year-old husband, father of four, and seventh–grade Bible teacher whose professional football career had been over for three years when the New England Patriots called. With the Patriots riding a 10–game winning streak and the playoffs only a few weeks away, they needed a fill-in for the obscure but vital job of snapping the ball for their punter and kicker—a long snapper.
For Visiting Author Day 2020, Jeffrey Marx was unable to step on stage in the Brown Auditorium to address the entire school as one unit gathered together. However, the emergence of social-distancing and Zoom meetings allowed for the program and three follow-up workshops to extend the normally hour–long program into a full day of engaged learning and conversation.
First, Jeffrey Marx did address the school community with a keynote address via a webinar organized by Academic Dean Trevor Stern. In his talk, Marx recapped several important moments across the two books the community had read over the summer, including concepts of success and coaching.
“In 1806, the definition of success included four key words: prosperous, fortunate, happy, and kind,” he shared. “But, if you look at a modern definition of the word success, you’ll find that 50 percent of that definition has disappeared: when did happy and kind disappear?”
Marx challenged students to think about what has changed over the years to adjust that definition of success, and what that means for them as young people trying to become men for others.
“An even earlier definition exists for ‘coach.’ In the 1500s in England, the definition of coach was written as a horse-drawn carriage to transport a person of importance from where they are to where they want to be, need to be, or ought to be. I challenge coaches—athletic coaches, life coaches, any kind of coach—to make that their mission today. To help all of you young people get to where you want to be, need to be, or ought to be.”
In another section of his address to the Avon community, Marx shared his personal ‘banner’ that he figuratively hangs over everything he does every day: a banner that reads ‘success, coach, greatness, courage.’ He encouraged each person in the audience to give some thought to their own ‘banner’ and what it might hold that could help them lead a strategic and intentional life.
In the second part of the day dedicated to workshops, Marx provided insight into three important parts of the writing process: the interview, the creation of a narrative, and the editing of that narrative into its final form. After each 20–minute introduction from Marx, students, broken into advisory groups all over campus, participated in active learning workshops:
Part I: The Interview
Each student interviewed one of his peers. After listening to Mr. Marx’s talk on interviewing, each student took the first part of the breakout session to use two of Mr. Marx’s interview techniques to create a series of questions for their interviewee before interviewing their subject with the objective to introduce the advisory to an aspect of their interviewee that most people wouldn’t know about. They then conducted the interview.
Part II: From Interview to Narrative
After listening to Mr. Marx’s talk on narrative, each student then used the information they gathered during their interview and two of Mr. Marx’s techniques to create a three-minute oral presentation. At this point, if a student realized that he needed more information, he could re-interview his subject.
Part III: Narrative to Presentation
Students had five minutes to review and briefly revise their presentation before presenting it to their fellow advisees.
At the end of the day, members of various literary clubs in campus, including the student newspaper the Avon Record and the student literary magazine the Hippocrene, were able to have one more session with Jeffrey Marx where they asked one-on-one questions of the author. Questions included topics such as “How was writing for a newspaper different than writing a book?,” and “How do you know when to keep digging for details, or how do you know when there is more detail under the surface to explore further?” In the end, student newspaper writer August Berklas ’21 put everything he had learned throughout the day to the test when he interviewed Jeffrey Marx for an article in the school newspaper.
A limited quantity of these books are available through Avon’s Baxter Library. Members of the Avon community interested in procuring copies should contact Library Director Deb Garber at firstname.lastname@example.org or (860) 404-4240.
This was the 19th year of Avon’s Visiting Author Program, which has brought 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 Blue Blazer Ball.