Sharon M. Draper is a professional educator and accomplished writer. Her book, Out of my Mind, was a New York Times Bestselling novel for nine weeks. In addition, it has been selected to 32 state reading lists and won numerous state awards. Moreover, Out of my Mind was chosen as a 2011 IRA Teachers’ Choice Book and a 2011 IRA Young Adult’s Choice, along with garnering too many other accolades to note here. Out of Mind, which has also been translated into multiple languages, is my next featured book. I’ll return here tomorrow with a review. Save the date: August 6!
How did Draper come to the writing field? According to her biography, Draper’s literary recognition began when, as a challenge from one of her students, she entered and won first prize in a literary contest, for which she was awarded $5000 and the publication of her short story, “One Small Torch.” Draper has since published numerous poems, articles, and short stories in a variety of literary journals. Her first novel was published in 1994.
Writing realistic fiction for teens is Draper’s strength. Draper tells Fireside Musings that she likes creating characters that seem so real that the reader wants their phone number so they can call them and talk to them.
When Draper starts a new book, she writes down her story plan, which includes the basic plot idea and the problem that will drive the story, names of characters and their general physical descriptions, and the setting. Then she waits for the words to come.
If time from her teaching profession allows, Draper will get up at 4 AM and write all day. She’ll do this for a few weeks solid, which is enough time to get the core of a book done. Then she’ll go back, revise, and refine.
Draper rarely gets a mind block. Instead, Draper reveals to Fireside Musings her biggest problem is writing down all the words quickly enough. If she does get stuck, she shuts down the computer and goes shopping! It’s effective and fun therapy. 🙂
To Publishers Weekly, Draper indicates that in her fifteen years as an author much about writing has changed. First, Draper herself is a better writer. She credits this to good guidance, saying one doesn’t make it in this business without good editors and a lot of support from publishers. Second, the needs of young readers have also changed. They are impatient, so the cover, back copy, and flap have to grab them. Page one also has to grab them. They won’t read ten chapters to get to the good part, because there are other things to do and many outside interruptions.
One thing, however, has stayed constant. There are issues, Draper believes, that young people need and want to talk about. Unfortunately, a lot of times, the adults in their lives don’t.
Draper has a daughter who is disabled and says in her Intro, Summary, and General Questions that she’s often wondered about what’s really going on in the mind of a person who cannot share their thoughts. So she created Melody, not as a portrait of her own daughter, but as a character who is truly her own person. Draper was also fiercely adamant that nobody feel sorry for Melody. She tried to make her unforgettable and hoped that readers would cheer for her.
While the story of Melody is fictional, it is based on the reality of thousands of intelligent children and adults who are trapped inside uncooperative bodies. To write Out of Mind, Draper read dozens of books on disabilities, worked with handicapped children at a local summer camp, and “spent untold hours trying to unlock the secrets hidden” in her own daughter’s mind.
Draper would like Melody to be a tribute to all the parents of disabled kids who struggle, to all those children who are misunderstood, to all those caregivers who help every step of the way. However, she also wrote Out of Mind for all those people who look away, pretend they don’t see, or don’t know what to say when they encounter someone who is different.
From reading her biography, one quickly learns that Sharon Draper is a person who works hard and is well-recognized for what she does. As a teacher, numerous awards have been bestowed to her, both at the state and national level. She is a Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award winner. Ohio has awarded her for being an outstanding high school language arts teacher. Nationally, she has won the National Teacher of the Year.
As an author, Draper was even the Duncanson Artist-in-Residence for the Taft Museum. She is also a five-time winner of the Coretta Scott King Literary Awards, along with being a New York Times bestselling author. In 2011, Draper also received the Lifetime Achievement Award for contributions to the field of adolescent literature by The Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of the National Council of Teachers of English.
That’s not all! Draper’s book Copper Sun was selected as the United States novel for the international reading project, Reading Across Continents. Students from various continents across the world are reading Copper Sun and sharing ideas. Draper was also chosen as one of only four authors in the country to speak at the National Book Festival Gala in Washington, D.C, and to represent the United States in Moscow at their Book Festival. She has also been honored at the White House six times.