Niskayuna teachers are still leaving an impression on 1997 Niskayuna graduate
Anne Blankman, now a well-known novelist who returned to the district for a
series of visits with middle and high school students on November 17-18.
"It was a testament to how wonderful the teachers are at Niskayuna that all of my middle school English teachers came to hear me at VA," Blankman said.
Retired teachers Debbie Wein, Risa Gregory, and Marni (Schwartz) were there, as was current Van Antwerp teacher Kathleen Cotugno-Surin. She recalled that reading "The Diary of Anne Franke" in Mrs. Cotugno-Surin’s class had a "huge effect" on her.
History has played a central role in Blankman’s work as a novelist. Her debut book, ""Prisoner of Night and Fog" is a pre-World War II era thriller that "seamlessly blends the fascinating, terrifying facts of Hitler's rise to power with a gripping murder mystery," according to one reviewer. The book was published last spring, and is the first in a three book deal that Blankman has with HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray.
Over the course of more than 10 sessions at Iroquois, Van Antwerp, and the High School, she spent time with several classes, a parent-student book group, the high school Creative Writing club, and a high school book club. Her time in the district made possible by middle and high school PTOs. Director of English and Social Studies Eva Jones coordinated the visit.
"I am really exciting to come back," Blankman said. "It feels like a great opportunity to get people excited about writing, reading, and history."
During presentations to high school student classes, she drew from her research as she traced the arc of Hitler’s life from his younger years to his rise to the leadership of Germany’s Nazi Party. She also displayed the different covers for the book that are used in various countries around the world – and even previewed the cover for the sequel, "Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke," due out in April 2015.
A discussion with Creative Writing students and the High School’s Creative Writing Club – which includes several student novelists – focused on the craft of writing and the publishing industry. She talked about having an agent and the publishing process, and offered some specific writing tips about creating conflict and developing characters.
"Readers want to read stories about characters who are struggling and who are going through major things," Blankman told students. "One of the best pieces of writing advice I ever got was, think about your main character, and think about what is the one thing that matters to your character the most, and then find a way to threaten it. That’s the beginning of your story."
"You want to be fearless in your writing," she said.
Anne Blankman speaks with students from the high school Creative Writing class and club.
While here, Anne Blankman displayed the cover of her debut novel, "Prisoner of Night and Fog" as it appeared in various countries throughout the world.
With former teachers, from left: Debbie Wein, Blankman, Risa Gregory, Kathy Cotugno-Surin, and Marni (Schwartz) Gillard.
In the Niskayuna High School Library with Grades 9-12 English and Social Studies Director Eva Jones and Library Media Specialist Donna McAndrews.