Garn Press Interviews: Paul Thomas, Author Of Beware The Roadbuilders: Literature As Resistance
Winner of NCTE’s George Orwell Award for speaking truth to power and nominated by Garn Press for a Pulitzer Prize for Beware the Roadbuilders: Literature as Resistance, Paul Thomas has been called by Diane Ravitch “the conscience of American education” and teachers’ “North Star”.
Paul Thomas engages the reader in some of the most profound and controversial topics of our day. His writing and voice connects with readers in a way that is reminiscent of David Foster Wallace, while his existential framing of the terrifying truths of the times in which we live reminds us so often of Maxine Greene. Beware the Roadbuilders: Literature as Resistance is a tour de force not to be missed.
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-942146-07-0
eBook ISBN: 978-1-942146-08-7
Paperback: $24.95 USD | eBook: $9.99 USD
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Authors and their Books
GARN PRESS: Do you have a favorite author?
PAUL THOMAS: Although this is like choosing a favorite child or student, I do have a foundational and enduring love for Kurt Vonnegut and Margaret Atwood and then a more recent but blossoming love for Haruki Murakami.
GP: Is there one author who has influenced your writing more than any others?
PT: Poetry would be e.e. Cummings, James Dickey, and Emily Dickinson. My prose is profoundly and initially influenced by J.D. Salinger and William Faulkner, followed later by a powerful influence of Vonnegut.
GP: Do you think the relationships between authors and readers are changing?
PT: Now that I am a daily blogger, yes. There is more immediacy, more dialogue. The writer life is certainly more organic.
GP: Have you noticed any difference in your own relationships with your readers?
PT: My online presence has allowed me to be better aware that I do have readers. For the insecure (all writers), that is a blessing.
GP: If you could express one thought to all your readers what would it be?
PT: Kindness and basic human dignity must never be undervalued.
Writing as Part of Daily Life
GP: When do you write? Do you have a routine?
PT: No real routine, but I am compelled to write, and thus, am always writing. But I typically am a morning writer, preferably alone at home but in my office also.
GP: How do you begin a writing project?
PT: Most writing of mine (public/blogging, poetry, scholarly) simply comes to me since I have a writer’s mind (always thinking about what would be a good piece to write). Most ideas, I think, come out of my reader life as well as my teaching (interacting with students).
GP: Do you keep notebooks? Use special paper?
PT: No, although I tried in my early years. All my writing now is at the keyboard also. For a long time, my poetry started as longhand with pen and scraps of paper, but everything is electronic now.
GP: What about pens and pencils? Are they important?
PT: Not any more. I have terrible handwriting so that was always an issue with longhand.
GP: Do you listen to music when you write?
PT: I adore silence.
GP: Do you share your writing while you are still writing or wait until you have a draft?
PT: Everything is a draft, and I am a compulsive over-sharer.
GP: How does your “day job” (academic, journalist etc.) influence your writing?
PT: Being a professor has been the greatest element in fully living the life of being a writer. I have the time, space, and support for being a writer that other professions would not afford, and would likely impede.
GP: What about ideas for books – do they percolate for years before you write, or do you work it out as you write, or perhaps a combination of both?
PT: Since I write daily (blog), that often serves as the initial drafts for my longer works. I have always quilted as a writer, pulling pieces together that develop a longer idea.
GP: What book or chapter of a book are you most proud of writing?
PT: My Garn book is very special since it grew out of my literature-based blogging about education and equity. Many of the literature-based essays, I think, are me at my best as a writer who is also a teacher.
The role of the writer in society
GP: What does it mean to be a writer in troubled times?
PT: Writing is an act of the conscience—troubled times always need a conscience.
GP: What worries you about today?
PT: Consumer culture has most of us living a frantic life, unable to pause long enough to recognize the corrosive nature of that culture. We are too busy to recognize and practice our humanity.
GP: What keeps you awake at night?
PT: I am a lifelong non-sleeper, sadly, so that answer is “my brain.”
GP: Is your writing connected to present day events?
PT: Yes, my writing is primarily driven by what is happening now, as well as what matters now.
GP: If you wrote a book about the future — the way you imagine it will be — what kind of book would you write?
PT: Dystopian science fiction, in the tradition of Atwood and Vonnegut.
Early Reading Experiences
GP: What are your earliest memories of words?
PT: My mother and Dr. Seuss
GP: Do you remember your first books?
PT: Go, Dog, Go!, Green Eggs and Ham (still have them, my mother kept them)
GP: What about your earliest memories of someone reading to you?
PT: My mother reading to my sister and me
GP: Was there a moment when you first knew you could read?
PT: It seems that was always true; I have no memory before words, reading.
GP: What did you like about reading?
PT: I think it was/is both sound and how words approach the possible.
GP: What did you dislike about reading?
PT: Not a fan of reading (or writing) anything assigned.
GP: Did you have a favorite author when you were a young child?
PT: Dr. Seuss, E.B. White
GP: Did you read book series as a child?
PT: As a teen, I began reading compulsively everything by single authors, such as Arthur C. Clarke
GP: Do you remember your first reading lessons when you went to school?
PT: Had to be Ms. Lanford, who I recall very fondly, but not the actual lessons
GP: Can you remember doing research for a project in school?
PT: Only the clunky and awful “research papers” in high school.
GP: Did you study for exams — if so how?
PT: I am very visual. I wrote out notes in heavy black ink. Could easily “see” it all during tests.
Early Writing/Drawing Experiences
GP: What are your earliest memories of writing at home?
PT: My childhood was filled with play—my mom and dad played with us. I can’t distinguish between the games and the learning; that was what was special.
GP: Did you like to draw?
PT: Began drawing superhero comics from my comic book collection during my 9th grade and throughout high school
GP: Did you paint as a child?
PT: Again as part of the play yes
GP: Do you still have any of your early writing, drawings, or paintings?
PT: I have all my artwork from my teen years
GP: Can you remember being taught to write at school?
PT: My schooling was grammar and sentence diagramming until sophomore year, when Mr. Harrill had us write. He continued having us writing my junior year. Those two years were huge for my development as a writer, and reader.
GP: Do you remember if writing and penmanship were muddled? They often are.
PT: Elementary school was all about penmanship, yes.
GP: Was drawing linked with writing?
PT: Not in school, no.
GP: Do you have memories of learning to write an essay, a story, or a poem?
PT: I wrote a parody short story for Mr. Harrill in high school. I think it was my first real purposeful writing.
GP: What about taking tests – can you remember taking them?
PT: Yes, standardized tests were easy for me. I finished early, worried I had done poorly and then was always in the top percentiles. The advantages of privilege.
GP: Can you remember if you had other sorts of tests? Short answers? Essays?
PT: Classroom tests were mostly selected answer types (MC, matching) but some short answer, very little essay.
GP: What advice would you give teachers if they asked you how they could create opportunities for their students to become enthusiastic readers and writers?
PT: Very simple: Choice. Make the classroom a literacy-rich environment that encourages and supports children/teens as readers and writers by choice.