Santa Fe teacher and author Robert Wilder says he teaches students that reading not only enriches thought, but also souls. He read from his most recent published work, “Nickel” at a Saturday afternoon presentation for writers and readers held at the Roswell Public Library. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)
Robert Wilder’s latest published work is marketed as a young adult novel, but that’s not the way he thought about “Nickel” when writing it.
“I think it is dangerous to have that kind of an agenda on your art, you know what I mean? It’s like saying, I am going to paint a painting and this is the room it is going to go in in MOMA (the Museum of Modern Art),” he said. “I think that’s a– backwards.”
Wilder has been a teacher for 27 years at Santa Fe Preparatory Academy, a commentator for the National Public Radio and a columnist with the Santa Fe Reporter. His other books include “Daddy Needs a [auth] Drink” about his experience parenting and “Tales from the Teacher’s Lounge.” He addressed writers and readers during a Saturday reading and talk at the Roswell Public Library.
His presentation was part of A Bookish Affair 2017 coordinated by the JOY Writers, a group of about 15 local “mature” writers. The group, named after the JOY Center where they meet, has offered the mini-conference twice to encourage writers and readers to share ideas. The group hopes to offer events next year as well.
“We want to encourage people who read to get together with people who write so they can cross-pollinate, so to speak,” said Eve McCollaum, a New Mexico Military Institute teacher and the author of “After April.”
Wilder’s talk covered a range of topics. He spoke about his own writing process, which includes requiring himself to write at least 1,000 words a day and copying passages from the works of other writers to get a feel for the musicality and structure of language.
He also talked about the efforts he makes to turn his high school students into readers in an era where words often take a backseat to visuals and audio; some colleges are ending programs or courses that cannot be shown to have a direct correlation to employment.
He said he asks students, “Don’t you want a soul?” or “Don’t you want to have something to talk about besides” some celebrities’ shoes or the some sports event? It also helped when two of his students recently had perfect scores on their SATs, standardized achievement tests, and were asked by others what their secrets were. “We read,” he said the students told their peers. “We read a lot.”
Wilder also read an excerpt from “Nickel,” which tells the story of an evolving friendship among a young girl and boy. The passage describes the friends’ experiences during an active-shooter lockdown drill in their school as they choose to avoid thinking about the reality of school violence and instead worry about annoying peers, an apathetic teacher and the dreaded prospect of classmates having to circle each other and pee in a trashcan, should nature call.
Wilder said he gave up an advertising career in the late 1980s in New York, and he talks to his students about why he left.
“My father’s dream for me — literally, he was very clear about it — was that we would sit in our Brooks Brothers suits and eat lunch at the Palms in New York, and we did that,” he said. “I fulfilled his dream, but it was not my dream.”
His students might not want to become teachers or writers anymore than they might want to have the plague or develop leprosy, he said, but they can appreciate the stories about life he tells them and understand that stories can connect people.
Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 310, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.