Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Tuesday Slice of Life: That Time I Met KWR

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Tuesday Slice of Life: That Time I Met KWR

"I didn't realize Lester Laminack was speaking at this luncheon. Is there any way I can still buy a ticket?" 

Last month I was a newbie at NCTE's WLU Summer Institute in Columbia, South Carolina. In trying to save money, initially I did not sign up for the luncheon. Apparently I did not close-read the information on the WLU website and did not realize that beloved author Lester Laminack was the keynote speaker. Every person I had newly met at the conference was attending. 

The NCTE representative gently responded to my question, "It's a plated dinner, so it is not as simple as just charging you. Tell you what, if you just hang out until the luncheon officially begins, I will sneak you in if there is an open seat."

I nodded and thanked her. From the hotel hallway, I watched as conference participants streamed in, eager to secure spots by friends. A local elementary school from Irmo, South Carolina (The Oak Pointe Bucket Band) warmed the crowd with a lively bucket band performance. 

Just when I thought that I would be dining alone at the hotel restaurant, I heard, "You're in luck. We have some no-shows, so you can attend the luncheon. Just quietly find an empty seat and enjoy." 

"Thank you SO much!" Giddy, I scanned the room to find an empty seat and ventured towards a back table with one open chair. It happened to be next to Dr. Lenny Sanchez, a professor at U of SC and a colleague of my friend Cathy. 

"Is this seat taken?" I inquired.

"Nope, please sit!" Lenny grinned and I sat beside him.

To the right of me sat a thin woman with tight, curly hair. "I'm Trina," I quickly introduced myself. 

The woman held out her hand to shake mine, "Katie." Bucket band still playing, I glanced at her name tag to be certain I heard her name correctly. In a quick glance I peered at her name tag: Katie Wood Ray.

I froze. Katie Wood Ray? I sat next to the Katie Wood Ray, author and editor extraordinaire?  

"Oh. My. God. You're Katie Wood Ray?"

"Yes." She smiled.

Like a teenager upon seeing Justin Bieber, I gushed to Katie about how I loved all her books, how they changed me as a writer and a teacher of writers. And it would have been fine if I ended the conversation here. 

Mouth moving at warp speed, tangled in my Wisconsin accent, I went on to tell her that I loved writing so much, even pulling out and showing my latest journal, as somehow proving to her that I was writing. Yup, I was that girl. 

There are so many other ways that this conversation could have gone, but I was socially awkward. I offered stupid comments. I asked silly questions. I fumbled up my words. I did not really show up as myself.

Thank goodness Lester Laminack began his keynote SO I could keep my mouth shut and listen.

The WLU Summer Institute is a small, intimate conference. After the luncheon, of course I kept running into Katie: in the bathroom, in the hallway between sessions, in the hotel lobby. Each time I found myself inarticulate.

Through it all, Katie Wood Ray was gracious.

Until I wrote about it later in my notebook, I didn't realize how nervous I was to meet her. Then, in horror, I realized how desperate I was to sound intelligent and interesting - the kind of person Katie would want to know. It's not usually the person I show up as. 


It has now been a few weeks since the WLU Summer Institute. I can now think about this conversation and laugh at myself a bit. After all, I was a bit starstruck at meeting the great Katie Wood Ray. 

In retrospect, I am reminded that we all say and do stupid, awkward things sometimes. In our personal lives. As teachers. As humans. We all do this. For me, this was a great reminder that awkward conversations (or in my case, a SERIES of awkward conversations) happen, and it's just a slice in our lives - not a reflection of who we are as whole people. 


To read past posts about how I have been influenced by Katie Wood Ray's work, you can read here and here. Even if you are a teacher of high school or middle school students, Katie Wood Ray's work is brilliant, still applicable to older learners. Her work will inspire you to serve your students better. 


  1. LOL as I read this. I probably would have done the same thing. I've seen Katie speak and she seems quite down to earth, so I'm sure she didn't think anything of it. You got a Slice out of it! :-) -- Christie

    1. I am glad that you found this funny too!

  2. What a delight. I still remember sitting with Georgia Heard once at All Write Conference. Our entire table was over the moon excited, so I totally get your excitement.

    1. I would definitely do the same over Georgia Heard! I am glad that there are others like me!

  3. I feel as though I was reading about my own life as I read and thought about my many awkward moments. I've realized I'm a bit social-phobic. I'm sure you made a wonderful impression--even if you think you did not. I bet Katie loved seeing your journal, too.

    1. Ha! Thanks for helping me feel better! I am sure that Katie gets this all the time...

  4. Trina, I think we all fumble over our words when we are starstruck. There are so many literacy luminaries at conferences that it is exciting to be in their presence, let alone sit next to them.

  5. This made me laugh. Not only *would* I have done that, I literally just did it at a workshop with Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle. Somehow I feel better knowing that I am not alone - especially because I really love reading your blog, so I *know* you are the intelligent, interesting person you wanted her to see. Ah, well... next time for both of us.


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