A Writer for the Ages: Will WeaverMinnesota writer Will Weaver visited Cloquet High School on Jan. 6. Jolynne Denman, a senior, wrote about Weaver’s visit.
By: Jolynn Denman, Pine Journal
At first I did not know what to think of him – a tall man with a wiry build, probably good for basketball, short snow white hair, with wise blue eyes that seemed to hold a treasure of information waiting to be discovered, with the air of a wise philosopher. I looked around the classroom to see the other students’ reactions; all I could see from their expressions were either anxiousness or slight confusion. As soon as Will Weaver opened his mouth, the students suddenly became intent – and the teaching began.
Growing up on a small dairy farm in Park Rapids, Minnesota, Weaver had no idea that he would become a writer one day.
“Farm life could be hard, but it had its advantages,” Weaver recalled of his childhood on a biography site. “There was so much independence on the farm. Sure, there was work every day of the year, but there was also the kind of freedom for a young kid that you could not find in town. You could drive at a young age and go fishing and hunting. Without the interruption of television, there was plenty of time for imagination and for getting outside and doing things.”
Books came in the form of “Reader’s Digest” condensed books, which inspired Weaver’s early interest in reading. During his high school years Weaver attended a public school in Park Rapids, he became senior class president, captain of the basketball team, and a member of the cross country and baseball teams. A steady “B” student, he enjoyed being in nature more than sitting behind a desk. However, one of his English teachers took an interest in Weaver, encouraging his writing and appreciation of literature.
“This altered my direction,” Weaver recalled. “Here was a teacher showing interest in my abilities and it gave me great confidence.”
A biography site about Weaver showed that he took classes at Saint Cloud State University, and then earned his B.A. degree at the University of Minnesota. After graduation, he moved to California’s San Francisco Bay Area, where he began writing, later landing in the Stanford Writing Program and earning his Master of Fine Arts in creative writing. Soon he was joined in California by his girlfriend from college days and the two were married.
Starting as a technical writer, Weaver soon became manager of a high-tech company, but eventually the couple decided to return to the Midwest. At first settling in Minneapolis-St. Paul, the couple soon migrated farther north back to Park Rapids. Weaver took over his father’s dairy farm for two years, but found that farm life was not for him. During this time, Weaver was also teaching at nearby Bemidji State University.
Now, writing more seriously, Weaver began fashioning his short stories into much larger work, the novel “Red Earth, White Earth” – a tale of the return of a prodigal son to the Minnesota farm of his youth. This fictional hero returns from Silicon Valley, and once back in the Midwest he must confront unrest between Native Americans and local farmers.
Weaver spent two years on his first novel, which earned critical praise and became a television movie three years after its publication. Suddenly Weaver was a literary figure, a “Midwestern voice.” While struggling through a second adult novel and work as a college professor, Weaver discovered a new audience for his writing while listening to his children, who were in middle school then.
“They were full of stories from school and about their friends, and there I was hiding out in my study, struggling with my novel...I was reminded of my own youth. I suddenly thought that I would write books my kids might enjoy reading.”
Coupling this new focus with his son’s newfound interest in baseball, Weaver produced his next book, “Striking Out,” a tale of a 13-year-old farm boy who uses baseball to escape his feelings of being an outsider.
Boys tend to read less than girls – and they score less on reading tests: up to 16 percent in some states, and 10 percent on a national average, according to a survey that Weaver conducted on the subject.
“It is not that boys cannot read,” he determined, “they actually ‘hate’ reading.”
Three years ago, as an outreach to boys, Weaver pitched to his editor a boy-book idea: a stock car novel for teenagers who love cars and hate their English classes – we are, after all, a NASCAR nation. To make sure that Weaver had boys’ attention, he sponsored a stock car team – a real race car nicknamed as the “Bookmobile” – complete with a beautiful teenaged driver, and supported all of it with a strong, integrated web presence.
What do books and professional wrestling have in common? A fair amount, as it turns out. World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) has several youth outreach programs including its international Reading Challenge, for which Weaver was a judge. Here’s how the WWE Reading Challenge works: months prior, with the help of the American Library Association and its Young Adult Library Services Association, and four additional judges, books were chosen in three age and grade categories. Then the kids start reading. Two of Weaver’s novels, “Saturday Night Dirt” and “Super Stock Rookie,” were on the list. This year the four categories of fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and youth literature accumulated a total of 1,220 submissions – a lot of reading. Each of the five-judge panel had to read 278 books in a row – Weaver’s group needed to read three to four books each day to stay on schedule. Over the months, participating schools narrowed student numbers via fun tests and activities with the novels; the finalists get to go to the last round of competition on “Wrestlemania” weekend to determine the three champions.
“I liked him,” senior Arletta Beretta stated following Weaver’s visit. “I liked how he intertwined humor with literature.”
“He actually talked to us – at first I thought it was going to be boring, but it later kept me interested,” Morgan Battistini answered enthusiastically.
“When I was working for my creative writing master’s degree, he was my mentor,” said Jason Richardson, senior English teacher at Cloquet High School. Richardson and Weaver have been good friends since Richardson was a student at Bemidji State University – from canoeing, basketball, hunting, to talking about writing and literature together.
“I think his prose style is as good as it gets – straight to the point. Great observer. He is considered to be the Steinbeck of the Midwest,” said Richardson. “He saw a niche that needed to be filled.”
Dan Naslund, senior English teacher at Cloquet High School, added, “It shows his versatility. Very prolific – it seems he has read a lot. Not only are we lucky to have him as a writer, but also as a teacher.”
When the workshops were done, Weaver had a luncheon in the Cloquet High School library with some of the high school English teachers, discussing teaching, educational issues, the influence of E-readers (Nooks, Kindles, etc.) and how they will affect education.
“He reaffirmed some teaching aspects and reinforced some writing habits,” Naslund recalled.
Mrs. Mueller, CHS librarian, praised Weaver’s support of the nation’s literary programs.
“I thought it was interesting that he donated 30 out of the 278 books he judged to our school, and he is going around to schools and dividing up the books,” Mueller said. “I think the students will enjoy the books he donated – especially the boys.”
Gathering as much information about Weaver, you will discover a lot about his Minnesota native writer and teacher. From writing for young adults to reaching out to boys, this man is the writer of the ages. For further information about Will Weaver or his books, you can contact him at http://www.willweaverbooks.com.