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One night during high school, Spinelli watched the football team win an exciting game against one of the best teams in the country. While everyone else rode about town tooting horns in celebration, Spinelli went home and wrote “Goal to Go,” a poem about the game’s defining moment, a goal-line stand. His father submitted the poem to the Norristown Times–Herald and it was featured in the middle of the sports page a few days later. He then traded in his baseball bat for a pencil, because he knew that he wanted to become a writer.
After graduating from Gettysburg College with an English degree, Spinelli worked full time as a magazine editor. Every day on his lunch hour, he would close his office door and craft novels on yellow magazine copy paper. He wrote four adult novels in 12 years of lunchtime writing, but none of these were accepted for publication. When he submitted a fifth novel about a 13-year-old boy, adult publishers once again rejected his work, but children’s publishers embraced it. Spinelli feels that he accidentally became an author of children’s books.
Spinelli’s hilarious books entertain both children and young adults. Readers see his life in his autobiography Knots in My Yo-Yo String, as well as in his fiction. Crash came out of his desire to include the beloved Penn Relays of his home state of Pennsylvania in a book, while Maniac Magee is set in a fictional town based on his own hometown.
When asked if he does research for his writing, Spinelli says: “The answer is yes and no. No, in the sense that I seldom plow through books at the library to gather material. Yes, in the sense that the first 15 years of my life turned out to be one big research project. I thought I was simply growing up in Norristown, Pennsylvania; looking back now I can see that I was also gathering material that would one day find its way into my books.”
On inspiration, the author says: “Ideas come from ordinary, everyday life. And from imagination. And from feelings. And from memories. Memories of dust in my sneakers and humming whitewalls down a hill called Monkey.”
Spinelli lives with his wife and fellow writer, Eileen, in Wayne, Pennsylvania. While they write in separate rooms of the house, the couple edits and celebrates one another’s work. Their six children have given Jerry Spinelli a plethora of clever material for his writing.
Jerry Spinelli is the author of more than a dozen books for young readers, including Maniac Magee, winner of the Newbery Medal. His latest novel, Stargirl, was a New York Times bestseller and an ALA Top Ten Best Book for Young Adults. You can learn more about Jerry Spinelli at www.jerryspinelli.com.
I love beginnings. If I were in charge of calendars, every day would be January 1.
And what better way to celebrate this New Year’s Day than to begin writing a letter to my once (and future?) boyfriend.
I found something today. Something special. The thing is, it’s been right in front of me ever since we moved here last year, but today is the first time I really saw it. It’s a field. A plain old vacant field. No house in view except a little white stucco bungalow off to the right. It’s a mile out of town, a one-minute bike ride from my house. It’s on a hill—the flat top of a hill shaped like an upside-down frying pan. It used to be a pick-your-own-strawberries patch, but now it grows only weeds and rocks.
The field is on the other side of Route 113, which is where my street (Rapps Dam Road) dead-ends. I’ve biked past this field a hundred times, but for some reason today I stopped. I looked at it. I parked my bike and walked into it. The winter weeds were scraggly and matted down, like my hair in the morning. The frozen ground was cloddy and rock-hard. The sky was gray. I walked to the center and just stood there.
How can I explain it? Alone, on the top of that hill, in the middle of that “empty” field (Ha!—write this down, Leo: nothing is empty), I felt as if the universe radiated from me, as if I were standing on the X that marked the center of the cosmos. Until then I had done my daily meditation in many different places in and around town, but never here. Now I did. I sat down. I barely noticed the cold ground. I held my hands on my thighs, palms up to the world. I closed my eyes and dissolved out of myself. I now call it washing my mind.
The next thing I noticed was a golden tinge beyond my eyelids. I opened my eyes. The sun was seeping through the clouds. It was setting over the treetops in the west. I closed my eyes again and let the gold wash over me.
Night was coming on when I got up. As I headed for my bike, I knew I had found an enchanted place.
Oh, Leo, I’m sad. I’m crying. I used to cry a lot when I was little. If I stepped on a bug I’d burst into tears. Funny thing—I was so busy crying for everything else, I never cried for myself. Now I cry for me.
And now I’m smiling through my tears. Remember the first time I saw you? In the lunchroom? I was walking toward your table. Your eyes—that’s what almost stopped me in my tracks. They boggled. I think it wasn’t just the sight of me—long frontier dress, ukulele sticking out of my sunflower shoulder sack—it was something else too. It was terror. You knew what was coming. You knew I was going to sing to someone, and you were terrified it might be you. You quick looked away, and I breezed on by and didn’t stop until I found Alan Ferko and sang “Happy Birthday” to him. But I felt your eyes on me the whole time, Leo. Oh yes! Every second. And with every note I sang to Alan Ferko I thought: Someday I’m going to sing to that boy with the terrified eyes. I never did sing to you, Leo, not really. You, of all people. It’s my biggest regret. . . . Now, see, I’m sad again.
As I said last week, I wash my mind all over the place. Since the idea—and ideal—is to erase myself from wherever and whenever I am, I think I should not allow myself to become too attached to any one location, not even Enchanted Hill, as I call it now, or to any particular time of day or night.
So that’s why this morning I was riding my bike in search of a new place to meditate. Cinnamon was hitching a ride in my pocket. As I rode past a cemetery a splash of brightness caught my eye. It was a man sitting in a chair in front of a gravestone. At least I think
Excerpted from Love, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
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