Saturday, March 3, 2012

Molly Moynahan talks about Pitch Perfect: How to Write a Successful College Admission Essay

I first met Molly Moynahan on the now defunct online literary community Readerville, and after reading her incredible novel, Stone Garden, we began emailing back and forth, and soon became friends. I met her on my book tour, and she came out on a blizzardy Chicago evening to walk with me to a vegetarian restaurant, to commiserate that the drawbridge sidewalk had started to open up while I walked on it, and to spend time deep in conversation. She's a brilliant novelist, screenwriter --and she's a beloved friend. I'm thrilled to have her on here talking about her new book, which helps kids write that oh-so-difficult college essay.

Thanks so much for being on here, Molly!

Considering all the college guides available, why did you write Pitch Perfect: How to Write a Successful College Admission Essay?
Despite all the books about college admission there were no creative writing books focusing on teenagers and on this specific assignment. Having taught high school for over a decade I’d observed how difficult this essay was for students and how rare it was for English teachers to really enjoy teaching the process. Since I’m a writer and a creative writing teacher I loved helping students find their authentic voices. This book is written as a companion to the writer, written for the teenager not for the parents.
Isn’t this book more for at-risk students who don’t have the resources to get help or the ability to write a good essay?
My experience teaching Advanced Placement Literature and kids struggling with reading and writing is that both groups have issues with discovering their stories. Students who receive coaching and constant parental input may be academically successful but still be unable to write an interesting and effective essay. At-risk students often don’t realize how many things they’ve done that could make for a powerful essay. At-risk students have frequently moved from another country, helped their relatives with English, worked and struggled with fitting in. They need to understand they have much to offer. They also need specific strategies for editing and revising.
When should students start working on their college essays?
Ideally, they will start thinking about a possible topic in the spring of their junior year. Students should keep some kind of journal-nothing formal-a collection of quotes, thoughts, memories, descriptions, possibly photographs, drawings, any artifacts that contain meaning. PITCH PERFECT is organized around the Beginning, Middle and End with the beginning encouraging the writer to have a surplus of ideas and material so they can choose rather then searching for a single idea.
You love teaching writing to teenagers. Why?
Adolescence is period of incredible change, crisis and opportunity. Teenagers embody conflict and conflict brings writing to life, offering great opportunity for character development. Teenagers make mistakes and have great wisdom but we are seldom aware of that wisdom because they are reluctant to speak up. The College Admission essay gives them an opportunity to teach an adult something wonderful. It’s a persuasive personal narrative that marks the start of the next chapter in their lives. I love being part of that moment.
Will PITCH PERFECT help high school students become better writers?
This is another reason I wanted to write this book. It’s wrong to see this essay as a isolated assignment. I taught college composition for years and was dismayed by the inability of many of my students to write outside the restrictive format of the five-paragraph essay and even those tended to sound canned and lacked a personal voice. PITCH PERFECT guides the writer towards finding her authentic voice and editing, revising and proofreading to make that voice compelling. These skills are essential for college writing.
About the author:
Molly Moynahan has been writing and teaching for more than twenty years and is an authority on writing successful personal statements. She has taught thousands of high school and college students how to write well. As an English educator, Moynahan has worked at Rutgers, SMU, Loyola, and Columbia and at Evanston Township High School and New Trier High School.

Moynahan is a published novelist, an award-winning playwright, a scriptwriter, a columnist and a blogger. Moynahan is the author of three novels: Parting is All We Know of Heaven, Living in Arcadia and Stone Garden. Stone Garden was a New York Times Notable Book, an American Library Association best teen read and a BOOKSENSE 76 choice. Moynahan has been a recipient of fellowships from the Djerassi Foundation, the Helena Wurlitzer Foundation and has presented at the National Council of Teachers of English Convention. 

More information can be found on 

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