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Writers at Work: Beth Knapp, Justin Baker, and Bessie Oster

“It has been my goal to have an assembly that highlights the amazing educators we have at Gilman who are also authors, writers, and artists in their own right,” said Tickner Writing Fellow Arnisha Royston, opening the Writers at Work assembly on Monday, February 12 as she welcomed the panel of familiar faces on the stage. “It is easy to simply see your teachers as just your teachers. But we are so much more than educators. And our passions outside the classroom are often the threads that keep us teaching.”

English teacher Beth Knapp said she only just started calling herself a poet a couple of years ago — a title with which she is still getting comfortable. “Still, poetry is the way I understand the world, and it’s the way I make meaning of love, loss, relationships, and my sense of self,” she said. Then Knapp shared an in-progress piece about love languages. Sandwiched between the kind gesture of packing apple slices for her to snack on at school, the poem explores simple acts of service Knapp’s husband performs to express his love for her, as well as her struggle to remember to appreciate them.

Justin Baker is an English teacher and a college counselor, among other things. A singer-songwriter who plays several instruments, he shared with the Upper School a recording of his song “Beyond Good and Evil” from his record, “Buyer’s Remorse.” He said he feels lucky to work at Gilman, where he has been able to write a curriculum for the senior elective he teaches on songwriting. That class and Royston’s creative writing poetry elective joined together for a lesson the morning before the assembly. “Songwriting and poetry share so much in common,” he said. “If you think about poetry with music in mind, you might become a better poet. And if you think about songwriting with poetry in mind, you’ll probably become a better songwriter.”

Health educator Bessie Oster, who has published articles in Vogue and Refinery29, spoke about her love for writing letters. “For me, when I really want to say something to people who mean a great deal, I try to do it in a letter.” She admits that she doesn’t always deliver the letters — some are written to people who have passed, and others are written and then burned in a fireplace as a symbolic banishing of unhelpful thoughts. “But I believe there is something meaningful about receiving and writing heartfelt letters. It feels human and kind.” She wrote a letter for the occasion of this assembly and read it aloud. “My Dear Seniors,” she began, delving into their impending independence upon graduation and the importance of being intentional as they enter new communities.


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