Celebrating Marilyn Singer: A Poet of Many Interests

By Hadaway, Nancy L.; Young, Terrell A. | Language Arts, September 2015 | Go to article overview

Celebrating Marilyn Singer: A Poet of Many Interests


Hadaway, Nancy L., Young, Terrell A., Language Arts


Marilyn Singer is the 2015 winner of the NCTE Excellence in Poetry for Children Award, joining a distinguished group of poets that NCTE has recognized since 1977. She has published over 100 books for children and young adults in different genres, including 30 poetry collections (with several more in progress or forthcoming in 2016). Her work tackles a wide variety of topics-US presidents, animals, astronomy, meteorology, celebrations- and poetic formats-triolets, cinquains, villanelles, and sonnets. She even created her own poetic format, the reverso. Her work has won numerous awards and has been placed on many notable book lists. We were fortunate to interview her and hear about her writing quirks (e.g., printing her poems on yellow legal pads), her creative process (writing anywhere-coffee shops, parks, doctors' offices, the subway), and her evolution as a writer. We invite you to learn more about Marilyn Singer, a fascinating and talented poet who is always learning and growing in her craft.

When we talked with Singer, she recalled her excitement about receiving the NCTE award. She knew the award recipient would be announced at the Books for Children Luncheon in Washington, DC, but she had managed to put it out of her head and was having brunch with her husband Steve in New York when the news came, via email, from her friend and neighbor, Jacqueline Woodson, who had just finished her keynote address at the luncheon. Singer described her reaction: "I immediately burst out crying. It's the one award I really, really hoped to win someday. Poetry is and always has been my favorite thing to write. I feel deeply honored by the award-and by the company I'm in, which includes many of my favorite poets."

Thinking back on the kinds of early literacy experiences that are important in building future readers and writers, Singer shared some examples of her beginning reading and writing encounters. She was surrounded by positive literacy role models. Her parents read poetry and sang popular "songs of the day" to her, so she developed a love for both poetry and lyrics. Her grandmother also contributed to her literacy development by telling her "wonderful stories every night at bedtime." Singer remarked, "I learned a lot about the power of words from her." Encouraged by these positive experiences, Singer started writing poetry in first grade and continued throughout elementary school, high school, and college. She is quick to acknowledge the role that teachers played in nurturing her confidence as a writer, revealing that one teacher submitted her poems to literary magazines and they were published. Consequently, she believed that she "could get published as a grown-up, too."

After college, Singer became a high school English teacher. Though she continued to write, it wasn't until she left teaching that she realized she wanted to be a writer. Her first published book was a picture book, The Dog Who Insisted He Wasn't (Dutton, 1976). Her first poetry collection came in the 1980s "when Judith Whipple, then at Macmillan, accepted Turtle in July" (1989).

As noted earlier, Singer enjoys writing across genres, but she is particularly drawn to writing poetry. She painted several wonderful images about the appeal of poetry. "Like a great photograph, a great poem can capture a moment in time. It is evocative. It can have an element of surprise, of mystery. It can make you slow down and think. It can be silly and make you laugh." She added, "I like its musicality and its succinctness-a poet can capture a story, a character, a state of being with just a few words."

Comparing the difference in writing poetry versus prose, she comments that she loves to play with words and feels poetry allows that in a way that prose doesn't. Further, she maintains, "with poetry, if I think I've gotten it right, I want to hug myself."

Singer's writing inspiration originates from many sources. While she admits that animals and nature are strong lures, she mentions other subjects of interest, including dancing, weather, time zones, presidents, mythology, fairy tales, and human behavior. …

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