Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Essential Don Murray

"Writing is primarily not a matter of talent, of dedication, of vision, of vocabulary, of style, but simply a matter of sitting. The writer is a person who writes."
     From the first time I read, Expecting the Unexpected:  Teaching Myself - and Others - to Read and Write, Donald Murray impacted my teaching and learning.  If you peruse my professional shelves, you'll find several of his books:  Shoptalk: Learning to Write with Writers, Craft of Revision, A Writer Teaches Writing, Write to Learn, Learning by Teaching, Read to Write: A Writing Process Reader.  You'll find a copy of My Twice-Lived Life: A Memoir and The Lively Shadow:  Living with the Death of a Child in our at-home library.  Whose life, as both writer and teacher, hasn't been impacted by Don Murray?  I learned to write from "THE Donalds"... Donald M. Murray and Donald H. Graves. 
     Thanks to Tom Newkirk and Lisa Miller, we have more Donald Murray wisdom to add to our collection:  The Essential Don Murray:  Lessons from America's Greatest Writing Teacher.  I finally got my copy.  It's a brilliant collection of Murray's essays, daybook entries, and writings.  It's is a thoughtful and thought-provoking collection that gives us another small glimpse into the genius career of one of our favorite writers. 
     Around many educational corners you turn these days, there seems to be a new foolproof "program" intended to magically turn every student into a writer, intended to transform something as organic as the writing process into a canned cellophane package, intended to turn a student's writing into a "rubric" cube, color-coded, number driven hodgepodge of sameness, intended to turn an essay into a stomach Steinway, groanbox, five-paragraph accordion piece... but Donald M. Murray knew better.  Murray reminds us, "Instead of teaching finished writing, we should teach unfinished writing, and glory in its unfinishedness. We work with language in action. We share with our students the continual excitement of choosing one word instead of another, of searching for the one true word. This is not a question of correct or incorrect, of etiquette or custom. This is a matter of far higher importance."
     His mission, throughout his long career was to take the mystery out of writing by talking about a writer's habits, processes, and practices by using his own writing as the backdrop for his teaching.  In The Essential Don Murray we get a behind the scenes look at the "father of the writing process" himself.  Even though he died in 2006, we still have so many lessons to learn and relearn from him (check out the tributes by New Hampshire Writer's Project).
     And, thank goodness we have people like Ralph Fletcher, Katie Wood Ray, Tom Romano, Penny Kittle, and YOU... to remind our colleagues to step back and look at writing authentically and wisely.  Much of their work is grounded in Murray's commitment to teach writing as a process.  Much of what Donald Murray brought to our profession continues to be absolutely essential!


  1. " the continual excitement of choosing one word instead of another, of searching for the one true word. "
    -- Sounds like we need more poetry!

    I will have to check to see if we have this author in our school library.

  2. i have been pondering and wondering with words as of late. I came across this author, writer, and philosopher. I just got a few of his books and look forward in unraveling some mysteries of writing.