Zane Razzao '15Arts Editor
On April 11, three generations of storytellers will come together to discuss pre-teen and teenage literature. Ann Matthews Martin, a 1977 graduate of Smith College and the best-selling author of several works including The Baby-sitters Club series, will be participating in a panel entititled “Empowering Young People with Stories.” The panel will coincide with Martin’s donation of her literary papers to the Mortimer Rare Book Room.
“We’re hosting the panel discussion to honor Ann Martin, because Ann is donating her papers to Smith this spring,” Mary Irwin, gift and development officer for the libraries at Smith, said in an interview with the Springfield Republican. “Having Ann’s papers added to the literary collections in the Mortimer Rare Book Room means that when they are made available for consultation, students, including Archives concentrators and Book Studies concentrators, will be able to explore her manuscripts, drafts, story outlines, etc. and write about them.”
The panel discussion will begin by focusing on the importance and impact of the Baby-sitters Club series. According to the New York Times, the 1986-2000 series, which followed a group of middle school students running a baby-sitting business, includes 213 titles and has more than 176 million books in print.
“The Baby-sitters Club series is significant because it was a landmark series – one of the most successful series in publishing history – and a transformational one, influencing subsequently published books and series,” Irwin said. She also noted that many international Smith students have discussed how they got their sense of American suburban life from reading the series.
Martin explained the process behind donating her literary papers, which will include all the files for the Baby-sitters Club series: as well as her other series Little Sister and California Diaries.
“After writing so many books, I just had file drawer after file drawer of papers. I didn’t want to let them go, but I just wasn’t sure what to do with them,” she said. “I began talking to Martin Antonetti [curator of rare books in the Mortimer Rare Book Room], and when Martin said Smith would be interested in the papers, I was incredibly honored.” She hopes to continue donating her literary papers to Smith every few years.
In talking about how Smith has influenced her work, Martin remembered a specific writing course, Forms of Writing, which she took as a first-year with Professor Patricia Skarda.
“It was a great class and I certainly learned a lot about reading and writing from that class, particularly how to be a very careful reader and writer, and making every word count. I know that has influenced me in all of my writing career. I really think her class made me a much more thoughtful writer.” She went on to say, “I certainly learned a lot about friendship, especially among groups of women. I’m sure that translated into my writing for The Baby-sitters Club.”
The panel discussion will also include Martin’s longtime editor and successful author David Levithan; National Book Award winner and Smith College alumna Virgina Euwer Wolff ’59 and young novelist Emma Straub. The moderator will be author Bethanne Patrick ’85.
Irwin explained that the panel discussion will move on to discuss the general landscape of publishing pre-teen and young adult fiction. “We also hope to talk about literacy and how blockbuster books like Harry Potter and the Hunger Games engage young readers,” she said.
Levithan, who edited the Hunger Games and worked on the Baby-sitters Club Series as a 19-year old intern for Scholastic, said in an interview with the Atlantic Wire, “What [is amazing] is how well it holds up, how the nine-year-olds of today still relate. I think it is important that the characters were the leaders of their own lives.”
“Empowering Young People with Stories,” sponsored by the Friends of the Smith College Libraries, will be held on April 11 at 7:30 p.m. in the Neilson Library Browsing Room. A book signing will follow. The event is free and open to the public.