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Author photo. The Barbara Juster Esbensen Memorial

The Barbara Juster Esbensen Memorial

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Barbara began her career teaching art to grades K-12. She also taught art and creative writing methods to college of education students. As a third grade classroom teacher, she used trade books across the curriculum to teach her 39 "low-achiever" third graders to read. Her first book was a collection of her poetry, SWING AROUND THE SUN, published in 1965. There was a hiatus while she raised six children.

"By the age of ten, I began to think of myself as a writer. That is when I discovered I could not stand to be without a book to read.

Meanwhile, my teachers would praise my ability as a budding artist. This is what excited my parents. In their eyes I became Barbara Our Little Artist.

But words were at the center of my being.

My early reading of the L. M. Montgomery books gave me the courage to play with words. I named a special tree where I would read. I named a certain place down by Lake Monona where I would sit on the breakwater and think. I named my bedroom.

My bedroom faced west and I called it Castle Afterglow. I made a sign for the door. The sign had a sunset with dark words in crayon over the pink: "Welcome to Castle Afterglow - Keep Out."

In 1939, when I was in tenth grade, Russia invaded Finland. I heard about it over the radio on the morning news before I went to school. This was terribly upsetting to me. When I got to school, I looked at a map and saw how large Russia was compared to little Finland. It infuriated me. I didn't know anything about politics, but I wrote a poem to express my feelings. I composed it in my head as I rode home on the city bus that rainy November day. Dashing into my house, and standing dripping wet in the front hall, I grabbed a piece of paper from my notebook and wrote my poem.

The next day, I put it on the desk of my English teacher, Miss Eulalie Beffel, herself a journalist and published poet. Miss Beffel then said the words that changed my life. "Barbara," said Miss Beffel, "you are a writer."

In 1941, I read the poetry of Amy Lowell, Stephen Vincent Benet, and Sara Teasdale. The way these writers used words astonished me. Thomas Wolfe had me in a state of shock!

From that point on, I was off and running with language. The way words looked when placed next to each other was deeply important to me. When put together in fresh, unexpected ways, they could generate quiet explosions of delight for the reader. Whether it was poetry or prose, placing images in the minds of my readers became a central focus of everything I wrote. I wanted to find those word combinations that make sentences catch fire and shower down sparks!"

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