I grew up in a town where our parents were ship builders, bakers, waitresses, and cashiers, and where books found their right and proper place in the local library. Ours was an oral tradition, with the sounds and voices of elders and neighbors in inflections of Portuguese, Greek, and Italian – all of which I quickly learned to imitate. The result was a technical training that served a writer. I learned by ear the necessity for music in language, the power of truths told in nods and quiet breaths, and the critical importance of timing. And, I learned at my kitchen table that if you’re going to tell a story, it must be artful and it better be worth everyone’s time.
At the age of ten, I met the woman who would become my lifetime mentor – Miss D., my fourth grade teacher. She would unleash my passion for literature and the arts and teach me how art connects us. A few years later, at the age of fourteen, I was awarded my first literary prize – 1st place in a poetry contest hosted by Boston’s Emerson College. In a packed campus theater, the contest judge, renowned poet Charles Simic, handed me a check for a hundred dollars and mumbled, “Good job, kid.” Even at that early age, I understood that writers thrive on affirmation – not because the ego needs it, but because it confirms that through our art, we connect. At that moment, my life as a writer was confirmed.
My passion for languages and literature took me on a course of studies to some of the best colleges in the world. At each college, it would be the Poet in Residence that I would seek out. At Williams College, Lawrence Raab and Richard Wilbur taught me to unleash the mystery in poetry; at Brown university, Michael Harper tuned my ear for the music in poetry; at Goddard College, Alfred Corn and Michael Klein honed my technique in poetry; and at Harvard University, the Nobel-prize winning poet, Seamus Heaney mentored me in the mercy in poetry. I was immensely fortunate to share countless hours and discussions with Seamus (sometimes over a PBR and Powers) not only on the topic of how to write good poetry, but on how to be a good poet. “It takes a good person to be a good poet,” Seamus often said to me. I knew that this “goodness” was what Seamus himself strived for; it was a positioning of himself in service to the world that I continue to try to emulate in my work – empathy, authenticity, and self-effacement.
It is Seamus and the mentors who preceded him that walk with me in my recognitions: The May Swenson Award for my debut poetry collection, The Lame God; Finalist in the national Women’s Voices Competition for my poetry collection, Advantages of Believing; and among recent awards, the Penelope Niven Creative Nonfiction Award; the Editor’s Prizes in Poetry from FOLIO and from the Spoon River Review; The Robert Frost Poetry Award;the National Poetry Review’s Annie Finch Prize, and the American Poetry Journal’s American Poet Prize.
My forthcoming book with Regal House Publishing, Beginner’s Mind, examines a topic that I have made my life’s focus: namely, education. In a time when our schools are dogged by institutionalized goals for our children, Beginner’s Mind gives us a classroom where personal growth and innovative thinking happens in unimaginable ways because of my remarkable fourth grade teacher. Though my soul naturally defaults to the poetic, I have chosen a prose format for this book to more directly reflect the classroom dynamics. Beginner’s Mind is a collage of teaching moments that forever changed a generation of ten-year-olds, and examines the question, “How do we want teachers to educate our children?” The answer is given to us through a series of classroom vignettes that put on display the possibilities before us when a teacher’s love is combined with the beginner’s mind.
M.B. McLatchey holds her degree in Comparative Literature from Harvard University, a Masters in Teaching from Brown University, the M.F.A. in writing from Goddard College, and a B.A. from Williams College. She has over thirty years of teaching college students and has been recognized by her university as Distinguished Teacher of the Year and as Distinguished Scholar. She was awarded Harvard University’s coveted Danforth Prize in Teaching as well as the Harvard/Radcliffe Prize for Literary Scholarship, and she received the Elmer Smith Award for Excellence in Teaching from Brown University. M.B. has authored numerous literary reviews, compiled several text books for Humanities courses, and has contributed to many books on teaching. She has received national and international literary awards including the May Swenson Poetry Award for her debut poetry collection The Lame God published by Utah State University Press and the FLP national Women’s Voices Competition award for her book, Advantages of Believing. Her recent awards include the American Poet Prize from the American Poetry Journal, the Editor’s Prizes in Poetry from FOLIO literary journal and the Spoon River Poetry Review , the Annie Finch Prize for Poetry, the Robert Frost Award in Poetry, the Penelope Niven Creative Nonfiction Award, the New South Writing Award from Georgia State University, the 46’er Prize from the Adirondack Review, and the Vachel Lindsay Poetry Award. She has been featured in Verse Daily and as a “Writer in the Spotlight” by AWP. A tenured Professor of Classics at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, she also serves as Florida’s Poet Laureate for Volusia County and as Arts & Wellness Ambassador for the Atlantic Center for the Arts. Visit her at: www.mbmclatchey.com