Friday, April 28, 2017

Author Mick Fedullo (top right) speaks to Lodge Grass students on the subjects of poetry, public speaking and publishing. As a teacher, he brought eight Crow Agency Elementary students to read poetry at the Library of Congress in 1994 and seven Lodge Grass students to read at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in 2003.

Author, longtime poetry teacher, returns to Lodge Grass after 8 years

Hey, that’s my mom’s name. My mom wrote that poem?” – Lodge Grass seventh grader
Last week Mick Fedullo, author of Light of the Feather and It’s Like My Heart Pounding: Imaginative Writing for Native American Students came back to Lodge Grass after being away for nearly eight years. He first published a book of poetry in January 2002 called The Maze
 
He then turned his attention to writing nonfiction and educational literature. Fedullo has traveled to 25 different Indian reservations and northern Alaska in the last 30 years to teach Native students how to write and read poetry in front of audiences.
 
Fedullo starts out by telling the kids humorous stories. 
 
“I am a priest visiting your school today to teach you about writing poetry,” he said. “I would like to start with a prayer. Could everyone please bow their heads?” 
 
Once all the kids and even the local teachers folded their hands and bowed their heads, Mick laughed, saying, “Just kidding!” 
 
After the students finished laughing, he continued: “No really, I am visiting from Billings Deaconess Mental Institute to evaluate you.” 
 
The students all stared dumbfounded as he picked one student and said, “With you, I can already tell that you need help. Did you see the Billings Deaconess Mental Institute van parked outside?” 
 
As the terrified kids shake their heads in bewilderment, Mick concluded: “So, you can just go ahead and head out to the van.” Then he added, once again, “Just kidding!” 
 
After the ice was broken and Fedullo had the students’ undivided attention, he began the personal story of how he became a published author.
 
Fedullo went to undergraduate school at Goddard College in Plainfield, Vt. before attending graduate school at the University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop. In his class were Rita Dove and Jorie Graham, both of whom won Pulitzer Prizes.
 
Light of the Feather was the first nonfiction book Fedullo published. It took him three years to write it. 
 
As he explained to the listening students, “The first thing you have to do when you publish a book is to write a query letter to a publisher stating: ‘I wrote a book about whatever. Are you interested in publishing it?’ Then, you wait to hear from them.” 
 
The week after Big Bird was in Pryor, he received the call he had been waiting for from Editor Harvey Ginsburg. In a gruff voice, of course replicated by Fedullo, he repeated those savored words, “I would like to publish your book.” 
 
He continued his presentation about publishing writing by stating that there are cool and weird things that happen when you publish a book. One cool thing that happened was that he got to travel across America and the publisher paid for everything. Weird things that happen, he continued, include strange letters and phone calls from people. With the students mystified, he retold the story of a stalker who called him and said, “I just finished reading your book. It brought a tear to my eye and now I am moving closer to where you are living.”
 
Fedullo moved to Pryor in 1988 and lived behind Plenty Coups High School for 15 years. It was at Crow Agency Elementary School that he first met Christian Parrish Takes The Gun, who was in fifth grade at the time. 
 
Takes The Gun, also known today as Supaman – the rapper, Native American dancer and inspirational speaker – was a natural at writing poetry, according to Fedullo. Takes The Gun was one of five Crow students Fedullo flew to Missoula to speak in front of the Montana Indian Education Conference.
 
In 1994, Fedullo flew eight Crow kids to read their poetry at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. In 2003, he took seven Lodge Grass students to read at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian and at schools in Fairfax County, Va.
 
After his introduction, like a literary surgeon, he evoked the anticipation of writing poetry in the students’ minds by showing them local student poetry anthologies he edited years before. In class last week, one seventh grade boy said, “Hey, that’s my mom’s name. My mom wrote that poem?”
 
“Yes,” Fedullo responded. “I want to show you, also, an easy way to write a poem by showing you four basic steps that professional writers use to write poetry.”
 
Poetry, he said, is not only a way to express your feelings, but also has a healing element. 
 
He told yet another story of a student at Lodge Grass High School who wrote a poem about a friend who had died, and how that poem became a memorial to him at the high school. 
 
He recalled that the class of 2004, in his opinion, was exceptional. 
 
“I taught them alliteration, personification and a simile when they were seventh graders,” he said. “I promised if any of the kids could tell me the meaning of those three words and give me an example when I returned a few months later, I would give them five dollars. Upon my return in March, before I even got out of the door, students were yelling out of the school windows definitions and examples!”
 
Over the years, Fedullo has visited numerous English classrooms in Big Horn County, teaching students how to write poetry. In the 1990s and into the 2000s, he even conducted teacher in-services throughout the United States and Canada, but now he focuses on working with kids mainly in Big Horn County. 
 
He explained it like this: “You can be around adults, but you will never have the kind of moments that kids give you.”
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