New York & Brooklyn

Most people have a stress food, right? Mine is Cheetos, washed down with purple Gatorade, which I used to buy just about every day at this store, on Ralph Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn:

I taught at this school, just close enough to the market that I could dash there at lunch, for two years–first writing as a “specials” teacher, then first grade as a classroom teacher:

I had wonderful, brilliant students, but they and I were stressed out a lot of the time. We needed better test scores, more books, more math and science materials, more (and more nutritious) food, better pest control. We needed a safer neighborhood. Sometimes we needed more involved parents–though I can remember, during the first writing celebration of first grade, when everyone sat in a circle to read her “golden line,” a room full of proud parents and grandparents.

A friend of mine (who happens to be a very good writer), teaches in a high school on the third floor of this school, and during my visit to New York this June I attended end-of-year presentations by her literature students. They were all so poised, confident, and thoughtful–and clearly so supported by their teachers–that I really hope some of my former students will have a chance to attend this school. The experience also made me more excited to teach high schoolers next year. Maybe our students will become blog pals. Maybe her students could come down to North Carolina and we could take them kayaking. Maybe we could come up to New York and go to museums with them. We’ll see.

Though Mattaponi Queen is set mostly in King William and King & Queen counties, a lot of its inspiration is actually from this neighborhood, which was the first Southern-feeling place I’d come to after leaving Virginia. People nod to you or say hello on the street in Bed-Stuy, and many people here are from the South or have relatives there. My students used to go on and on about “down South.” 

My story “Homecoming” is partly set here; Marcus grew up in the Brevoort houses, which are just across the street from the school:

While in New York, I also read at a Barnes & Noble in the city–my first chain bookstore stop. I try to shop at independents as much as possible, but I also happen to like Barnes & Noble for their generous teacher discount (20%). That year I taught first grade, I was able to buy every child in my class a Christmas present from Barnes & Noble–a copy of Madeline, a book we read so often we memorized it (though we never mastered the “two straight lines” part in real life).

At B&N, I read the first part of “Opportunity,” a story set in King William but inspired by a rather tough woman who was my boss at the school pictured above and the cause of some of those Cheeto-runs. My friend Coquille (still a NYC teacher!) chortled knowingly while I read.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “New York & Brooklyn

  1. magnoliaavenue

    I loved reading this post and seeing all the familiar sights: the corner store, which I never noticed was called “Family Grocery Corp,” even though I pass it every day, and the P.S. 40 sign, and Brevoort. And I am HONORED at the nice things you say about my students; I was so tickled I emailed them a quote from your blog. Thanks again for being on the panel! Your questions for them were so thoughtful and probing and curious. I would love to have our students be pen pals in the fall! 🙂

  2. Belle Boggs

    I can’t say enough how much your students impressed me. Let’s make the pen pal/blog pal project happen!

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