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From Teacher to Writer

By Jasmine Song



Following a 30-year teaching career in several Michigan School districts, Gloria Nixon-John has made a name for herself as an author.

Nixon-John started her career as an educator in Detroit, teaching language arts courses, creative writing, and speech.Massive layoffs forced her to transfer to Warren, then to Troy, until she became the co-director, and then director, of a division of The National Writing Project—a network of sites serving teachers across all disciplines and grade levels in an effort to improve writing and learning for students.

While teaching, Nixon-John published a few poems and stories, but wanted to produce work with more heft.

“I never took myself too seriously—not as seriously as I took my students,” says Nixon-John. “But once I decided to include my struggle as a writer, [and] share my writing with my students, I began to understand that I had a voice and a history I wanted to share.”

Nixon-John is passionate about social and political issues. Writing became a way for her to express her opinions.
“Going through the whole process from thinking, drafting my writing, then revising also gave me insight into the teaching of writing,” the author says.

After she was done raising children, and retired, Nixon-John had more time to spend on burgeoning literary projects. Publishing her work seemed a natural next step, but she encountered more difficulties than she expected.

“Like any other business, the business of publishing is fraught with terrifying and humiliating roadblocks,” says Nixon-John. “My age, and lack of important publishing credits, was a big obstacle.”

While Nixon-John had published academic articles in pedagogical texts and journals, the non-academic publishing world seemed to be a whole different ballgame.

“I had to learn all about agents, query letters, book proposals, [and] that rejection of one’s writing is just one editor’s opinion,” says Nixon-John. “I had to keep at it.”

Although the big presses were not the easiest to break into, Nixon-John eventually reached out to Neverland Publishing, a small press company that was willing to publish her work.

One of her darker novels, The Killing Jar, is the true story of a young man who is charged for a capital crime and sentenced to death. The book covers the crime, and the causes and effects of that offense.

“The story touched my heart because the young inmate was only a teen when [he was] incarcerated in a maximum-security prison—on death row at that,” says Nixon-John. “In reading his story I thought of the thousands of teens I worked with as a teacher, and I could not turn away.”

Nixon-John’s book Learning From Lady Chatterley is set in post World War II Detroit. Part memoir, the book examines the ups and downs of pre-teen and young teen encounters.

“Writing it provided me insight into who I am and how I got this way,” says Nixon-John. “I found the writing very healing because it took me back to my modest beginnings with my loving, immigrant family. We had so little in terms of material things, but we had so much.”

Nixon-John says being a writer feels like catharsis.

“I really prefer writing poetry,” says Nixon-John. “You can see the literary bend in my prose.”

After writing so much prose, Nixon-John says her poetry has become more narrative. She refers to it as mixing two generations.

“I work with many older writers as a coach and consultant, and having gone through this metamorphosis myself, having become more contemporary in style, really helps me give my students more options,” says Nixon-John.

Aside from the personal gratification that comes with being a published writer, Nixon-John hopes to expose some of the social and political issues that are often left unnoticed.

“I don’t just write in isolation, I am aware of the changing world around me, the struggles of others, and I hope that in sharing my research, my stories, and poems I can call attention to some of those issues,” says Nixon-John.

Nixon-John is writing a sequel to Learning From Lady Chatterley, which takes the main character—herself—into high school. She is also working on a collection of poems that were inspired by her research into The Killing Jar and her correspondence with an inmate who helped her with research. Some of the poems have been published in poetry journals, Clover and Apogee.

“I have so many projects in the works that I feel like I am running out of time,” says Nixon-John. “I am currently digging into that drawer of old writing and working on a futuristic fantasy I started years ago.”

To retired educators who might want to become a writer, the author says, “Find the time and space to write.” She says people who want to write “must make it a priority to take themselves seriously, even if other’s don’t.” Nixon-John says she finds it amusing that people think retirees have less to offer than they did two decades ago. To the contrary. “I finally have more time to think, reflect, and write so now is the perfect time. Does my life experience help? You bet it does. It is not too late, Nixon-John says enthusiastically. ”

Nixon-John’s books are available for purchase at most major book outlets, Amazon, and at local Michigan bookstores.

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