Pam Allyn '84 (view alumni profile - log in required)
Hastings onHudson,New York
Place of Birth
B.A. in English from Amherst College
M.A. in Education fromColumbiaUniversityTeachers College
Why did you choose to come to Amherst?
I lovedAmherst from the time I was young. My father and two uncles attended the College and I grew up on the love of it. But I remember as a child playing on the quad and how much I loved the air up there. It was a sensation I had that felt familiar to me when I got older and returned to look at the college. It was as if I always belonged to it. I really was so lucky it all worked out, because I barely considered anything else. When I came to visit as a high school junior, it was like coming home. I still feel that way, to this day, every time I step foot on the campus. And also, I can’t tell you which came first, but Robert Frost is my greatest literary inspiration. I loved everything he ever wrote and everything he ever wrote about writing. In high school I kept a book of his poems by my bed. It gave me such a thrill to know he had walked on that same quad. I felt like it must be a powerful place for words.
Favorite (most memorable or most influential) class at Amherst:
Each of my English classes gave me something different and special. I felt like I was building my understandings, step by step, each and every class. I felt the joy of Yeats with Professor Sofield, I learned the nuance of Shakespeare from Professor Demott, I was humbled before the greatness of Professor Pritchard, I fell in love with American literature with Professor O’Connell. Each and every one gave me gifts.
Favorite (most memorable or most influential) professor:
This would of course be Professor Barry O’Connell. He is my lifelong mentor, inspiration and dear friend. He never doubts his students he see the whole person, never just the student in his class. And he is thinking about people, as they are, in their moments. I felt that from him then and blessedly, he is now doing the same for our daughter who is a sophomore atAmherst now.
My passion is education and my life work is all about reading and writing and children. I’ve written several books for teachers. Most of my research is done right in classrooms, alongside children. That’s the best way.
Awards and Prizes
James Patterson Page Turner Awards for Bringing Literacy to Underserved Populations
Disney/Points of Light Foundation Award
Finalist for the Library Journal Book of the Year 2009
Children’s Village Legacy of Service Award.
E.B. White, Robert Frost, Langston Hughes
Tips for aspiring writers?
Embrace your own passions. Read a lot. Look for wisdom from authors you love. I think it was the poet Stanley Kunitz who said if you want to write a certain kind of poem you have to live the kind of life that would enable you to write that kind of poem. Create the kind of life that would allow you to create the kinds of things you will be proud of. The first time you write something you really love, show it to someone you trust who will give you courage. The second time, show it to someone who can help you make it better. That person might be one and the same or they might not. But you need both. And finally, consider the idea that something you write could change the world. And if you believe that, what would it be that you would write?
Tell us a bit about your path to becoming an author
Well, deep down I always wanted to be an author. I credit my uncle Ed for giving me the faith in that. He illustrated my very first ‘published’ piece. I wrote it in third grade. It was called “Thunder, A Horse” and it was pretty close to a direct plagiarism of Black Beauty. But uncle Ed loved it. And he sent me over a cover illustration, a beautiful horse head. Knowing he believed enough in my writing to think it warranted cover art was really enough to carry me along for a good many years. However, I don’t write horse stories any more! I followed my passion, which was to become a teacher. And then I started my organizations on behalf of school reform and teacher training and got really immersed in all of that. Luckily, in the past years, I have met a few people who said: you have something to say that people will want to hear. These were my editors Lois Bridges at Scholastic and Lucia Watson and Megan Newman at Avery/Penguin, as well as my agent Lisa Dimona. This community of women has been the entire reason I have been able to create time to write and have had the faith to put it all on the page. I am grateful and honored that teachers, parents and others have been so receptive to my books. I would say that a great inspiration for me as a writer has been children. Watching them have the courage to put those first words on the page and to see how much that matters to them is all part of how I became an author. Funny to say that five year olds are the real reason I write, but they really are.