Charles Dickens famously lined porcelain figures across his desk to keep him company as he worked to meet impending deadlines. Victor Hugo locked his clothes away so he wouldn’t be tempted to leave before his daily writing was complete. Writers are notorious for fostering peculiar habits to put words on the page. While their habits differ, most authors share one thing in common: To hone their craft, all writers practice. According to bestselling novelist Stephen King, good writers are made, not born. Mr. King makes it a daily ritual to draft 2,000 words, a practice shared by Jack London, Norman Mailer and many other professional writers. Author Malcolm Gladwell notes that success in any profession often requires one element: “You need to have practised, to have apprenticed, for 10,000 hours before you get good.”
Blair English department chair James Moore embraces this philosophy, providing opportunities for Blair’s budding authors to practice early and often. Last year, the School introduced J-term, a two-week learning opportunity during which students intensively study a subject that interests them. The J-term course titled “Where Have You Come From, Where Are You Now?” provided students with the time and space to interview and profile Blair alumni from around the world, learning how to tell someone’s story and sharpening their writing skills.
What follows are excerpts from four articles by Mr. Moore’s 2021 J-term students. The pieces showcase not only how distinguished Blair alumni have made a global impact, but also just how exceptional writing is developed at Blair.
Mikal Davis-West ’01’s Journey to Success
By Michael Mangino ’23
(Profile chronicling how the women in Mikal Davis-West ’01’s life, and his early educational experiences, helped shape and set him up for success at a prestigious law firm.)
“Mikal Davis-West sits across from a hopeful graduate of law school, asking questions to unveil the mind of this potential future employee. He watches the nervous new lawyer choosing his words, as he reminisces on his own past. In the position that once intimidated him, and staring back at the position he was in, he ponders the path to his success. He thinks about his gratefulness for being in such a powerful position, and his gratitude for the people that helped him make it happen. Becoming a lawyer at one of the largest legal firms in the world required an immense amount of work, which started in Newark, NJ, in 1993.…”
Timeless: A Venture Into the Curriculum Vitae of a Buccaneer Film Prodigy, Lukas Dong ’15
By Apple Wu ’24
(Profile of film prodigy Lukas Dong ’15, who, at the age of 17, became the youngest director to receive the Best American Short Documentary Award from the American Documentary Film Festival.)
“A lone chandelier sits on the streets of Vancouver, magnificent and spinning, a sight to behold. It is in no fancy ballroom and obviously does not belong here. But it draws people all the same, and receives much more attention than its fellows that have hung, gathering dust, on the high unreachable ceilings where they seem to belong. Somehow, this particular out-of-place chandelier is an emblem of where art is accessible to all, not just to the nobles in their grandeur. The spinning chandelier is an emblem of where art and daily life interact, explains Lukas Dong ’15. He shows that in one of his newest music videos, Rising Chandelier.…”
Emily Downs ’01: Success & Pizza
By Alexander Grizzetti ’22
(Profile of chef and small business owner Emily Downs ’01, who is combining her passions for farm-to-table foods with innovative pizza delivery.)
“Emily Downs is a small business owner making a big impact in the pizza world today. Downs never imagined she would have a culinary profession, yet when it came to making pizzas, she had a real gift. Working for top restaurants around the country, Downs found her passion for pizza and bread making, and ran with it. Despite many obstacles along the way, including the ongoing coronavirus pandemic that has destroyed so many local businesses, Emily Downs’ pizza and bread business has managed to prosper. The business’ continued success stems from Emily’s determination and passion for cooking.…”
Technology for Society: Avishek Kumar ’05
By Molly Wu ’23
(Profile of University of Chicago data scientist Avishek Kumar ’05, whose work has led to a means to detect lead poisoning in children that is three times more efficient than current systems.)
“As a graduate student at Arizona State University, armed with an education in physics and a strong interest in public policy, Dr. Avishek Kumar entered a contest organized by the Clinton Foundation in 2014. For the contest, Dr. Kumar designed an app that reminds people to take medicine. ‘The app went nowhere,’ said Dr. Kumar, ‘but I did take a picture with Chelsea Clinton.’ The influence of this seemingly failed project on Dr. Kumar was long-lasting—It led him to the epiphany that it is indeed possible to incorporate his technical skills with his passion to make a social impact, ultimately shaping him as the data scientist whom people admire today.…”
Students interested in learning the craft of storytelling have rich opportunity at Blair. While the J-term course chronicling the adventures of some of our most interesting alumni is not available this winter, Department chair Jim Moore recommends that students write for the school newspaper, The Oracle, which features creative articles as well as reporting, and delve into the School’s Narrative Writing course, which has recently expanded to include eleventh-grade students. We look forward to hearing all our students’ stories—and supporting the young journalists, playwrights and novelists in our midst!