I was in 6th grade at Morley Elementary in Lincoln when my teacher announced that Ivy Ruckman would visit our school. She had just published Night of the Twisters, a book that amazed me because it wasn’t remote and it wasn’t entirely imaginary. It was about an event that I remembered in a city not too far away.
This was groundbreaking for me. Since 2nd grade, I’d been writing about haunted houses and mysteries and dragons in places far from Nebraska. Night of the Twisters encouraged me to imagine new stories closer to home.
I knew I had to meet her. I wanted to ask her so many questions. Why Nebraska? Why Grand Island? Did she write about real people or make them up? How did she get published? How should I get published?
Our school librarian organized an essay contest, asking students to express why they wanted to meet and have lunch with Ruckman. My essay was selected and I was awarded a seat right next to her. There I was, 11 year-old me, having lunch with an author I admired, asking her questions, receiving encouragement and advice, and feeling afterwards like I had just made a new friend.
Since that day, I have met many authors, shared meals with them, asked about their work, shared my work with them, but I credit Ivy Ruckman’s interest in our school and my classmates for encouraging me to follow the path I’m on today.
I suspect that anyone who loves to read and write has their own Ivy Ruckman—an admired author who came to their school or library to share a love for writing. One of the joys of my job at Humanities Nebraska is to witness how author visits positively impact so many people. I see the smiles of children meeting Mo Willems in Seward, thank you notes from teens meeting Neal Shusterman in Scottsbluff, and messages from adults who remember their first time hearing Bill Kloefkorn or John Neihardt. So now I wonder—who is your Ivy Ruckman?
As Director of Literary Programs for Humanities Nebraska, Erika Hamilton works with readers and writers to develop and fund book discussions, public readings, workshops, and Nebraska Book Festival offerings. She also coordinates Prime Time Family Reading Time, an award-winning program for families with children ages 6-10 who struggle with reading. Erika has a B.A. in literature, writing and education from Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois; M.A. in creative writing (fiction) from the University of Nebraska in Lincoln; and is finishing her Ph.D. in American literature focusing on Willa Cather and book advertising.