By Bree Bender
I’ve heard it said that writers don’t choose writing. It chooses us. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been a writer. So, in a sense, I believe that statement is true. It’s just something I was born with, something that is so deeply a part of me, I don’t know where it ends and I begin. I think that’s the beauty of it. It’s like an old familiar friend who’s been with me through everything.
When I was young, I would get lost in books like Cages by Peg Kehret (Dutton, 1991), Totally Disgusting by Bill Wallace, illustrated by Leslie Morrill (Aladdin, 1992), and Black Beauty by Anna Sewell (Avenel, 1980 reprint). I loved the shape of words and how writers could use them to craft magical places and characters out of nothing. It awed and inspired me. I was drawn into the world of writing before I knew how to pick-up a pen.
As soon as I could string words together to form sentences, I started writing stories. Propped up on my bedroom floor, 25-cent spiral notebooks in hand, I’d write. Anything and everything. Ink blots would coat the edge of my palm as my hand moved from word to word. I’d spend hours writing and creating. Journal entries, short stories, epic novels about dogs and cats or the occasional crab who hated sand.
I wrote it all and I loved it. I still do.
I used writing to explore life, love, family, and everything in between. Writing has been with me during the hardest parts and brightest moments of my life. Growing up, I used words to help me think and process. It was as natural as breathing… until it wasn’t. I soon realized my brain didn’t function in the same way other’s did. It would take words, tumble them around, rearrange them, and spill them onto the pages in a flurry of letters that didn’t make sense. It took me years before I discovered I was dyslexic.
My dyslexia hasn’t changed my passion for reading or writing. I still devour books and notebook pages with the fury of a girl on a mission to save the world one word at a time.
Over the years, my writing would come and go. Stuck in the tiny corners of space and time, between getting married and having children. It wasn’t until after my second child was born, that I decided to take a leap of faith and pursue writing more fully. With two kids in tow, I found an undergraduate English and writing program at a local university.
My days were spent working a full-time job and, in the evenings, after the kids were tucked away in bed, I would pour over my literature books and essays. Each literature and creative writing class rekindled my passion for writing. I felt whole again and became the first member of my family to graduate from college.
I knew my journey didn’t end there. I wanted to follow my heart. A heart that wanted to write books for children and young adults. It’s always been my passion. My journey led me to Vermont College of Fine Arts where I would achieve my MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults all while having and caring for my third child. There, I would discover my literary family and friends. An unbreakable group of writers and world changers. VCFA became my home away from home and writing became my life again.
VCFA and advisors like Amanda Jenkins, David Gill, Margaret Bechard, and A.S. King changed my life. They taught me that writing is showing up (even on the hard days) and that books have the power to change the world. VCFA taught me, above all, that dreams are possible if you’ve got heart and are willing to do the work.
Today, between my own writing and family, I use my passion to teach others. I have developed multiple writing programs for teens in my area and I hope to continue to serve the youth in my community. Writing changed my life and my hope is it will change theirs, too.
I’ve come a long way from the hardwood floor of my childhood bedroom and I have no plans on stopping anytime soon. I’ve learned to embrace my dyslexia and work with it. As with writing, it is part of who I am. The writing life may not be an easy one, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything else in the world.
Bree Bender is a life-long Oregonian who holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts and is a recipient of the Oregon Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators 2020 scholarship prize for the Middle Grade and Young Adult novel category.