On September 28th, 2018 I visited the Gifted Kids program at Silver High. Nine teenagers and one teacher, Sara Sosa, were there to greet me. They were in the program because they’d taken a test and been identified as exceptional. Sure enough, I guessed within about thirty seconds that I was the dumbest person in the room. There, grinning with a mouthful of pizza, was the next Steve Jobs. Smiling politely beside him was the next Marie Curie. There, sitting slightly apart, was the next Einstein. And there at the front, me.
What do you do when you’ve been asked to talk about writing to a bunch of super-smart schoolkids? I did what I do when talking to any group: try to engage them, bring an artifact or two, tell a few stories, and ask questions. And in this case I made darn sure I didn’t dumb down anything.
The artifact: a book called Elephant Don’t Sit on Cars – written by my father, published when I was seven, starring one Jeremy James (guess what my name JJ stands for!).
The stories: stuff about my parents and my travels and writing on the hoof.
The questions they asked: what’s my favorite of my books (Damnificados, by a mile); how much money I make per book (it varies enormously); which country I liked best of those I’d visited (all of them have their own beauty, but Lesotho is special to me); and what were my main themes as a writer (social justice, but I try not to ram my views down the reader’s throat).
The questions I asked: did they know about Apartheid? (I told them I’d lived in southern Africa); had they heard of socialism? (I told them about the Venezuelan community that inspired my novel Damnificados); what languages did they speak? (Eight of them were monolingual).
I passed around a few of my books, stole the remaining pizza, and chickened out of reading to the kids. What if they hated my stuff? What if they realized I’m not the gifted one in the room?! Just kidding. It was fun. They gave me a very generous reception and asked good questions. I don’t really believe in IQ tests, but I do believe in children.