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Pulitzer Winner Margaret Edson

After she wrote the harrowing play "Wit," she began teaching kindergarten.

Margaret Edson, Smith College, 2008

Jim Gipe—Courtesy Smith College

Since her play piled up so many major awards, Margaret Edson is in demand as a speaker. Here, at her alma mater, Smith College, in 2008.

"To me it's always been clear that she really comes," she says. "There are tools that the playwright has at her disposal—music, sound, lighting—to signal a dream or a hallucination and I didn't use any of them. But if it's not clear to the audience, I'm happy."

In other words, the play should let us all take our own journey?

"There you go. Bon voyage."

Exploring Her World. While most of Edson's life has been spent as a student and a teacher in the classrooms she loves so much, her journey through life took a series of interesting detours after she completed her studies at Smith. "For me, when I was 21, that was all I knew how to do," she says. "I wanted to close that experience and open new ones."

She tended bar in a small town in Iowa and painted the interior of a Dominican convent in Rome. She worked for a mental health non-profit that pioneered treatment of the social and psychological effects of the AIDS epidemic, and spent some time as a clerk in the cancer ward of a university research hospital. Her work in the hospital inspired her to writeWit, and she continues to draw on all of the other experiences she had in those years.

"I was just learning about things firsthand," Edson says. "Sometimes classroom learning is secondhand." When she was ready to return, she says, "Going back to the classroom as a teacher was, and continues to be, a new set of experiences."

What's New for Her Now. This August, Edson began to grapple with a new challenge. After ten years watching kindergarteners' minds spark to light with conceptual breakthroughs on a daily basis, she's looking forward to the more mature minds of second graders.

"The human mind is at its peak at five years old," Edson says, "but it's so turned on to the world that it isn't very efficient. Second graders still have most of that sense of wonder, but less of the ridiculousness."

Jake Miller, a former Fulbright fellow, has written two dozen books for kids. He frequently contributes to NRTA Live & Learn.

Watch for new stories every Thursday in Live & Learn, NRTA's publication for the AARP educator community: Celebrating learning as a lifestyle.

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