Eliot Schrefer Author Visit Kit
Eliot Schrefer is the author of Endangered, about a girl surviving war in Congo with an orphaned bonobo at her side. He attended Harvard University, where he graduated with High Honors in French and American literature. He lives in New York City, where he writes fiction during the day and tutors for the SATs in the evening.
After two novels for adults, Schrefer turned to young adult fiction with The School for Dangerous Girls, about a boarding school for criminal young ladies. That book was selected as a “Best of the Teen Age” by the New York Public Library, and his next novel, The Deadly Sister, earned a starred review from School Library Journal.
Endangered, his fifth novel, was a finalist for the National Book Award in Young People’s Literature, one of NPR’s “Best of 2012,” and an editor’s choice in The New York Times, which called it “dazzling, big-hearted.” The book was also a finalist for the Walden Award and won the Green Earth Book Award and the Sigurd Olson Nature Writing Award. Schrefer journeyed to the Democratic Republic of Congo while researching the novel, and has since traveled wider as he’s embarked on a quartet of novels about the great apes.
His works have been translated into many languages including German, Russian, Polish, Taiwanese, Bulgarian, and Japanese. You can find him on Twitter @EliotSchrefer, and online at EliotSchrefer.com.
Eliot is like a proud grandpa about apes: he’ll pull out bonobo photos at drive-through windows, airport lines, anywhere. He’s happy whenever he gets an opportunity to talk to students about our closest relatives—and to talk, too, about the fascinating countries they live in. Kids find his enthusiasm contagious.
When he visits schools, in his large presentations he generally starts by talking about what makes an ape an ape, and then goes into the essential differences between bonobos and chimps and how they can help us examine our own human origins. Then the fun really begins: he talks about his sideways entry into primatology through the purchase of a certain pair of pants, then it's on to videos of his time in Congo and some candid moments he filmed with the irrepressible bonobos. He links the apes' physiological adaptations with their culture, and also talks about the nearby human societies, and how their interactions with the environment put animals in jeopardy. He speaks, too, about how examining ape politics can help us to understand our own culture. It's all punctuated with adorable bonobo video from his time in Congo, so even the most reluctant kid will find plenty of interest. Because the presentation focuses on much more than writing process, there's plenty of fodder for follow-up discussion among science, history, and English classes.
Often, Eliot gives multiple lectures on the various apes and their home countries. If he meets with a smaller group, though, he conducts an informal chat or a writing workshop. So far in workshops he’s focused on plotting, identifying the elements that make a successful story and working with students to construct their own high-functioning storylines.
He’s met with students as young as 5th graders, adapting which material he presents accordingly. His ideal audience, though, students in grades 6–12.
The Scientific Approach to the Novel
Some of our most loved writers talk about their art in terms of being vessels for a muse—they sit at the keyboard and their characters start to speak. Schrefer isn’t that way. Structuring his books, conducting his research, and coming up with his characters are processes of deliberation and methodical planning. By sharing his concrete, analytical composition strategies, Schrefer’s presentation will help those who are overwhelmed by a writing process that can seem overly mystifying.
The Role of Research in Fiction
By sharing his process of researching Endangered—both through secondary sources and his trip to Congo to stay at a sanctuary for orphaned bonobos—Schrefer will discuss how research affects the process of writing a novel. Starting by exploring the difficulties of information deluge to infodumping to the routineless quality of travel, Schrefer will also expand on the benefits of research: how it prevents writer’s block, broadens the writer’s toolset, and ultimately contributes to a more rounded worldview.
Eliot is happy to Skype with classes for thirty minutes for free, if they have purchased a set of books.
Eliot will bring a presentation, including plenty of video and photos, on a flash drive. He’ll need a laptop and a projector screen to display it.
For school visits, Eliot’s standard honorarium is $1500 a day, plus travel and lodging expenses.