My time at FOCUS On the Arts at Highland Park High School.

Richard Thomas, Emma Van Akkeren

So a couple of weeks ago I went to Highland Park High School to be a part of their FOCUS On the Arts program. I was thrilled to speak to a full room of high school students about writing, publishing, and what the future holds for all of us. In other words, I faked it.

How did this happen? What is FOCUS?

Well, last year I was approached by one of the members of the parent liasons, Jane Roberti. She had read some of my work, and saw my influence over at The Cult as a writer and workshop moderator, and wanted me to come speak to the students. She said that they had a lot of fans of Chuck’s work, and my writing, publishing alongside Stephen King and Peter Straub, my novel Transubstantiate have just come out, all of these things appealed to her and the students. I was thrilled and honored, so of course I said yes.

When I made it to the event, I was greeted by Emma, a very nice, patient and sweet girl who showed me around, and took me to the artist’s lounge. But of course, I was too nervous to eat anything. But what a spread! WOW. We talked about her plans for college, HPHS, the FOCUS program, all kinds of things. Then we went up to the room. The halls were buzzing with teachers, students, parents and artists.

The class was very attentive, they asked a lot of really intelligent questions, seemed very interested in what I had to say, nobody fell asleep, and I even got a handful of laughs. Overall, a great crowd. I held up Shivers VI and Transubstantiate, talked about how I got my work out there, my influences, how the percentage/royalty system works, writing conferences, you name it. I think I lost about five pounds in sweat. The bell went off, they darted out of the room, but a couple kids came up and shook my hand, took some promotional materials and said thanks.

It was a rewarding day. I hope to go back. And who knows, maybe I’ll work with HPHS in the future to help expand their art programs. They need somebody to teach creative writing there, and this group of intelligent, inspired young adults was a great audience.

More about FOCUS: Presented every other year, FOCUS explores the many facets of art; not as distant, esoteric disciplines, but as the day-to-day creativity of truly gifted, diverse people. The goal of FOCUS is to educate and communicate the universal arts language to HPHS students, as well as surrounding communities including Highland Park, Highwood, Fort Sheridan and the entire (underserved) Chicago Metropolitan area. Participating students will experience many forms of art themselves, thus expanding and enriching their lives forever.