Marsha Wilson Chall

Marsha Wilson Chall

Adults Ask

Leech Lake

What com­pels you to keep mak­ing art?

When my moth­er died, I was awak­ened to a sense of per­son­al mor­tal­i­ty. I read C.S. Lewis and Auden for con­so­la­tion, but found lit­tle relief. Where I did find it was through the urgent redis­cov­ery of a very mor­tal, con­crete world, the same one I explored with my chil­dren, but through a new fil­ter. What if this were the last time I’d ever see a tulip? Or, what if this were the first time?

Eudo­ra Wel­ty said that “chil­dren, like ani­mals, use all their sens­es to dis­cov­er the world. Then artists come along and dis­cov­er it the same way, all over again.” So I write to inter­pret and pre­serve expe­ri­ence, to cap­ture it so it can nev­er be lost. Writ­ing for chil­dren allows me that joy of expe­ri­enc­ing the world over and over again for the first time. Adults lose this child­like appre­ci­a­tion and dis­cov­ery through over-com­pli­ca­tion. I like to make the com­plex sim­ple. Not sim­ple-mind­ed, but pared down to the essen­tial.

I write to dis­cov­er truth. I’m a teacher at heart, and some­times I’m my own worst stu­dent. It’s as if I’m pre­sent­ed the same life cur­ricu­lum over and over, nev­er quite pass­ing. I strug­gle to feel com­fort­able in my own skin. Chil­dren’s fil­ters are much clean­er. They per­ceive, then feel. As an adult, I per­ceive, eval­u­ate my per­cep­tion, fil­ter my feel­ings, check for authen­tic­i­ty; in oth­er words, some­times make the sim­ple too com­plex. Kids are hon­est about real stuff. I can’t hide myself behind words when I write for kids. Like the pedi­a­tri­cian, I’m work­ing with fresh mate­r­i­al, not the dam­age of life­time’s wear and com­pli­ca­tions. It’s great work if you can get it.