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Writing for adults and adolescents

Last January, I was at the annual meeting of the School Reform Initiative, a wonderful organization that works to help schools find ways to communicate and collaborate more effectively.  I was thrilled to find out that the keynote speaker was Edwidge Danticat, a Haitian-American novelist I’ve loved for a long time. She delivered an important talk about how to honor and truly hear those students’ experiences and how to encourage students to tell their stories.

Untwine by Edwidge DanticatI was excited to read her 2015 novel for young adults, Untwine. It got me thinking about writers who write for audiences at different ages, who write for both young adults and adults (and sometimes for children too). I really loved the book, but it felt different to me somehow than reading her books for adults, which I also really love. There were similarities of course, but the young adult book felt so immediate to me as I read.

One of the lessons I often struggle to teach well is audience awareness in writing. Often my adolescent students think that writers just write a particular way no matter the circumstance, that they just are themselves somehow in their writing. But writers like Danticat or Sherman Alexie or Meg Wolitzer, whose books for adults and young adults are amazing, seem to make some important shifts when they are telling stories featuring people at different ages (presumably to be read by people at different ages).  Their work has similarities no matter the audience, but also important differences.

I’m working on thinking of ways to use pairs like these to see if they could do well to teach students craft lessons about audience awareness and writing narratives for different readers.  We’ll see how it goes.

Christina Dobbs About Christina Dobbs

Christina Dobbs is an assistant professor of English Education at Boston University. She is a former high school teacher, literacy coach, and reading specialist, and she studied adolescent literacy at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.



  1. I love this topic. I am giving a talk next week on poets who are equally proficient in writing picture books, children’s poetry and poetry for adults — folks like Marilyn Nelson, Naomi Shahib Nye, Richard Wilbur, Ted Hughes, Langston Hughes, and many others (including friends Leslea Newman; Jane Yolen). . It is interesting to see the commonalities and differences when writing for different audiences.

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