July 24, 2014

Alum’s New Book Rights a Writing Wrong

Brad Wolfe, MBA 13, believes the middle school essay needs to be released from its five-paragraph constraints and allowed to have as much fun as fiction or poetry.

To set the dread assignment free, Wolfe teamed up with Rebecca Stern, a former fifth grade teacher, to co-edit Breakfast on Mars and 37 other Delectable Essays. Released on June 25, the book is a collection of essays written by top children’s authors, including Ransom Riggs (Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children), April Sinclair (Coffee Will Make You Black), Scott Westerfeld (the Uglies series), and Elizabeth Winthrop (The Castle in the Attic and Dumpy La Rue).

In a starred review, Kirkus Reviews called the book "an important collection that ought to become a staple in writing classes."

That was the intent of Stern and Wolfe, a former college admissions essay coach who tapped his Berkeley MBA to help him frame the problem. To gather insights , the pair used tools from Haas' Problem Framing, Problem Solving course to conduct ethnographic research with their adolescent audience, having students take turns writing lines of poetry on their feelings about essay writing, for example.

“Watching them engage in tasks and experiential learning made it easier to imagine our solution,” says Wolfe.

“We wanted to let students see that essays can be wild, weird, quirky, and provocative,” Wolfe adds.  

Indeed, the book features essays on bathing with spiders, why humans need tails, and why we should (and should not) colonize Mars.

Lining up the first three authors led to a publishing deal and ultimately to 38 authors donating their talents.

Wolfe and Stern celebrate the West Coast launch of their book July 23 at The Booksmith in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley and are also planning a website about essay writing. “This is not our full-time job,” says Wolfe, “but we want to continue to give teachers tools for inspiring students.”

Topics:    Alumni & Friends News