Anne Frank and The Magic of Words

Words have always fascinated me.  From childhood, I’ve read voraciously.  I’ve taken courses on linguistics, and, in the classes I teach, I bore my students endlessly by showing them the history of words and how words are formed.

Words!  They are amazing.  The words I’m typing now have never before been put together in this way.  Even more amazing:  when you read these words at sometime in the future, you’ll know exactly what I was thinking at this moment.

It’s magic.

The most exciting example of the power of words I’ve been part of was from 1985-87, when I taught English in a school for pregnant teenagers.  The majority of the students were African-American, most lived in poverty and many had struggled in school.  But, with the coming of a baby, each courageous young woman came to this program to complete her education and give her child a better life.

In tenth-grade English, I taught The Diary of Anne Frank.  We’d read Shakespeare, Mark Twain and F. Scott Fitzgerald, whom they enjoyed, but they really loved this play.  Even those who couldn’t read—and there were several–listened, spellbound.  The story of a Jewish girl who lived in the 1940’s and who hid from the Nazis in a tiny attic room spoke to my students like nothing else we’d read.

Through her words, Anne Frank, isolated in her ghetto created by prejudice, reached out over forty-five years, fromAmsterdamto these minority students shut up in a ghetto inLouisville,Kentucky.  My students understood Anne Frank and were astonished to discover that another young woman had suffered from the prejudice that surrounded them.  Anne Frank became one of them and they joined her in that attic.

This is what storytelling is:  reaching out over the years and through the differences and divisions between people to touch emotions and open the reader to new ideas.

And we are the storytellers, the ones who transmit the heritage, who transport our readers beyond the barriers of time and place, who deal with the truths of our experiences, who share and interpret the struggles we all face.

As writers, we are magicians.  We create worlds that have never existed before and populate them with characters that  spring from our imaginations.  We fiddle with our creation’s lives.  They get sick, suffer, fall in love–all with a few keystrokes on our computers.

The words we write make people we’ve never met laugh and cry and think and sometimes get angry.  What tremendous power words have.  What an amazing, awesome craft this is.  To be magicians.  To work miracles.

40 thoughts on “Anne Frank and The Magic of Words

  1. (Jane, sorry for the all caps — I HAve caps lock off, and yet it’s still caps. Your settings, maybe?) At any rate, the story of anne frank is so moving and heart breaking. I’ve read the book so many times, and each time it reaches out and grips me. I saw the anne frank exhibit years ago (in London, I think, but maybe D.C.?) and it was one of the most moving experiences of my life.

    1. It’s an incredible story, isn’t it? And the bravery and honor of those who cared for the family. I’d love to visit the exhibition, too. Have you visited her house?

      Jane

    1. I’m always here, waiting for you to wander down the south with lots of hugs. It’s amazing that we ever heard her story.

      Jane

  2. good & true words to remember, jane, and something we forget too often while slogging through a story.

    hmmm – i don’t have my caps key on, but this is allowing me to type only in all caps. i’m not shouting at you, jane, really truly!

    1. Sorry about the caps. I have no idea how to fix it. So glad you came by. I wonder while we’re in the depth of a story if we realize that it could have impact. Maybe it’s only when we finish that someone tells us, “That meant a lot to me.” or “what you wrote changed me.” Those are wonderful affirmations.

      I know you’re not shouting. Kris. You have always been a delicate Southern gentlewoman.

      Jane

    1. Thanks, Gin. Not all of us can write about the kind of courage the Franks had. I write light, sweet stories and you write wonderful historicals. I could never write about Anne Frank because I would never believe people could be like the Nazis.

      Jane

  3. Superb post, Jane. You nailed our gift. stories are magic and provide connection to those we may never meet in person. have you ever read the poem by richard peck about why people read? it’s for a young adult audience but it’s really for everyone – here’s the first verse:

    I read: because one life isn’t enough, and in the pages of a book I can be anybody –

    i’m sure you get the drift. it’s a great little poem

    best of luck,

    linda

    1. Thank so much for leaviong a comment, Linda. Hope you’re having fun in Florida. I’m going to look up that poem . I like the line you q

    2. quoted (for some reason, I lost the box so am contiuing.) It is amazing how much books open our lives.

      Again, thanks,

      Jane

  4. Jane–

    What an eloquent, beautiful story. You were a blessing tO your students, as it sounds like they were to you.

    I Can’t wait to read your new series!

    Robin

    1. I loved my students. They also loved Robert Burns because his poetry was so lovely and understandable and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short stories. But sharing Anne Frank with them was an overwhelming experience.

      Good to see you!

      Jane

  5. Your post about your class and Anne frank is beautiful. I love your thoughts on the magic of writing and the gifts that stories bring to readers. The warmth of your character and personality comes through so clearly in this post, as it most assuredly will in the Butternut Creek series. I can’t wait to read it! Congratulations, Jane.

    1. Claire! So great to see you. Being in the classroom and watching the students was amazing. Glad I could share it with you. Please visit Butternut Creek whenever you can.

  6. Wonderful post, Jane. The story of anne frank is such a powerful one. I saw a bit of newly discovered film of a parade outside the “secret annex” a few years ago on tv, and it showed her face peering very quickly out of the window. It’s funny how just that blip of film can move you to tears, thinking of how young she was, and how that talent was lost to ugliness.

    Anyway, save this entry–it would make a great start to your future RWA keynote speech! : )

    1. I’ll have to look for that film. How amazing–I’d like to believe she had no idea of what was ahead, but I imagine she did. RE: RWA keynote speech! LOL! They’d better ask soon, while I can still travel.

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