Interview with "Writing Through the Mess" Author Anne Schober


Born in Birmingham, Alabama, Anne Schober graduated from Gannon University in 1983 with an Associate’s degree in Medical Assisting and from Millersville University in 2001 with a Bachelor of Science degree in English Education. Anne worked for three years in public education and for the past twelve years in private education at Lancaster Catholic High School, where she also served as the English Department Chairperson. In July of 2007, she was picked out of over 10,000 applicants to work with Erin Gruwell and the Freedom Writers Foundation and she is currently one of 300 educators worldwide certified as a Freedom Writer teacher. For the past eight years, she has also worked as an adjunct for the Pennsylvania Writing Institute, held at Millersville University. In August 2010, she became a published author with the release of Teaching Hope, a compilation of stories from the classroom written by the Freedom Writer teachers along with Erin Gruwell. Anne is also the chairperson for the PCTELA conference to be held on October 24 - 25 in Pittsburgh, PA, with the theme “Energized Teachers + Engaged Students = Success!” Anne currently works with Thom Stecher and Associates teaching classes on writing and Project Based Learning, while also assisting in running Building Hope, a safe haven for teens that her students opened in February 2013. She has been married to her husband, Mike, for 28 years and has three children.

Can you tell us about yourself?


This is so hard to answer because I am so many people, yet I am the same person. I am the proud daughter of a strong, stubborn dad for fifty-seven years and the daughter of a mom who lost her valiant life to cancer twenty-seven years ago. I am an honored wife to my husband of thirty-seven years; I am the proud mom of three beautiful children for thirty-four years; a mother-in-law to two great additions in our family for the past six years, and "Juice" to four perfect grandsons for the past five years. But, most importantly, I am me. I am a writer, a loyal friend, a survivor and no longer a victim, an avid Notre Dame fan, a lover of the beach and the peace which it grants me. I am a Parrot head and love to sing karaoke even though I cannot hold a tune. I love to have fun. I am an empath, and very proud to be one. I believe in love at first sight, and I know that random acts of kindness can change the world. I am all this and more. I am unapologetically me.


How did this book come to be?


My friend, Lisa Roth Walter, and I taught at the Pennsylvania Writing Institute, held at Millersville University, for quite a few years. We became close friends and realized our love for writing was our common thread. We also understood that writing can help to heal when our hearts and minds allow us to write what needs to be written. We took our passion and pitched our idea to Thom Stecher and Associates in hopes to teach a Master’s class based on this philosophy. They accepted our course, and we began teaching "Writing to Heal" to educators from around Pennsylvania. It was through this class that we decided to write, Writing Through the Mess : Seeking Healing Through Writing. We knew the exercises could help others to sort through the messiness that life can bring and help them to explore, enlighten, and embrace their true selves.


How might writing help us to discover or articulate who we are, beyond what others see on the surface?


Writing can be cathartic, especially when it is private. When journaling, one can use stream of consciousness and just write. Sometimes it makes sense, sometimes it can be all over the place, but it is important to just write and not think. It is through this process that we can begin to see what is in our heart and soul. Sometimes we discover things we have buried deep within our being. Sometimes we have the courage to write because we know no one else will see it, unless we give them the power to do so. I know, for some, that the privacy of journaling is what helps them to discover who they are. Sometimes a person hears a song and memories come crashing through. Sometimes a person can read a passage in their favorite book, and it speaks to them. Whatever it is that can conjure up your muse, emotions, and the desire to write your story is vital to digging deep and discovering who you really are.

How does writing down our stories give us a sense of power or control over them? How might this aid in the healing process when trauma is a part of our stories?


I remember, back in 2007, I was chosen to become a Freedom Writer teacher (I am currently one of 800 in the world with this recognition). During the five-day intense institute, we took part in the Line Game. Erin Gruwell began asking us questions. "Step to the line if you have been to Disney World," "Step to the line if you like country music," "Step to the line if you know someone who has been killed in a car accident"... and then she asked, "Step to the line if you have been sexually assaulted." I looked around the room, and no one was standing on the line. And then, to my left, I noticed someone moving forward and that is when I knew I was no longer alone. I broke down on that line, afraid for what was and for what I knew it would mean for moving forward. The only person who knew of my rape was my husband. I had kept it a secret for so long, and now it was time to admit to myself and those I trust that I was a victim of sexual assault. After that exercise, we were asked to journal about what we learned about each other and ourselves. I wrote, for the first time, about my sexual assault. I let all the emotions I was feeling sink out of my heart and onto the page. I felt free for the first time in over 20 years. I could take my story and share it, or simply rip it up and never tell a soul. However, I owned my story then and I own my story today. It is mine. By owning your story and your words, you can learn to move forward.

Do you have a daily journaling practice? Do you always carry around a journal with you? How has this practice affected you, as a person and as a writer?


I have several journals lying around the house. One is by my bedside table and others are scattered around the house. Some days I journal on the computer and others I choose a book and write what needs to be written. Other days I do not write at all. I think journaling is different for everyone. Some people are very disciplined and write every day, while others pick up their journal every few weeks. Journaling is a very personal experience and one that does not require a certain amount of time. It is your own time, your own words, your own writing adventure.

What are a couple of your favorite writing prompts and why?


One of my favorite writing prompts is "Through the Looking Glass" where the writer is examining themselves through the eyes of others and through their own. It is very reflective and can help one begin to heal from those who have hurt them. For me, it was interesting to go back to my elementary years when I was made fun of because I was pudgy and walked differently than others. I felt my power come back to me after I worked through this prompt.

Another favorite prompt of mine is "The Things You Carry." We all carry different baggage. Some are tangible, some are intangible. Some are heavy, some are light. Some are happy and some are sad. But, the things we carry help to define us and once we figure out what those are, we can begin to accept ourselves, baggage and all.


How have you seen your work with student writers benefit them? And how has it influenced you?


I have used so many of the prompts in Writing through the Mess with my seniors over the past several years. I have enjoyed watching the student writers explore, enlighten, and embrace themselves and the writing of their stories. So many of them have used one of the prompts to use in their college essays. Some have published their writing in literary magazines or in blogs. But all of the students discovered who they were through writing and journaling, and this has made my career fulfilling and accomplished. I cannot ask for more than that!

What are you working on next?


That is the million dollar question! So many have asked me that very question and I do not have a good answer. I am currently fighting an autoimmune disease and have spent three years on different harsh biologics. Some of these biologics have caused me to be hospitalized; however, most do not work. I am working with many different doctors to discover what will work best for me. So perhaps my next book will be my journey with my disease. I know that through my struggles I can help someone else. I know I have a story to tell!


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