In today’s world, information and stories can be instantly shared all over the world at the click of a button. As such, critical reading and writing skills are ever increasingly more important. This week, we sat down with our writing and reading instructor, Michael, to explore this topic, find out what inspires him to create his own stories, and more.

You can find the full interview below.

Q: What do you love about Tokyo?

A: For a writer, one benefit of having so many people concentrated in one area is the sheer number of stories. For me Tokyo is a city of stories. Everyday, I meet people with fascinating experiences—the baker down the street, the chef at the neighborhood Italian restaurant, and, of course, my students. I love the opportunity to tell these stories, or, when I can, to help someone else find the words to do so.

 

Q: Who’s your favorite writer?

A: It’s so hard to pick a favorite—like choosing between your children. I’m amazed by the grand sweep of Tolstoy’s novels, and the way his characters change. The glimpses of everyday, Japanese life in Murakami’s books are what first drew me to Japan. Bolaño blows my hair back every time. But if I had to choose one writer and one book that changed the way I saw the world it would be Steinbeck and The Grapes of Wrath.

 

Q: What do you love about teaching and tutoring students?

A: Watching a young writer, the look of accomplishment that comes over their face the first time they bring a piece of writing to fruition, is pure magic. I also love seeing the world through their eyes, seeing the details they notice. Finally, what teacher doesn’t like being able to wow his students once in a while and tell them something about point of view or characterization that makes their eyes go wide so that they give those little unconscious head nods?

 

Q: How do you get inspired?

A: For me, inspiration is easy. I get inspired at the sight of the gingko leaves covering the ground or a child’s baseball bat left behind in the park or the sound of someone singing arias in the building next door every Friday. Inspiration is just a matter of looking at the world and not being bored or in a hurry, but paying very close attention to the details. Application and dedication is where things start to get difficult.

 

Q: Why is being a good reader/writer so important in today’s world?

A: One of the reasons being a good reader is so important is that we are increasingly asked to take in a wide variety of sources, understand complicated texts, and then draw conclusions based on them—this is what you have to do if you want to understand what Bitcoin is, the history of Meiji Jingu, or where you can find best cup of coffee in Tokyo. To do this effectively, readers have to understand rhetorical strategies and account for them even as they’re processing content. Technology has changed the flow of information in incredible ways, but so much of the learning we do as children and adults still consists of sitting down with a text and trying to understand it. If a reader can manage that, then they can start to reproduce these strategies in their own writing to communicate more effectively. In the digital economy, there are few skills more valuable than being able to connect with an audience.

 

For students who would like to bolster their writing skills, Michael will be running a creative writing class for students grades 8-10 at Tokyo Academics on Tuesdays from 7:00-9:00 PM, starting Feb. 13. In the class students will:

  • Produce two polished pieces of writing: a short story and a piece of flash fiction
  • Learn to analyze literature and understand rhetoric (the same skills that are tested on the SSAT, ACT, and SAT)
  • Learn techniques for revision and become their own editors

For registration and more information about this course and others, please find our classes page here.

Michael holds a BA in English from Dartmouth College and is currently working towards a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. Michael teaches creative writing and English at Tokyo Academics. 

Stay tuned for more from us – we’ll be posting more interviews, advice, and updates weekly!