Alumni Profiles: An Interview with Walden Alumnae Katy Goodman and Anna Godbersen

by VickiLee on November 29, 2010

Katy Goodman and Anna Godbersen have been friends since they were in Jo Brownlow’s kindergarten class at Walden in 1985. They both attended Walden through sixth grade, and went on to graduate from Oberlin and Barnard Colleges, respectively. Katy currently lives in Houston where she cofounded the nonprofit Workshop Houston; Anna lives in Brooklyn and is the author of the young adult novel series The Luxe. Katy and Anna interviewed each other in 2008 about their Walden experience and their forays into the adult world. More information about Workshop Houston and The Luxe can be found at www.workshophouston.org and www.harperteen-theluxe.com. KG: So Anna, you are a best-selling author of books for young adults. Tell me what that is like. AG: Pretty blissful! I feel really lucky that I've been able to support myself as a writer and have my words published at such a young age. Of course, a lot of hard work went into it, too—but the opportunity to work hard in the field one loves is a very lucky thing indeed. I get to spend my days daydreaming and reading and then laying down sentences from all the nebulous ideas in my mind—for me, there's nothing more satisfying. And writing for young people is extra thrilling, because they allow themselves to get absorbed in characters and a fictional world in a way that adults aren't always able to. Meanwhile, you've cofounded and nurtured a nonprofit that teaches inner city kids how to build their own bicycles—among other things—and in so doing gives them a sense of empowerment that will last them their whole lives. I got to visit a year and a half ago, and was so blown away by what you and your partners have built there. It's been five years now, right? KG: Yes, it’s been five years since I moved to Texas and started Workshop Houston with three friends from college. It has been a really wonderful experience—difficult at times of course, but extremely rewarding. We started out as the Third Ward Bike Shop, where kids learned to fix their own bikes, as you mentioned, and over the years have added four other programs—the Chopper Shop (welding and metal fabrication), the Beat Shop (hip-hop music production), the Style Shop (fashion design) and the Scholar Shop (tutoring and academic enrichment). Our programs are designed to engage students in their own education through hands-on creative projects, and when I see our students really embracing their work and the skills they are learning that makes me the most proud—but it is mostly of the kids. Watching and helping our participants accomplish things that they are really proud of and then seeing them expand on that experience to try for even bigger goals—that growth process and that building of confidence and vision—is the best thing for me about Workshop Houston. Recently, we have been making a lot of strides into transferring some of these ideas into helping our students do better in school, which is also a great feeling. One thing I have been thinking about for this interview is how we both "work for" young people—do you ever find yourself drawing on your personal experiences as a child or teenager for your books? AG: Absolutely. One of the things I am most frequently asked by adults to whom I have explained what I do is how I am able to basically impersonate teenagers in my writing. But I've found that those emotions—that it is possible to die of mortification, say, or that watching a crush walk into a room is the upper limit of the thrills this world has to offer—are still quite close to the surface for me, even at twenty-eight. I also believe that the themes of young adult literature are really important ones for people of all ages—how we discover love for the first time, how we learn to be ourselves in the face of society's pressures and rules, etc. As I said above, I really enjoy hearing from young readers, too—they are so ardent about the characters and the events of the books, and that is one of the big rewards of my job. I also think that the daydreaming that is so necessary to my process—this rather unfortunate quality I have of drifting off into obsessive thought—was a part of my personality even as a child. You probably remember that, from like 2nd grade! I often think how that might have been discouraged and beaten out of me in another kind of educational environment, but how at Walden I was really allowed to be shy, distracted me—and that is something I still draw on every day. On that note, I wonder if there are aspects of your Walden education that have influenced your endeavors in Houston—your career path has been so original and brave. KG: I do remember that about you—and what an incredible imagination you had (have). Do you remember the entire pantheon of gods and goddesses we created as kids? As you know, I feel so lucky to have such an amazing friend that I have known for so long—and Walden brought us together! In kindergarten! It was a really special place to be a kid and, though I wouldn't say it has been conscious, I do think it has influenced my work and educational philosophy. I actually went to the Walden website yesterday and was struck by how many similarities there were between the ideas behind Walden and the ideas behind Workshop Houston—a very experiential, expansive view of education and what it can mean for young people as individuals and for communities. I think that your career is also so incredible—that you are writing and publishing books that people read all over the world! I love going to the bookstore and seeing them. The next one comes out really soon, no? Do you have ideas or plans for what you want to do next as a writer? AG: Ha! I had forgotten about the pantheon. You see—it really takes a singular environment to make kids feel capable of inventing their own gods. And it is really wild that we've known each other for more than two decades now—it is such a crazy amazing, special thing. A Walden miracle! And now we're so much older and we've actually done things out in the world and you can see them on PBS or in Barnes and Noble. I do have another book coming out soon—the third installment of The Luxe will be in stores in late January. Now I am starting to write the final book in that series, after which I plan to pitch another series for young people and also to work at some more grownup books. Knock on wood—I hope I get to do this for a long while. How about you? Now that Workshop Houston is established and on firm ground, do you have new projects in mind? KG: I think I'll be sticking with Workshop Houston for a little while longer. It is still a lot of fun and still challenging and we are still learning so much. I am not sure what I could do that would be more satisfying than being a part of creating something like Workshop Houston—I find our students endlessly inspiring, and though it has become a really positive part of the neighborhood, there is more road to travel before it is everything we’d like it to be for the kids and the community. But we both have a lot of time and many adventures ahead of us and I am sure there are plenty of exciting projects in store for us both! Anna Godbersen Walden class of 1992

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