Marilyn Reynolds, Retired 1993, Alhambra Unified School District
Her career beyond school includes teen fiction
For nearly 30 years, Marilyn Reynolds taught reading at a continuation high school in Southern California. This helped shape her writing career that includes 10 books of realistic teen fiction in her True-to-Life Series From Hamilton High. The books focus on troubled teens and also earned her an Emmy nomination for a TV adaptation of one of her stories. She continues working with at-risk youth, helping them find their voices through creative writing.
Was becoming an educator your first career choice?
No. I got married in the ’50s, had a couple of kids and then got divorced. I decided to teach because it fit ideally with my kids’ schedule. It turned out to be a really good choice for me.
What was one of the biggest challenges you faced as an educator?
Working with kids who were troubled and living on the edge. But that was also my greatest joy.
What was one of the biggest accomplishments in your teaching career?
In the ’70s and ’80s there weren’t many books that appealed to our school’s demographic. Most of the students lived hard lives and they wanted to read something that reflected life as they knew it. So I decided to try writing a book they might like to read. Although I had done some writing, I had never written a book before. As the work progressed, I brought copies of each chapter into the classroom. My story was about a girl who was being abused—an all-too-common real life problem that was not dealt with in young adult fiction. One of those “I hate to read” students, who had never in her life read a book, started reading my manuscript. Every day she slowly read a few pages. When she finished, she wrote in her book reflection something like “this happened to me once and I never told anyone.”
What did that mean to you to learn that?
Seeing the effect my story had on this student’s life gave me the courage and motivation to keep sending the manuscript out. Telling was rejected 23 times before it finally got published.
What happened after your first book was published?
The second book I wrote was a teen pregnancy story, Detour for Emmy. Then the boys in my class said I should write a story about teen dads. The result was Too Soon for Jeff, which was made into an ABC Afterschool Special starring Freddie Prinze Jr. and Jessica Alba. I wrote the script with a friend and we were nominated for an Emmy. We didn’t win, but we got to go to the after-party which was a lot of fun!
Do you have anything new in the works?
In 2009 my husband was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia. I’m working on his story because there isn’t much information published from a layperson’s perspective. My most recent book is a collection of essays about the aging process called Over 70 and I Don’t Mean MPH. Now I’m thinking about possibilities for another Hamilton High book.
What work do you do now for youth literacy?
After a few years of volunteering with 916 Ink—a Sacramento nonprofit that promotes youth literacy through creative writing workshops—I initiated a pilot writing program for incarcerated youth at the Sacramento County Youth Detention Facility. I continue to work with 916 Ink’s “Find Your Voice” creative writing workshops there. The collected stories, essays and poems of these underserved writers are collectively published in beautiful books!
What draws you to working with at-risk youth?
There are a lot of kids who are disenfranchised in our society and there’s a whole lot of talent and need out there. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to continue working with such kids long after my official retirement.
Teacher Talk is a series of profiles on California teachers and other educators. To be considered for a future profile, please email firstname.lastname@example.org, with Teacher Talk in the subject line.
This profile also appears in Retired Educator Winter 2017, as part of the “How Are You Spending Your Retirement” series. To share the exciting and interesting things you have done since retiring, email us at RetiredEducator@CalSTRS.com.