By Varla Ventura

My inspiration to become a writer came early--the first grade, to be exact! I had a rough childhood because my parents had really hoped for a boy. Everyday, I heard litanies like, "Well, if you were the son we'd hoped for, you could be off hunting with your dad." When everyone else marched off the kindergarten in stiffly starched Sears & Roebuck style, I was kept home to help my mother, because I "wasn't worth it." Scary, huh?

By the time I started school in first grade, I was withdrawn, underweight, and just this side of catatonic. Though scared at first, I liked school because it got me out of the house and into a much more pleasant environment.

My little brain was so starved that I learned to read in record time, and went from Jack and Jill to Little Women and then The Iliad and the Odyssey in the first half of the year. My teacher, the late Mrs. Gammon of Central Elementary School in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, took immediate note of my academic inclinations. She called my parents to let them know they had a "special child." Inexplicably, they were anything but happy at this news.

Undaunted, Mrs. Gammon took great care of me. She set me up with librarians loaded with reading lists, and enlisted psychologists with batteries of tests to make sure I had the guidance I utterly lacked at home. I gloried in this attention. Suddenly, I went from being a "waste of time" to being sorta special, and my memories of that year are a sepia haze of wonder and sweetness.

Upon graduation from first grade, Mrs. Gammon leaned over and grabbed my hand and said, "One day, you're going to write a book and I, for one, can hardly wait to see what you're going to do!"

I'll never forget the kindness shown me by my teacher, Mrs. Gammon. When I received the American Book Award for my first book,Women of the Beat Generation, I knew I had her to thank for encouraging me to pursue a life of letters. She was a role model and an inspiration, and I treasure her in my memory.

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