Skip To Main Content

Desktop Menu Container

Mobile Menu Container

Beyond the Gate

A Conversation with Melissa Gilbert, Librarian & YA Author

By day, Melissa Gilbert serves as the assistant librarian at Woodward’s Carlos Library, a role she loves because of the students and colleagues around her. In her spare time, this mom of Asher, a Woodward first grader, is working on her first Young Adult novel. She was one of only 15 YA authors to win a spot this summer at the Cultural Center of Cape Cod’s Writers’ Workshop with Kwame Alexander, a poet, educator, publisher, and New York Times bestselling author of 35 books. We talked with Melissa about her life and the joy she takes in her work.

Tell us about yourself and your background.

I earned my bachelor’s degree in art history from Berry College. I have master’s degrees in Library Media Technology from Georgia State University and Divinity from McCormick Theological Seminary. I grew up in Fayetteville, but spent much of my adult life working and studying around the world. I taught in Northern Ireland and Uganda and studied in Italy and Egypt. I now live in East Point with my husband, Scott, and our son. I love gardening, reading, and playing video games, and I sing in the Southern Crescent Chorale. I was recently appointed to the Georgia Children’s Book Awards selection committee.

Tell us about the Kwame Alexander workshop and what excites you about it.

I’m absolutely stunned to be accepted to the workshop with Kwame Alexander. Only 15 were selected, and I feel so humbled to be among them. The workshop is aimed at helping writers better craft stories for young audiences, connect with their readers, and learn more about the business end of writing. I have been a huge fan since I first read Mr. Alexander’s book “Rebound.” I was astounded at his talent. In the simple words of his novel-in-verse, he uses basketball to tell the story of a teenage boy as he reels with his father’s recent death. It was a beautiful story of family, growth, and hope.

Tell us about your novel in progress.

My novel is (tentatively) titled Red Clay Wings. It’s a Young Adult historical fiction based loosely on the life of Hazel, my grandmother’s oldest sister. Hazel grew up in rural West Georgia during the Great Depression and found herself thrust into a maternal role for her five siblings at a young age when their mother passed away. Despite expectations that she would become a farmer’s wife, Hazel found the inspiration to break free. She graduated from college, moved to Seattle, and spent many years working for Boeing, which allowed her to travel the world. Instead of being tied to a farm, she was able to fly and paint and write and live out her dreams. Hazel lived in a time when her sexuality would have made her an outcast, but in my novel I’m writing a romance for her to celebrate what had to be kept secret when she was alive.

How did you become interested in writing for the YA audience?

Someone once told me that if you can’t find the book you want to read on the shelf, you should write it yourself. I remember as a teenager longing to read stories about characters with whom I could relate. I never knew Hazel because she died when I was quite young, but whenever my grandmother told stories about her she reminded me of myself. In many ways as I write Hazel’s story, I’m also writing my own. I want my students who feel unsure of where they belong in the world or uncertain about what their future holds to know that they have the power to create beautiful adventures and live out their dreams. The pandemic reminded me that in times that isolate us, our stories are what hold us together. I want each of my students to know how important their beautiful, unique voice is and encourage them to courageously share it with the world.

How do you feel about working at Woodward and your role?

I had the unique experience of beginning at Woodward in fall 2020. While I have missed out on much of what “normal” Woodward looks like, I’ve had a chance to really see the Academy’s true character. I’ve seen what Woodward looks like in its most difficult hours, and I’ve been truly inspired by the love, compassion, and hope that permeates this community. I love the rich diversity of the students and staff and that each day I am surrounded by people who genuinely care about one another.

What is it like working with students at the Carlos Library?

People are sometimes surprised when I tell them that I graduated from seminary and was once on the path to being ordained in the Presbyterian Church. I often tell people that being a librarian is my ministry. To me, ministry is about meeting people where their need is. It’s such a joy to be able to be there for our students in ways that help them. I am able to offer stressed out students a listening ear and a fun mystery novel when they need a mental break. I’m a safe person to come to when students have questions they’re scared to ask, and I direct them to books on sexuality, divorce, and mental health to show them they’re not alone. I’ve had the honor of having students find the courage to come out to me after reading a book about LGBTQ+ characters. I get to create a space of quiet and acceptance. Woodward is truly a unique place that allows students to be themselves, and I love that I can help them grow into their best selves.

What are your plans for the future?

I look forward to growing as a writer, and I hope that one day I’ll be handing out copies of my books to our students when they come into the library. Although we haven’t been a part of the Woodward community for very long, it has already left an indelible mark on my family. I cherish every day that my son comes home from the Primary School with joyful tales of his friends and teachers, and I love the relationships I’ve been able to build with my colleagues and students. 

Explore Further

Your child’s education is a unique journey of growth, enlightenment, and exploration as they find their way into the world. At Woodward, we provide the compass for that journey.