Featured Educator

Patricia Elam, Teacher and Novelist

"I didn’t know how to make money as a writer and survive."

Patricia Elam’s career change was a two for one deal. After sixteen years working as a lawyer and an administrative law judge, she decided to become a writer. But writing opened the door to still another occupation, that of teacher. “I love being a teacher,” she said. “ It is a way to use the writing. It helps me become a better writer.” This novelist teaches at Duke Ellington Senior High School in Washington, D.C., a high school for teenagers who wish to give serious study to the arts. Working with young people who have a gift has been very gratifying for Elam. “It’s very rewarding to see someone who doesn’t even know how talented they are,” she said. “Some of these kids are writing stuff that’s amazing.”

But even talented teenagers are still... well, teenagers. Elam said she found it surprising to see “How lazy some kids are... I shouldn’t be surprised since I go through that with my own kids,” said this mother of three.

“I always knew I was a writer, but I didn’t know how to make money as a writer and survive,” she commented. So as a young woman, she decided that since her father was a lawyer and her uncle was a lawyer, she’d become a lawyer, too. But her destiny as a novelist awaited her.

Elam is the author of Breathing Room, a novel about the tension in the friendship between two women. It took six years for Elam to compose Breathing Room but the path to publication was swift. A friend introduced her to an agent in the winter of 1998. The agent sent Breathing Room to thirteen publishers, seven of whom wanted the book. That led to a bidding war and by Memorial Day weekend in 1998, her story was bought by Pocket Books, a division of Simon & Schuster. The next year, 1999, was spent on editing and revision and by January 2001 Breathing Room was on bookstore shelves.

“For a long time, I didn't know what the story was about,” she said, because originally, she had tried to expand on a scenario a friend had described to her. However, there were characters living in her imagination and eventually Elam gave voice to those characters and their stories. Book signings, promotional events and writing workshops have introduced Elam to readers who get into conversations with her about the characters. “It’s an amazing experience. I know that sounds like a cliché.” She explained further. “It really feels good to have achieved a dream. I don’t know a better feeling - maybe sex.”

Visit Patricia Elam’s website at www.patriciaelam.com