March 30, 2016–Bell Benton, Teacher and Poetry Editor
Today’s profile begins with a triggered memory about the first time I ever had a poem published. While I don’t remember the poem, I remember my third grade teacher–or was it fourth?–announcing my name to the class as one of that years’ poets in Pencils Full of Stars.
Oh, I was thrilled!
She asked if I wanted to read it out loud to the class.
Then I was mortified.
Every year, the Anchorage School District published a book of the students’ poems. I haven’t thought about that little slim volume in years. I do still have my contributor’s copy somewhere. I need to go back and find that first little poem. I bet it was about trees.
I started wondering last night who had started the Pencils Full of Stars so I went on line looking for my first poetry editor. Her name was Bell Benton.
In 1969, teacher and poet Bell Benton conceived the idea for Pencils Full of Stars, a collection of poetry by young writers.
“One day I said to my first graders: ‘You write such beautiful thoughts, your pencils must have stars in them!’ They laughed with delight, and one little boy held up his pencil and said, ‘Look! My pencil’s full of stars!’ I hugged him and said, ‘You’ve just named our poetry book!’ And Pencils Full of Stars was born,” said Bell Benton.
Written by elementary children across the Anchorage School District, in Anchorage, Alaska, the collection was compiled and published following each academic year. For the next 29 years, Benton guided the pencils, discovered the stars, and kept Pencils Full of Stars alive through its yearly publications.
Bell Benton passed away in 1998, after which the Eta Chapter of Delta Kappa Gamma International, a society of women educators, set up the Bell Benton Memorial Poetry Award. The Award works to honor excellence in poetic expression and honor Bell Benton, founder of Pencils Full of Stars.
I never met Benton. I wish I had. I’d like to tell her that she made a huge difference in my life. I knew I wanted to be writer from the moment I learned to read and Benton encouraged me in that dream and today I am a published poet and playwright.
I wonder how many other writers she helped foster and start on their way?