Meeting Will Weaver: Racecars and reading

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On April 23, I had the good fortune to meet the well-regarded Minnesota author, Will Weaver. Two months earlier, I had written a review of his novel Defect, for the Daily Planet. I was therefore interested when I saw a notice advertising that he was going to talk at the Princeton area library.

I take my seat in the audience as Will Weaver begins. He has an air of informality, which immediately puts me at ease. He mingles freely with the audience members as they arrive, greeting everyone. He begins his presentation by discussing his most recent young adult novel, Saturday Night Dirt. It is set on a small racetrack and depicts the tension and drama involved in racing.

Will Weaver on Saturday Night Dirt

SND was written for two groups: all the motorheads out there who love cars and are not wild about English classes; and all the teachers and librarians who continually have to find good books for teens–ones kids will actually read. Writing SND was a lot of fun, too, as it allowed me to get my own motorhead back on. As a teenager I was all about drag racing, smoking tires and hot summer nights. However, then came college where my life took a turn for the literary. A career of teaching kept me away from cars, speedways, and high rpm, but now it feels good to reclaim that important part of my life. (From Will Weaver Web site)

Weaver explains the intent behind the book: to appeal to those children and young adults who are interested in racing. He hopes that this novel will involve more children in reading.

In pursuing this audience, he suggested to his publisher, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, that they sponsor an actual racecar, which would compete against other vehicles. Somewhat to his surprise, his publisher agreed to the idea, becoming the first publisher ever to sponsor a racecar.

The car, called number 16 after the vehicle in Saturday Night Dirt, was built in early 2007, in time for the racing season. It had moderate success in rookie competitions. This spring Weaver, number 16, and its driver, Skyler Smith, are visiting public schools throughout Minnesota to promote Saturday Night Dirt.

Weaver moves on to certain of his other books, such as Full Service, and Defect (recent winner of the Minnesota Book Award), which he discusses briefly. Then he talks to us about Sweet Land, a movie recently made that was based on one of his short stories, “A Gravestone Made of Wheat.” He details the process of making the movie, a process that took fourteen years. The care put into it seems to have paid off, since Sweet Land was the recipient of the 2005 Hamptons International Film Festival Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature.

Will Weaver is an active campaigner for literacy. Through number 16 and other projects he helps to ensure that literature is alive and well in the present day.

Cyrus Wolff is homeschooled in Princeton, Minnesota and studies classic literature, focusing on nineteenth century fiction. He is a book reviewer for Amazon.com and writes short stories and essays.