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Creativity binds teachers' stories

Jessica Chipman is a drama teacher at Alexandria Area High School and Discovery Middle School.1 / 4
Kallie Grote teaches English at Alexandria Area High School. She wrote her book, "Defect," three years ago and it is now available online on Barnes & Noble. (Abel Mehari / Echo Press)2 / 4
Jessica Chipman has written a play, "Icarus," that has been performed at Alexandria Area High School and the University of Minnesota-Duluth. 3 / 4
Kallie Grote addresses her high school English class at Alexandria Area High School.4 / 4

The creativity of two teachers at Alexandria Area High School has led them down separate paths. While Kallie Grote and Jessica Chipman have taken different routes, this past year both have turned their imaginative thoughts into published works for others to enjoy.

Grote, who had such an inventive mind as a child that she was initially thought to have problems reading, has published a futuristic Dystopian novel titled, "Defect," that she plans to be part of a three-book series. Chipman, meanwhile, became inspired to write her own play from her love for narrative fiction with supernatural elements.

Both teachers are accustomed to using their talents to help others. Now they are also using their own work to help inspire others to reach their dreams.

Early challenges

Grote, who has been teaching English in Alexandria for three years, was inspired to write her book back in college while working in the athletic department at the University of Minnesota-Morris.

"I started writing four-and-a-half years ago, and I've always wanted to write a book since I was a little girl," she said.

Her creative mind was on display as a young child and didn't always work in her favor. At first, Grote's teachers were concerned that she did not know how to read.

"When I was reading books, mostly little Berenstain Bear books, I would make up my own stories with the pictures," Grote said. "I would refuse to read the actual words."

Even then she was a budding author.

Her parents sat her down and made her read to them, but very quickly realized she did know how to read and was just choosing not to read the words as they appeared on the page, in favor of her own version of the story.

Her mother, Andrea, pushed her to excel by reading books to her before bedtime, making her learn the exact words.

She remembers when she would read to her father, Kevin. Sometimes she would stick to the book, and other times she would make up stuff that didn't relate to the story.

"My dad would tell me that you can't make up your stories in these books," Grote said. "You have to read them like they are."

Both of her parents were teachers, and each had a significant influence on her life. She dedicated her book to her mother, Andrea, who died of cancer five years ago.

Her book almost didn't happen. When Grote started teaching in 2016, she began sending out her story to 30 literary agents. Only three responded, and all were rejection letters.

"It was kind of a stab in the heart," Grote said. "For about a month or two I thought that this wasn't going to work. I remember that I was praying in the car hoping for a miracle, and the next day I got a call from Page Publishing and they sent a publishing kit."

While she did have to pay the company to publish her book, she felt it was worth it, as the company handled the editing, design and conversion to e-Book.

Her novel is set in the future, in the year 2168, 65 years since the Genetic War basically destroyed the world. The government has just gotten back into power and is hunting down the remaining Defects (who were genetically enhanced to create a better military) in what was once known as Minneapolis. Her main character is an 18-year old woman who Grote says is trying to figure out how she can save everyone without having any memory of who she is.

Grote said that the school has been very supportive and she plans to have a copy for her students to read.

"With my writing, I want to inspire people to read and use it as an outlet to heal from the problems in their lives," she said.

A magical journey

For Jessica Chipman, a drama instructor at Discovery Middle School and the high school, the dream of publishing a play took a different route. Her play, "Icarus," features magical realism and Greek theater. She started writing it in 2016, with her students in mind as performers.

"My students inspired me more than anything to create the play," she said. "I had a creative group of people whom I thought might benefit from a challenge of a one-act play."

Chipman, who has written about two dozen short plays and has directed most of them, said "Icarus" lends itself to various means of storytelling, and is one of the most memorable plays in her teaching career.

"What we decided to do was illustrate more physical movement in the play instead of straight lines," she said.

The play was a huge success and gave Chipman the confidence to entertain thoughts of publishing it.

Chipman sent her play to various publishing companies last spring, but nothing materialized until she she heard last summer from Eldridge Plays and Musicals, a Pennsylvania-based traditional publisher.

"One of their editors said that they wanted to reread the play but wanted a longer draft," she said. "When I wrote a longer version and sent it back to them, a couple of days later they replied and accepted it."

Chipman could not believe that her work was going to be published.

"It felt like an out-of-body experience," she said. "I grew up watching plays, and being able to have my play published is a dream come true."

Her play has been performed twice. The first time was a production at the high school in 2017.

"When I saw 'Icarus' performed by our students, I was so proud of their artistry and investment in the project," Chipman said. "Theater is always collaborative, but working on a play from scratch is really special, and the memory I have is one of pride in their work."

Then this past year at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, she had the opportunity to sit back and watch another group of actors recite her lines. It was a different experience not being directly involved.

"Seeing Icarus performed at UMD was delightful, though I was more nervous to sit in their audience than I was watching our original show, mainly because I didn't know what to expect," she said.

However, once she got past the nerves, she completely enjoyed the show.

"I laughed at the jokes, and marveled at the creativity of the director and cast in staging the play in a completely different way from our original production," she said.

"It is fascinating to think that other theater groups might do this play. Because I have special memories of working on it every day and I think it would be fun for other people to experience it as well."

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