Author of SAVING MISS OLIVER'S & NO IVORY TOWER

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: STEPHEN DAVENPORT

Stephen Davenport’s career as a teacher in and leader of independent schools and his writing career have always been seamlessly connected. He has taught and coached in both day and boarding schools and has been the head of The country School in Madison, CT, where outstanding teachers instill the love of learning in very young students, and of The Athenian School, in Danville, California, well known for its integration of experiential learning, civic engagement, global citizenship, and other critical values, with rigorous college preparatory academics. Early in his career, Trinity College conferred The Capital Area Distinguished Teacher Award on him. He published several articles in The New York Times Magazine, The New York Times Sunday travel section, and an article in The Saturday Review about how African-American kids were faring in elite New England boarding schools. For ten summers he was the director of Cragged Mountain Farm, a beloved boarding camp in Freedom New Hampshire. Later in his career, he led the National Association of Independent Schools ten-day workshop for new heads of school.  After leaving The Athenian School, he consulted with independent schools, doing executive searches, leading professional development workshops for faculties, and coaching school heads. He is now a full-time writer and volunteer, serving on the board of The Athenian School and of Aim High which provides an exemplary free summer program of academics and youth development to under-served middle school boys and girls in the Bay Area.

The independent school world is intense and complex and Davenport draws on his long experience of it in the creation of the Miss Oliver’s School for Girls series. SAVING MISS OLIVERS is the first novel in the series. The second, NO IVORY TOWER, came out in March, 2016, and he is currently writing THE ENCAMPMENT, the working title for the third novel in the series: Two students, one of whom is Head of School Rachel Bickham’s daughter, bring food and clothing to a homeless Iraq war vet suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome. But it is freezing outside, and a blizzard is forecast. He could freeze to death. Have they done all they can for him? Have they done enough? What is enough?

Davenport is also working on a series of stories tracing the life of legendary teacher, Francis Plummer. (See The Last Visit in Amarillo Bay www.amorilobay.com. Volume 13, Number 4; and Motorcycle Sunday, also in Amarillo Bay, volume 16, Number 1

 

FROM THE AUTHOR

Except for the two years I spent in the Navy right after college, my first full time job was in a Wall Street bank. I’d chosen that job because my wife and I wanted to live in New York City, and because I thought banking would require so little energy, I’d have plenty left over to write a novel at night. I was right, at least at first. The most difficult aspect of the job, aside from having to wear a suit, was pretending to be interested in it.  Every night, except when we went to theater, I sat up late, emulating my then hero, Ernest Hemingway, until, after a year and a half, I had the final draft of what I am sure was the most self-indulgent, sophomoric novel every written.  Somehow, it managed to get the attention of an editor at Doubleday who wrote a few pages to me about how I might rewrite it –something that would never happen today.   I wasn’t sure whether he was sincere, or rewarding my wife, who worked at Doubleday, for doing her boss’s work in the afternoons while he recuperated from his lunch composed mostly of martinis. At any rate, I started to re-write, and soon found I could not. In the time it took to compose the novel, I had outgrown it entirely. It was that juvenile. So I buried the manuscript under the shirts in my bottom bureau drawer, and decided to take some time off from writing to catch up on my sleep.

But I couldn’t sleep. Because now, without the novel to think about, I thought about how ardently I did not want to get up in the morning and spend a whole day pretending to be a banker. I would have been less troubled if my act were not successful, but everybody at the bank, especially several enthusiastic mentors, thought I had chosen my career. I was amazed that no one caught me out. I would have confessed: this is not me, but that didn’t happen and I was soon promoted to the next rung up on the young executive ladder, and right after that my wife and I learned we were going to be parents. My parents were delighted and relieved. Their son was climbing upwards along an acceptable path. But my college friends, when I told them I was a banker either laughed, thinking I was joking, or looked concerned. Soon I’d own a house in the suburbs, take the train to the City every morning, reading the Wall Street Journal, like a character in a story by John Cheever. A fine life for some, but not for me. I felt trapped, powerless, parading through life in someone else’s identity, and vaguely suicidal. Inside New York’s tall buildings, I didn’t go near the windows.

So quit the bank, find some other job in New York City that would leave me energy to write at night, I told myself, and then realized that, no matter how much I wanted to write, I didn’t want to spend the days doing work that had no special meaning for me. If that means I was less dedicated to writing than I thought I was, so be it. I started perusing employment advertising in The New York Times, and happened upon one for a teacher of English and coach of football, basketball and track in a boarding school. I loved literature. I loved sports. So I applied. The position had come open too close to the start of the academic year for the school to have time to interview more than a very few candidates. That’s why I got the job. It was the luckiest day of my life.

For the next thirty years, except for a spate of free-lance journalism, I didn’t write. I didn’t have the emotional energy left over, let alone the time, to make up characters and live their lives, as a novelist must. I found that purveying to the still supple hearts of teenagers my passion for literature was all the satisfaction I needed, which is not to say that it was easy nor that I was always successful. I loved the idiosyncratic cultures in which I worked and ultimately led. It was easy to always do one’s best. How much success or failure was mine was for others to say, but I never had to ask, nor did my colleagues, why am I doing this?

And besides, I never had to wear a suit!

Now, “retired,” I have time to write about the world I was so lucky to be a part of, and I’m in a hurry to get it all written before the lights go out.