Mary G. Verrill
Mary G. Verrill is a teacher, writer, editor, and musician. Thea Bowman: A Story of Triumph is her first book.
After attending Saint Patrick’s School and Regis High School, Verrill earned the degree of Bachelor of Arts in English at Viterbo University. She also achieved a Minor in Music (Violin). Dr. Thea Bowman, FSPA, was her professor and thesis mentor, so it was very enjoyable to have an English professor who included singing every day in class. Some memories of literature classes with Thea are included in Thea Bowman: A Story of Triumph.
Verrill’s professional positions include music performance, music publishing, educational publishing, technical writing, and college-level teaching as adjunct faculty in English in Minnesota State Colleges and the University of Wisconsin—River Falls. She earned the degree of Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) in Leadership at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota in 2015, becoming a reserve teacher in middle schools and high schools, and violin tutor.
Verrill tells her students, in the words of Thea, “It is OK to be good at more than one thing.” She continues to write, edit, and play violin in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Q & A with Mary Verrill
Q: What was the first moment that you thought of writing a book about Thea Bowman, your teacher?
A: There were a series of moments, really. After reading the official biography of Thea Bowman (Thea’s Song by Charlene Smith and John Feister, Orbis Books, 2009), I could not find a book about her life that was written for teens and young adults. First, I attempted a children’s book, but Thea’s life was too complex and interesting to fit into a few pages. A chapter book seemed a better choice in which to tell her life story.
Q: Why is this biography of Thea Bowman important?
A: Thea Bowman: A Story of Triumph is important because it shows the importance of a young person’s self-concept and vision of what they want to be when they grow up. Even when very young, students can set personal goals to guide them toward leading a wonderful life—a life full of happiness and a sense of purpose—that they choose for themselves.
Q: What is something you learned about yourself through writing this book?
A: I learned it was important to “document” my own school experiences and collect personal items of importance along the way. For example, I was glad I saved my college notebooks and Thea’s personal letters to me; they were useful to recapture memories in the exact wording of the times. By writing, I realized my experiences in college as an English major, with Thea as my mentor, had value on several levels, beyond my own life experience. I tried, and continue to try, to apply values from her life to my own life, such as self-determination and perseverance, as well as continually striving for musical excellence.
Q: What do you hope readers walk away thinking after they read the book?
A: I hope that middle school and high school students will think of Thea as a role model. It was horrible when tuberculosis (TB) happened to her while trying to fulfill her academic goals, yet, she did not let herself get depressed nor did she give up on going to college. She is also a role model for independent thinking and becoming one’s own person, a model of self-determination and belief in one’s self—these values can sometimes be hard for young people. And, Thea’s life shows that striving toward goals can be fun! Her choices of joy and music while tackling problems, and her bravery and enjoyment in pushing out of her comfort zone, are clear and admirable. These are all aspects of Thea’s teaching, too: choose joy, be confident, and lift other people’s spirits, even if a goal or task is difficult.
Q: Why should Social Science and Language Arts teachers assign this book for students in grades 6–12?
A: First, this book is a diverse title that takes a student-centered approach to Thea’s life. It fills a hole in scholarship about Black leaders in the United States by introducing and considering Thea as a person whose life is worthy of academic study. In addition, the breakout list of topics found in the book can be a Social Science resource to capture students’ interests in historical events and movements that occurred during Thea’s lifetime. As a reader designed for Language Arts, the estimated Lexile range 810L–1400L fits norms for grades 6–12 as of June 2021.
Q: What are some books you read recently that have inspired you?
A: I love to read nonfiction. Favorite books by living authors are “The Night Watchman” by Louise Erdrich, and the autobiographies of Michele Obama and Barak Obama.