James Blasingame never became a high school wrestling champion for the state of Iowa and devastation followed. But now, he is building his legacy by changing the lives of students and young adults with one simple tool: literature.

His legacy

This is the legacy he wants to create. He said, “I would like to know that thousands of young people had their lives changed because of books and reading and that every student in my class develops not only a joy of reading but a passion for getting good books into the hands of young readers.”

Blasingame is an English professor at Arizona State University and the executive director of the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of the National Council of Teachers of English (ALAN).

“It is the perfect place for promoting reading and books for young readers. The area has at least 20 top-rated authors of books for teens, and ASU is keen on helping connect these writers with young people,” he said.

“Every year we put on something called ‘El Día de los Niños, El Día de Los Libros,' in which we bring 600+ kids on the ASU campus, along with 8 or so famous authors, poets, storytellers, teachers and other artists. Every kid gets a book, and they each get to meet the author and get the book signed. Then all the young people get to do some expressive writing of their own,” Blasingame said.

He said, “The more I read research on the subject, the more I am convinced that one of the keys to healthy emotional/psychological development is plenty of opportunity to find your voice and have it listened to.” He was named ASU Professor of the Year in 2008 and given the Arbuthnot Award by International Reading Association for best university professor of Young Adult Literature in the same year.

Blasingame said his proudest accomplishments are those of his students and his wife. “I am awfully proud of the doctoral students with whom I have worked over the years. Everyone of them has gone out to a fantastic position in higher education, and they are all writing books and helping teachers and kids all across the country.

I am also very proud of my wife! She is one of the premiere Ballroom dance instructors in the nation and brought the Argentine Tango to Arizona,” he said.

A partner's point of view

Laura Renzi, President of the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of the NCTE (ALAN), has known Blasingame for about 6 years. “The ALAN review is a peer reviewed scholarly journal dedicated to the advancement of Young Adult Literature.

It includes scholarly articles about using young adult literature in classrooms, critical articles about specific texts, interviews with young adult authors…” she said.

“I get to create the ALAN workshop which takes places for two days in November. This year’s workshop includes over 60 Young Adult authors – a series of panels and individual speakers over two days. I get to work with publishers to create this workshop, and the publishers provide books from all of these authors, and there is time for these authors to sign the books… It’s just a wonderful celebration of young adult literature,” Renzi said.

She has gotten to know Blasingame better over the past two years. “He is amazingly knowledgeable about young adult literature.

He is so passionate about diversity, especially Native Americans, and he shares that passion with everyone he meets,” she said.

For Blasingame, “life is a gift, and the biggest gift is the people around us. I miss the students in between semesters, and I am always glad to get back to teaching as a new semester begins. I have met the most amazing, interesting, and promising people in my classes at ASU!”

Also, in case you were wondering, although he failed to become a high school champion wrestler, he earned a full college scholarship for wrestling as a walk-on. “Now my teammates and I are in the University of Northern Iowa Athletic Hall of Fame for winning the national title in 1975, but I now believe hard work and persistence are more important than talent or aptitude.”