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Margaret Ryan (1950–) Biography

Personal, Addresses, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights

Born 1950, in Trenton, NJ; Education: University of Pennsylvania, B.A., 1972; Syracuse University, M.A., 1974; attended Columbia University, 1976.


Agent—c/o Author Mail, Franklin Watts/Scholastic Library Publishing, P.O. Box 1795, 90 Sherman Tpke., Danbury, CT 06816.


Ryan Business Writing, speechwriter and owner, 1976–. New York State Poets in Public Service, teacher, 1987–91. 92nd St. Y, New York, NY, poetry instructor.

Honors Awards

College poetry prize, Mademoiselle magazine, 1972; Davidson Prize for Sonnets, Poetry Society of America, 1986; New York Foundation for the Arts fellowship, 1987, 1995.



So, You Have to Give a Speech!, Franklin Watts (New York, NY), 1987, revised as How to Give a Speech, 1994.

Figure Skating, Franklin Watts (New York, NY), 1987.

How to Read and Write Poems, Franklin Watts (New York, NY), 1991.

How to Write a Poem, Franklin Watts (New York, NY), 1996.

Extraordinary Oral Presentations, Franklin Watts (New York, NY), 2005.

Extraordinary Poetry Writing, Franklin Watts (New York, NY), 2006.


Filling out a Life, Front Street Press (New York, NY), 1982.

Black Raspberries, Parsonage Press, 1988.


Poet and author Margaret Ryan has parlayed her experience teaching public speaking and creative writing in several books. How to Write a Poem, the second of three volumes she has authored on the art of versification, focuses on not only inspiration but also on form, meter, rhythm, and other literary devices used in writing verse. In her book's concluding chapters, Ryan also provides ideas for sharing one's poetry, from public readings to submitting works to contests and periodicals. Noting that Ryan's "breezy" text is "engaging, personal, and motivating," Booklist reviewer Anne O'Malley predicted that both poetry readers and beginning writers will "appreciate the advice." How to Give a Speech, a revision of an earlier work, discusses how to gather, organize, and share information in spoken form and features what Booklist reviewer Chris Sherman described as a "well written, clearly organized" text.

Ryan once told SATA: "I knew I wanted to be a writer from the time I was seven years old. We were asked to write a composition about spring during class; it was second grade. All my classmates struggled and chewed their pencils and thought and wrote and scratched out. I closed my eyes, and could see spring: a deep green lawn dotted with dandelions; lilacs in bloom at the edge of the lawn; a robin foraging for worms. I wrote down what I saw. My teacher read it out loud to the class … I liked the recognition of my talent; I was a shy child who rarely spoke in class, so it was nice to have a voice, finally, even if it was the teacher's voice reading my words. I knew then that I would be a writer.

"I began to write poems when I was in high school. I liked reading poems: Shakespeare's sonnets, e.e. cummings, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Ernest Downson, Edgar Allan Poe. So I began trying to write poems of my own when I was about fifteen. At that time, folk music was very popular, and there was an emphasis on the lyrics of popular songs, so writing poems seemed like a very natural thing to do. Again, I learned that I was good at it: I submitted works to my high school literary magazine, and they were published. It was a great pleasure to see my poems in print.

"In college, I was lucky to have a wonderful Latin teacher who taught Catullus and Ovid and Horace as poems, real living poems, not as artifacts of a dead language. Through him I learned much about the form of poetry, its structure and subtlety. For a time I thought I, too, would like to be a Latin teacher. But then when I was a senior in college, I won the Mademoiselle magazine poetry contest and I knew I only wanted to be a poet. So I went to graduate school in creative writing, in Syracuse.

"I met my husband there. We were married in 1974 and moved to New York City. Guess what? There were no jobs for poets! In fact, it was the middle of a recession, and there were very few jobs at all. I got work in an advertising agency that did ads and catalogs for art galleries in New York. I was chosen because I knew how to spell the word 'Renaissance,' and no one else applying for the job could spell it!

"Eventually, I found work as a speechwriter. It is in many ways like writing poetry: you are writing for the voice; it must be rhythmical and interesting to the ear; it has to tell a story and be convincing. You also have to learn a lot of interesting facts, which can then be used in poems.

"Here's how I came to write a book about writing poetry: from a poetry workshop I was in, I knew an editor at Franklin Watts. He knew I was also a speechwriter, and asked me to do a book about it for high school students. So I wrote So, You Have to Give a Speech!

"Later, they asked me if I would like to write a book about something else, and I suggested figure skating. I have loved skating since I was a child, and it's always nice to write about something you love. Then a new editor came to Franklin Watts, and wanted to do a book about poetry. He called me because on the jacket of the speech book it said I was also a poet.

"I had then been teaching children how to read and write poems for several years, through a program called Poets in Public Service. I taught in schools all around New York City: kindergartens and high schools, middle schools and grade schools, in the city and in the suburbs, and everywhere I saw how much children liked poetry if they could just read it without too much em-phasis on 'what it meant.' I had my own daughter by then, too, and I knew that making things—poems, pictures, puppets, cookies, anything creative—made kids feel better about themselves. So I agreed to write the book.

"It was hard to do, because I love poetry so much and know so much about it. I had trouble deciding what was most important to say in five thousand words—which is hardly anything. I wanted to make sure I communicated some of the conventions of poetry, and the excitement of poetry, and answered the kinds of questions I had about poems when I was a child. Finding the pictures was fun. It was great to think up visual ways of representing ideas like repetition or metaphor.

"I still write poems and meet with a group of poets once a month or so to discuss what we've written. And I still write speeches for business executives. And I'm working on revising the first book I did for Franklin Watts, on giving speeches, to include some information on recent speeches, such as those given by Bill Clinton and George Bush during the [1992 presidential campaign].

"But poetry is my first love."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Booklist, April 15, 1987, p. 1270; February 1, 1988, p. 936; January 1, 1992, Hazel Rochman, review of How to Read and Write Poems, p. 828; June 1, 1995, Chris Sherman, review of How to Give a Speech, p 1743; February 1, 1997, Anne O'Malley, review of How to Write a Poem, p. 934.

Book Report, May, 1987, p. 56; March, 1988, p. 49.

Library Talk, May, 1993, p. 11.

School Library Journal, August, 1987, review of So You Have to Give a Speech!, p. 98; March, 1988, p. 209; January, 1992, Anette Curtis Klause, review of How to Read and Write Poems, p. 132; June, 1995, Kate Hegarty Bowman, review of How to Give a Speech, p. 140; January, 1997, Barbara Chatton, review of How to Write a Poem, p. 134.

Voice of Youth Advocates, August, 1987, review of So You Have to Give a Speech!, p. 139; August, 1995, review of How to Give a Speech, p. 186.

Wilson Library Journal, June, 1987, p. 65.

Additional topics

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