Paragould alumna and author Erica Swallow will visit her hometown and Oak Grove Middle School — a Paragould School District school — on Tuesday to speak to 200 fifth grade students about her life as a Paragould girl and first-generation college student, with the hope of inspiring the next generation of young Arkansans to be creators and doers.
Swallow credits her fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Tamra Edrington (now Tamra Powell) with uncovering her passion for writing. “She taught me everything I know about grammar and put me on a path to honing my skill for storytelling,” says Swallow. “I wrote my first story, and I distinctly remember hearing the word ‘essay’ for the first time, all in her class. I remember scribbling ‘S.A.’ with a question mark in my notes when she taught that lesson. Today, I can’t imagine my world without her influence.”
Mrs. Powell, then a teacher at Stanford Elementary School, where Swallow attended fifth and sixth grades, is now a fifth grade teacher at Oak Grove Middle School, where Stanford consolidated in the early 2000s. Swallow’s younger brother, John Swallow, is an Oak Grove Middle School alum.
Swallow visited the region last year to speak at the Arkansas State University Women’s Leadership Conference in Jonesboro. Last week, she and illustrator Li Zeng spoke at 1 Million Cups and Lift the Rock, both innovation-focused community events in Little Rock, to introduce their project, Little Launchers.
Swallow is a published writer in Forbes, Entrepreneur, The Wall Street Journal, and The Huffington Post, among other outlets. She started her career at The New York Times after graduating from Paragould High School and New York University. She now also holds an MBA from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and owns her own creative agency, Southern Swallow.
A Preview of Swallow’s Oak Grove Talk
A first-generation college student and Paragould High School alumna, she would spend her evenings after school daydreaming about who made magazines and TV commercials and how they were able to reach her family’s trailer in the boondocks of Arkansas, out on a gravel county road. Education opened many doors for her; from NYU to MIT and everything in between, Swallow learned how to run her own business and provide value in society. This year, she published her first children’s book series, Little Launchers, which chronicles the founding stories of four successful, driven kid business owners.
In this session, she’ll share her personal story, from Paragould to publishing, focused on how what she learned in fifth grade set her up for discovering her passion for and career in writing and storytelling. Fifth grade English class, from lessons in writing to grammar, changed the course of her life, even though she didn’t know it until much later. From not knowing what the word “essay” meant, to writing her first book, Swallow credits Mrs. Tamra Powell’s fifth grade class as the start to her passion for writing.
Learn More about Her Debut Children’s Book Series
Swallow’s debut children’s book series, Little Launchers, launched on Kickstarter last week. Her talk at Oak Grove Middle School will be the first of many school visits and readings she has planned over the coming months. She’ll be reading her books in the book tent at the Clinton Presidential Center’s Bridge to the Future Festival in Little Rock on April 29th, and she and illustrator Li Zeng have a two week, 10-school book tour planned for China from May 15 to 30.
The Little Launchers books teach children about entrepreneurship, problem solving, and creative thinking through four biographical stories of real kid entrepreneurs. Parents and educators can help support Swallow’s work while teaching kids how to be creators by reserving a copy of the series on the Little Launchers Kickstarter campaign page.