Gary Malone teaches eighth grade English at Junior High School 189 in Flushing, N.Y.
He’s visiting Oklahoma for the first time, which, technically, makes him an outsider.
Considering Malone’s reason for being here, he’s fine with the label.
Malone arrived in Tulsa July 3 and is staying until July 9 because he wants to explore the turf that inspired S.E. Hinton to write “The Outsiders.” Hinton crafted the evergreen novel about young greasers and socs while she was a student at Will Rogers High School.
Malone loves “The Outsiders.” One of his wrists is tattooed with the words “stay gold.” He said his son is named Dallas. One of the greasers in “The Outsiders” is Dallas Winston, played by Matt Dillon in the movie adaptation of the book.
But Malone is here — where the book was born and where the movie was filmed — in the line of duty.
Malone is the beneficiary of a grant from Fund For Teachers, an organization that supports educators’ efforts to develop skills, knowledge and confidence that can impact student achievement. Fund For Teachers trusts teachers to design “unique fellowships.” Malone pitched this idea: He wanted to travel to Tulsa to learn more about the area that inspired Hinton to write “The Outsiders” and he wanted to visit locations that were used as film sites during the making of the 1983 motion picture.
“My ultimate goal is to use this experience as a way to assist my students to create their own works of realistic-fiction based on the realities and experiences of their own communities, just as Hinton did as a teenager in Tulsa when she penned The Outsiders,” Malone said.
He posted those words on The Stay Gold Project, a Facebook page created to document experiences related to his Fund For Teachers fellowship. You can “like” the page to get updates on a trip that was decades in the making.
Malone, 45, said he was introduced to “The Outsiders” when he saw the movie on television when he was about 12 years old. The film helped launch the careers of Dillon, C. Thomas Howell, Ralph Macchio, Tom Cruise, Emilio Estevez and Patrick Swayze.
“People my age grew up with the movie,” he said.
Malone has seen the film many times. Asked what appealed to him about it, he mentioned how young people in the movie don’t have the best family situation, but they sort of make their own family among friends. In case you’re curious, that’s not Malone’s story, too. He said he grew up in a “pretty stable” family and added this: “The whole thing, to me, I felt I connected more to it as a teacher because of the impact it had on the students.”
The novel debuted in 1967, but kids (even kids who tend to dislike reading) still connect with the book, according to Malone. He teaches in the New York City borough of Queens. He said there is a large immigrant population and many of his students are immigrants or first-generation Americans. There are kids from China, El Salvador, Pakistan — all over. And the story of 1960s greasers in middle America resonates with them.
“You would think there wouldn’t really be a connection there,” Malone said. “But there are so many things in the story — just the idea of friendship and peer pressure and problems at home. And, even moreso, S.E. Hinton wrote it as a teenager. So that authenticity is there, even though it’s 50 years later or 52 years later or whatever. Usually when we start reading it, I don’t mention anything about the author and they think the author is a male. When they find out the author is a female and she was a year or two older than them when she wrote it, I think they connect even more in that way.”
Malone said he probably wasn’t aware there was a novel of “The Outsiders” before he started teaching. He was familiar only with the movie. But the novel was part of the curriculum when he became a first-year teacher and, 18 years later, he said it’s his favorite thing to teach. And it shows.
Malone’s students, in addition to reading the novel, are asked to tackle other Outsiders-related activivites. For instance, they write and perform original scenes based on things mentioned in the novel. Virtually any sentence in the novel is a candidate to become a spin-off scene. Malone said students have done scenes that show when the Curtis Brothers find out about their parents’ death, the police interrogating Dally about the whereabouts of Ponyboy and Johnny, and a girl getting shot at the Dingo.
Because many of Malone’s students are immigrants, he said he uses the novel to expose the kids to examples of classic American culture. The students’ parents and grandparents might not have been exposed to 1960s Americana, so he begins classes by playing songs and showing pictures of American cars from that era.
“As they enter class, they might be listening to ‘The Letter’ by The Box Tops while looking at a picture of a 1967 Camaro,” he said.
Malone can share first-hand observations after returning from Tulsa. Among must-see stops on his trip are Will Rogers High School, the Admiral Twin Drive-In and the Outsiders House, where the Curtis Brothers lived during the making of the film. The Outsiders House is being transformed into a museum by House of Pain rapper Danny Boy O’Connor. He has roots on both coasts, but loves “The Outsiders” so much that he bought the home. The museum is expected to open this year and continues to attract visitors who pose for photographs outside the home. Malone contacted O’Connor about getting a sneak preview.
Malone would like to partner with a teacher in the Tulsa area on a student project related to “The Outsiders.” If interested, contact him through the Stay Gold Project Facebook page.
Malone emailed Hinton before traveling to Oklahoma. He received a response that he shared on the Facebook page. In the response, Hinton shared advice for young (and older) writers. And she closed with this: “Good luck with your project (you’ll love Danny Boy) and remember: Teachers are my heroes. Stay gold! S.E. Hinton.”
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