by Moira Cullings
OVERLAND PARK — Years ago at Bishop Miege High School in Roeland Park, Craig Ewing saw a talent in one of his students he couldn’t let go unnoticed.
“I remember her writing well,” said Ewing. “She was quiet. She wasn’t the type to discuss in class.”
Ewing, who now teaches English at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Overland Park, took it upon himself to mentor the student and help her realize her potential.
Little did he know that years later, the shy, budding student he once encouraged would become a New York Times bestselling author.
Gillian Flynn — author of “Dark Places,” “Sharp Objects,” “The Grownup” and, most notably, “Gone Girl” — came back to her hometown of Kansas City Jan. 12 to honor Ewing and the influence he had on her life.
The two hadn’t spoken since Flynn’s high school days.
“I’m blown away that Gillian would take time out of her busy, busy life to come here,” said Ewing. “I’m humbled and very appreciative.”
The reunion came about after Boyd and Lisa Bauman, who formerly taught at Aquinas, met Flynn at a writing conference years ago.
Once they discovered their Kansas City connection, Ewing was eventually brought up, and Flynn told them about the effect he had on her life.
She was eager to have the opportunity to thank him in person.
The pair finally reunited at Aquinas, where Flynn participated in a discussion panel and Q&A led by Ewing and students Andrew Schoonover and Maggie Slaven.
Aquinas, Bishop Miege, Blue Valley West, Hayden, Maur Hill-Mount Academy, St. James Academy and Sumner Academy of Arts and Sciences were all invited to send students.
Flynn started by telling the students about her own high school experience.
“I was a very shy, not particularly dazzling, high school student,” she said. “I was not a hand-raiser; I just wasn’t. So I think I got overlooked a lot.”
Flynn admitted she went through the motions in her studies until she discovered a passion for English.
“At the very right time, it was Mr. Ewing who singled me out and saved me from my own complacency and gave me that boost and that confidence right when I really needed it,” she said.
The mentorship he offered sparked a desire in Flynn to pursue her passion.
After graduating from the University of Kansas and earning a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University, Flynn went on to work as a reporter for Entertainment Weekly magazine.
In 2008, the magazine laid her off. A few years later, “Gone Girl” was on the cover of that same magazine.
The book sold over six million copies, has appeared on the New York Times bestseller lists for over 100 weeks, and was made into a movie directed by David Fincher with a screenplay written by Flynn herself.
Flynn taking the time to come back to her hometown and interact with high school students “means a lot,” said Ewing, “because I don’t think most people would ever do that.”
Flynn lives in Chicago with her husband and two children, and the effort she put into the reunion reminded Ewing why he teaches.
“I don’t think teachers realize the small things they do,” he said. “You’re just who you are and you teach the way you teach. But then to hear [about the impact you make] — that’s always big.”
Between the panel and the Q&A that followed, Flynn gave students tips on writer’s block, choosing the right story idea and more.
Students like Maggie McCabe, who called Flynn her favorite author, were thrilled to have the advice.
“She was a normal person,” said McCabe. “I’ve set her up so high in my standards, but she was amazing.”
McCabe and her Aquinas peers are also grateful to have a teacher like Ewing.
“It makes us feel really special,” said McCabe. “We’re honored to have [him as] our English teacher.
So was Flynn, and she had a special message for Ewing and all teachers and students in attendance.
“You really can’t ever know how much it makes a difference for a student when you grab them at the right point and say, ‘You’re pretty good at what you’re doing. You should do it even better,’” she said.
“For students out there who don’t feel like you’re always the star of the show or always the biggest voice in the room,” she continued, “you don’t have to be.
“I always say, you don’t have to have a giant voice to be heard.”