Pushing through the Gap: Molly Wizenberg, Karen Finneyfrock and Elizabeth Austen Visit Seattle Schools

Posted in Author Visits with tags , , , on March 26, 2015 by writersintheschools

Every so often, the excerpt of Ira Glass’s interview on storytelling that was made into a short animation several years ago resurfaces on my social media feeds. The acclaimed writer and radio producer’s words about making your own creative work align with your ambitions, and eliminating the gap between them, are the kind that people go back to over and over, particularly when they are in a darker place, creatively speaking. When Seattle memoirist and food writer Molly Wizenberg spoke with a room full of eleventh graders at WITS partner Franklin High School about her story of becoming writer recently, she mentioned those words to the students; they resonated particularly strongly against the writer’s own story of making her way from working in a grocery store, to studying anthropology, to building food memories into blogs and memoirs, over the course of twenty-six years.

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Molly Wizenberg speaks with students at Franklin High School.

Later that same day, I accompanied Seattle poet and young adult novelist Karen Finneyfrock on a visit to McClure Middle School. When a student in the audience asked the author how she found her writing style for her books, she divulged how much more difficult writing her first novel was than she had expected. The writer explained how she had already published books of poetry, but when she shifted to writing stories, she had to bring much of the style into her work in later drafts, during the editing process. She assured the lunchroom full of over one hundred middle schoolers listening with the intensity of people about to go home and start their own novels, “Writers spend at least as much time editing a book as they do writing it.”

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Karen Finneyfrock speaks with students at McClure Middle School

The following week, when Washington State Poet Laureate Elizabeth Austen spoke among a small circle of students who attend the Hutch School, the harder aspects of writing came up again. Telling the students of the way she had transitioned from acting to writing poetry, when she was in her 30s, the poet shared some of the similarities she encountered across her two professional lives. One was related to what might normally be called rejection, whether it be from a part in a play or of a piece of writing from a publication. She explained to the students in the room, who ranged from first graders to high school students, how such moments didn’t always mean that a piece of creative work wasn’t good, or was necessarily worse than someone else’s work. “It’s a selection, not a rejection,” she said with the concise intent one would expect from a poet laureate.

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Elizabeth Austen Performing with the Sandbox Radio Collective. Photo credit: John Ulman. Image from elizabethhausten.wordpress.com

Whenever I re-watch Ira Glass’s interview, the disclaimer that begins the video always stays with me the most: “Nobody tells people who are beginners—and I really wish someone had told this to me…” As I sat beside the students, hearing advice and anecdotes and lesser known insights from accomplished writers like Molly Wizenberg and Karen Finneyfrock and Elizabeth Austen, I felt reassured about these kids—someone was telling them things that could affect their relationships with the creative work, now and later on. Those students will hopefully find themselves with smaller, less daunting gaps to close than the rest of us.

The Work of These Fingers

Posted in Writer Posts with tags , , , , on March 19, 2015 by writersintheschools

By Matt Gano, WITS Writer-in-Residence

The Center School is full of deep thinkers and creative minds. The pumps are primed and these kids are ready to write. To help build our creative approach I like to introduce themes that work as an arc throughout the semester. Mary Oliver writes, “…poetry imaginatively takes place within the world, it does not take place on a sheet of paper.” Using this quote as a springboard, the first practicing approach I throw out to my students is the idea that poetry is an “expression of the body.” I use this concept in combination with Mary Oliver’s stance as a backbone to constructing effective metaphor and developing creative ideas that are grounded in concrete imagery.

When we speak of the notion that poetry is an “expression of the body,” we talk about our sensory perceptions and our physical relationship to the world. We talk about translating our emotional experience, which most often lives in an abstract realm, into the physical by making connections to objects that imply our meaning. To take this a step further, we discuss how our own individual experiences with abstract emotions (love, hate, fear, etc.) can be understood universally through specific connections to the body. Here, Leiya F. shows us exactly how powerful-truths can be explored in this way in an excerpt from her poem, “The Work of These Fingers”:

“When my thumb accepts you,
I let the sun know
that you have done
the deed of a saint.
Disappointed,
I point down to the dirt you are less
than when you have forced hot coals
in my eyes from your sin.

I show this finger to silence the solid voices that slam, scratch, and slaughter
the air of this empty room.
I use this to beckon to the little girl who is pointed camouflage in the clean
grass and muddy filth of people that make her pliant.

I throw this exotic symbol to say “Screw you” to middle the people
who think they can use my body to fit their voice and use their voice over
mine.
Enough said.”

Moving through this concept, students are encouraged to look for other surprising ways that imagery can take form. By grounding our abstract thoughts, ideas, and emotions in the physical we become translators of experience. We discuss the idea that one of the important jobs of the poet is to find new ways of showing our emotions, to SHOW our truth by finding the right image. Here, Bryce G. shows us how this works in a excerpt from her poem, “A Symphony of Magnificence”:

“Her song is different
a pot of churning tunes
bubbling melodies
Her dreams are a symphony of sounds
an orchestra playing in harmony
something Beethoven mixed with Baroque
but as the last note
slides off a gleaming harpsichord

auto tune kicks in

to a pop singers sugary voice
as the base in the background
fades away
to the plucking of a guitar
and the crooning of the blues
Her smile is a sad folk singer

melting

into a tenor
bellowing out a song
wonderfully off key
he sings about a piano playing up a thunderstorm
like no other”

Doing this work early on in the first semester helps to lay a foundation for strong writing and imagistic depth. As we move further into the art of creative writing, having students understand connective imagery and the concept of translating experience helps to shift approach and train their imaginations to consider the transformative ability of metaphor and imagery as a powerful tool. With this little notch in their belt, they are one step closer in exploring their writing voices and honing their individual styles.

Hurry the Stone

Posted in Writer Posts with tags , , , on March 12, 2015 by writersintheschools

By Melanie Noel, WITS Writer-in-Residence

 

“hurry a lion into the cage of music

hurry stone to masquerade as a recluse

moving in parallel nights

 

who’s the visitor? when the days all

tip from nests and fly down roads

the book of failure grows boundless and deep”

 

– from “New Year” by Bei Dao, translated by David Hinton and Yanbing Chen

The cormorant is a poet among seabirds. Among boobies and loons, it’s a bird of the in-between. It appears to do nothing as it lets the sun and air dry its wings. It stands there frozen in a shrug. When it speaks it sounds like the door of a haunted house arguing with a toad. It is a great diver and can migrate in flocks, but there is this time between that it stops entirely.

Nikolai Goodman, the son of poet Denise Levertov, told a story at her memorial that stays with me. He was homeschooled in their apartment in New York City. He was doing homework on the floor and looked up to see his mom staring out the window. She was staring out for a long time. He asked her, “What are you doing?” And she shushed him, not gently, and said, “I’m writing a poem.”

I felt like an alien dropped in from a remote planet at Broadview-Thomson. My hosts, almost 80 of them born around the year 2005 (and three kind teachers born after 2005), were benevolent and imaginative. They were a kind of magnificent, sometimes frustrating wilderness who listen to and worked with me, despite my greenish pallor and strange voice. We made field notes from our respective positions. I tried to tell them about a timeless future I’d found in language, and they pointed persuasively at the present.

Being busy, being assessed, and competing, seem built into the fabric of schools. There is a lot of expectation and contradiction. You’re expected to pay attention but you’re often interrupted. You could miss things while looking out a window, let alone standing still to dry your wings. Thus the danger and the urgency of poetry.

I found myself particularly touched by students’ empathy when it appeared.   It seems the closest thing to being in-between, to one of the immeasurable values of poetry, and still within institutional bounds. We used Federico García Lorca’s poem “The Little Mute Boy” as a template for writing about the senses and learning refrain. Students who could read it in Spanish read it in Spanish for the class. Here is that poem and its translation:

 

EL NIÑO MUDO

 

El niño busca su voz.

(La tenia el rey de los grillos.)

En una gota de agua

buscaba su voz el nino.

 

No la quiero para hablar;

me hare con ella un anillo

que llevara mi silencio

en su dedo pequenito.

 

En una gota de agua

buscaba su voz el nino.

 

(La voz cautiva, a lo lejos,

se ponía un traje de grillo.)

 

THE LITTLE MUTE BOY

 

The little boy was looking for his voice.

(The king of the crickets had it.)

In a drop of water

the little boy was looking for his voice.

 

I do not want it for speaking with;

I will make a ring of it

so that he may wear my silence

on his little finger.

 

In a drop of water

the little boy was looking for his voice.

 

(The captive voice, far away,

put on a cricket’s clothes.)

 

From The Selected Poems of Federico García Lorca, by Federico García Lorca, translated by W. S. Merwin, published by New Directions. Copyright © 1955 by W. S. Merwin.

 

In Mr. Beers’s attentive and inquisitive class, Jeremy asked, “why would the boy give his voice to the cricket? That doesn’t make any sense.” It was a good question and a good point. I echoed the question back out and Ali, from the back of the room, answered, “maybe he knows the cricket needs it more than he does.”

Here is Ali’s poem:

 

The girl was looking for her sight.

The star-nosed mole king had it.

In a glass marble

the girl was looking for her sight.

 

I do not want it for seeing with;

I will make a bracelet of it

so that the star-nosed mole may wear my sight

on his arm.

 

In a glass marble

the girl was looking for her sight.

(The captive sight, far away,

put on a star-nosed mole’s clothes.)

Announcing the WITS ‘Wild’ Contest Winners!

Posted in General with tags , , , on March 10, 2015 by writersintheschools

This winter, WITS invited students in grades K-12, participants in our partner public schools throughout the Puget Sound region and at Seattle Children’s Hospital, to submit an original piece of writing inspired by the theme of “wild” and Cheryl Strayed’s book of the same title.

After reading submissions of poetry, essays and stories that considered ideas of wildness varying widely, from trips to the zoo to ruminations on the Seattle Seahawks, WITS is pleased to announce sixth grade student Lily Williams’s poem “Them” as the contest winner. This year, Lily worked with WITS Writer-in-Residence Rachel Kessler, at Washington Middle School. The contest judges were moved by the poem’s vivid portrayal of a sense of inner wildness.  Lily read her poem with confidence and poise, to a sold out crowd of hundreds last Thursday night, before Cheryl Strayed took the stage.

We are also happy to announce our honorable mentions in the contest.

WITS ‘Wild’ Contest Winner:
Lily Williams, Sixth Grade, Washington Middle School

1st Runner Up:
“Joy” by Abigail Peterson, Second Grade, Cascade K-8 Community School

Finalists:
“In the Cage” by Lauren Allen, Sixth Grade, McClure Middle School
“Wild” by Maya Dow, Fifth Grade, Blue Heron School
“Never Say Never in my Wildest Dreams” by Sam Kuo, Third Grade, Cascade K-8 Community School
“Wild” by Isaac Rosen, Third Grade, View Ridge Elementary School

Congratulations to all of the winners of the ‘Wild’ contest, whose work follows below. Thank you to all of the students who submitted their writing!

Them
By Lily Williams
Sixth Grade, Washington Middle School

they feed off insecurities
they plant poison thoughts
in pure minds
disturbed

they bark commands
and if you don’t follow them
you’re banished to no-mans-land
filled with undesired loners

toxicity in the smog
air-born sickness
killing everything left
without a gas mask

dead

we feel inferior
to ideas they
promote the ones they
say is normal

but nothing’s truly
normal
you can’t define me
i’m definitionless

to them i’m a
disease a mistake
if i was ‘raised right’
i wouldn’t be this way

different

i watch everybody
around me wither away
slowly burning from
acid they’ve spilled

the ropes pulling
tightly at necks
the triggers stiff against

cold fingers

dead eyes wander
aimlessly through
a sea of lies that we
call life a crazy life

anarchy

and the gunshots
they sound the music
of war the weapons
pulled icy blood frozen

swords drawn they shine
in grey-silver moonlight
giving the illusion of safety
no one’s really okay

they call me a rebel
i’m just a raging flame
and all they want to do is
reduce me to ash

i am wild

Joy
By Abigail Peterson
Second Grade, Cascade K-8 Community School

The creek gurgles
in the morning air,
the flowers wake up
in the earth.
It is part of a great dance,
never ceasing the steps.
They dance with joy,
and reverse the steps
to find even more happiness.
The humans come to join them.
They dance that way till dusk,
but then the dance becomes
even wilder
with mystery.

In the Cage
By Lauren Allen
Sixth Grade, McClure Middle School

I remember when it jumped. It flew towards us, its claws like hooks, ready to latch on.

It was a typical summer day in Beijing, China: very hot, dry and sunny. We had just moved there from Washington DC. We decided to tour as much as possible, to get to know the city. My family and I love safaris, so we decided to go to the Wilderness Park (still in Beijing) and go on one there. When it was finally our turn after waiting in line, my three younger siblings, my mom and I, 8 years old at the time, were loaded into the back of a large pickup truck with a dozen or so other Chinese people. There was a wire cage surrounding the outsides of the truck. I guess you could say that we were ‘caged in.’ We started the safari by going through gates and high walls that divided one animal species from another. We would go through the lion section, stare at the lions (still moving the whole time) and then go on to the monkeys. I was only a little bit nervous at first as to what would happen if the animals got up and came toward us. The whole time, the tour guide, who would talk on about the animals in full-on Chinese, would occasionally remind us in English to, “Keep your hands inside the cage at all times.”

After a while, we started to get hot, tired and bored all at the same time, like businessmen sitting in a non-air conditioned room, listening to a long conference in a whole other language!

“Is this almost over?” we kept whining, and I’m not sure if we kept our voices down (oops!).

The reply would always be from our mom, saying, “I don’t know. It will be over when it is over.” That drove us crazy.

After visiting a couple more animals, the tour guide handed out carrots, probably to feed the next animal. That was new. Other staff seemed to come out of nowhere, starting to hang up raw chicken on hooks on the outside of the cage. What could be going on? I wondered. A couple of seconds later, we found ourselves with the bears.

….

At first, the bears were doing nothing special, like all the other animals. Soon though, a bear got up and started to clamber toward us. And then…

…it jumped. Its claws hung onto the wire cage. I had never seen a black bear, well, any bear for that matter, and so close up! I could see the huge teeth like pointed knives, the yellow eyes with a haunted glow, the brown snout, the sharp claws and the massive body. He was as black as coal. What’s happening!? I asked myself, starting to panic. The bear started to rip at the raw chicken with its teeth. Some people jeered and yelled but mostly people plain freaked out. My brother, sisters and I huddled around my mom while more bears came to join the first one, ripping and eating the chickens. Nobody even thought about feeding them the carrots!

One thousand thoughts raced through my head at the same time. What happens if the bears rip through the cage? Those teeth are so big and sharp! We must end up fine though because this is not the first time this safari has taken place, right?! Mommy looks a little scared though too. The craziness went on like that. Now that I look back, I realize that anything could have happened or gone wrong!

Finally, when the bears had eaten all of the raw chicken to the bone (literally), we moved on. Everything died down as we slowly uncoiled. When the safari was completely over, my mom said, “What an adventure!” We certainly agreed.

It was a big, scary and exciting event to that young, eight-year-old me. I will never forget my amazing adventure I had that day.

Wild
By Maya Dow
Fifth Grade, Blue Heron School

In memory of the underground railroad, and all who where brave enough to go on its long journey.

Feet slapping,
heart pounding,
running,
running,
green forest
disappears around me
I am wild.
I am free.

Heat burning,
sight blurring,
I am invisible
to all eyes.
running,
running,
never tiring
I am wild.
I am free.

No more working.
No more hardships,
I know
everything and
nothing.
running,
running,
I am wild.
I am free.
I do not know
who I am or
where I am.
legs pumping,
running,
running.
I am wild.
I am free.

Throat rasping,
breath gasping.
I ignore my
jumping stomach.
I am wild.
I am free.
I am wild.
I am free.

Never Say Never in my Wildest Dreams
By Sam Kuo
Third Grade, Cascade K-8 Community School

When people say, “never in my wildest dreams,” it is supposed to mean something really cool happened that they didn’t dream they could do. I think that is a sad thing because it means they don’t believe enough in themselves and have big, wild dreams.

Russell Wilson had a wild dream to be a NFL quarterback and win multiple super bowls. No one thought he could do it because of his height, but he didn’t listen to them and became a quarterback first for the Wisconsin Badgers and now for Seattle Seahawks and won one Super Bowl so far.  I have his poster on my wall that says “Dream Big. Work hard”.

Leonardo Da Vinci had a lot of wild ideas. One was about a helicopter. He drew it out and knew that he could make it happen if he could find a way to make the blades spin fast enough. Over four hundred years later, people finally built an engine that could spin things fast enough to make it get off the ground and fly, but it wouldn’t have happened without his and other peoples wild dreams.

Gene Kranz is an engineer who had a wild and crazy dream about going to the moon when he was a kid. He was born way back in 1933. He and hundreds, or thousands, or maybe even 10,000 people had to work hard on this dream to make it happen. First people had to design rockets, modules, space suits, space food, oxygen tanks, heat shields, and more, and a million things had to go right before they got to the moon in 1969. He also believed he could get the Apollo 13 people back home safe in 1970 and it happened. I wrote him a letter and he wrote back, telling me to work hard and never give up.

I have some wild dreams. One of them is that if we want to know what the lottery numbers are we could just call and ask and they would give us the numbers! But I had some wild dreams that maybe someday could happen. Like one time I dreamed I could cure cancer. The doctors tried some ideas on my classmate’s sister and none of them have worked to cure her yet. Maybe you could take a virus and put cancer medicine in it and tell the virus to go infect the cancer cells. Or maybe you could make a virus that only kills cancer cells and not the rest of your cells? How would you test something like that on living people, though? Maybe somehow repair the mistake in the DNA that causes the cancer. They did that with cystic fibrosis and it seems to be working for those people, so why not for cancers? Maybe someone will figure out a new idea to cure my classmate’s sister. if not, maybe their idea will cure someone else eventually.

Another time, I had this wild idea that if we built cities with tunnels that people drive through, the pollution would get stuck in there and wouldn’t escape out into the air. I’m not sure exactly how that would work, but I think there should be better ways to keep pollution from getting into the air, and it might be easier to trap pollution than to build cars and other things that don’t make any pollution. Maybe someday someone will figure out how to do it. Maybe someday I will discover a way.

A lot of wild ideas won’t work immediately, and sometimes not ever, but you won’t know which ones will succeed unless you keep trying and trying, even when it doesn’t work. So, next time you hear someone say, “Never in my wildest dreams,” you should say, “You could actually do almost anything if you work at it. You don’t have to have wild dreams but then wild things are less likely to happen to you. Dream big! Wild dreams are awesome!”

Wild
By Isaac Rosen
Third Grade, View Ridge Elementary School

Animals romp
Tall towering trees
Endless green grasslands
Nests of striped bees
Not a person in sight
For miles around
Unknown creatures wait to be found

Seeking the Journey: Cheryl Strayed’s Visit to Nathan Hale High School

Posted in Author Visits with tags , , on March 9, 2015 by writersintheschools

By Erin Langner, WITS Program Associate

The walk I took with Cheryl Strayed last week was not very much like the one she did so famously. It lasted about five minutes, our journey being one from the main office of Nathan Hale High School to its library, where the writer was about to speak to the room full of eleventh grade students quietly waiting for her there. Normally, a high school isn’t a place one goes looking for scenic views. We passed through a common area tinged with the scent of lunches and adolescent bodies, enclosed on one side by a wall made of windows. As we walked, we caught a hummingbird hovering on the other side of the glass, its metallic-green flashing across the top row of panes. It seemed only fitting to stop and watch this speckle of wildness for a moment, hanging in the air.

Inside the library, the writer, who would later that night leave hundreds of adults at Benaroya Hall awestruck by both her words and presence, casually walked up to the power point slide welcoming her to Nathan Hale and talked to the students with the casualness of neighbor or a friend of a friend. She spoke of her own experience with a Writers in the Schools program in Minnesota, working with a poet who visited her school for one week during the year and made her “feel as though someone in the room really knew what I was about.” While few in the audience admitted to seeing their future careers in the arts, she knowingly warned them, “That doesn’t mean you won’t hear that call in yourself at a later time.”

However, most of Strayed’s advice to the eleventh graders was intended for them not only as writers but as people on the brink of their lives really beginning, like the moment Strayed found herself in at the end of her hike, when she crossed the Bridge of the Gods. As she explained the way the events she chronicled in Wild “changed her back into the person I always knew I was,” she went on, “I remembered thinking I’d ruined my life, and now I realize I was so wrong. It is so hard to really wreck your life. You always have the power to take it back again”—advice that silenced the room.

The insight the writer shared that stayed with me the most came towards the end of her visit. The words were some of the smallest and simplest, but from the force with which they were said, it was clear they were also among the truest: “Seek the journey. Not just when you are seventeen, or twenty-two. Seek it your whole life.” Those are the ones I hope the high school students take the most to heart and the ones I hope to think of again, when the green flash of a hummingbird stops me, for a moment.

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Touching Absolute Truths: Sherman Alexie Speaks at HS3 High School

Posted in Author Visits with tags , , on February 27, 2015 by writersintheschools

By Erin Langner, WITS Program Associate

Heath Sciences and Human Services High School (HS3) has an all-gray performance space called the MPS that looks like a place where unexpected things happen. When the lights are up, as they are for school assemblies, the room’s skeleton is exposed—a technical balcony overlooks the rows of students seated in the round, stage lights positioned at odd angles dot the ceilings and floor, and there is an overall sense that everyone in the room is backstage, about to see something intimate and honest.

There could not have been a more fitting place for Sherman Alexie to have told over three hundred students at HS3 earlier this week, “If you come up to me afterwards, you can touch my brain.” Referring to a quartet of lingering “soft spots” that resulted from brain surgery the renowned writer underwent when he was five months old, to relieve pressure caused by hydrocephalus, the invitation could be understood in both a literal and literary way—the standard for much of what Alexie went on to say that morning.

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Maybe many of the students felt as if they already knew the author from reading his semi-autobiographical novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Or, perhaps it was the raw honesty behind the anecdotes he told of growing up in poverty on the Spokane Indian Reservation, of unintentionally hitting a teacher in the face with a book and of having what he called a “Costco-sized head.” Whatever the cause, the sense of a connection between the writer and the students made the large room feel deceivingly small, as though there were only a handful of us listening, instead of hundreds.

This intimacy was also evident in the candidness of the students’ questions. The first, sounding as if he were talking to another kid about girls they were crushing on, asked, “So, who’s this girl Penelope?” Referring to a character of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, the author drifted into stories about the beautiful blonde who once sat in front of him, with smitten recollections: “She was so pretty, she had theme music.” The student responded with a pronounced nod; he knew what Alexie was talking about.

The question that brought the most insight was one that only students are fearless enough to ask. “If you weren’t poor and didn’t grow up on a reservation, do you still think you’d be as successful as you are today?” a young woman in the back of the room inquired, with a soft but unflinching tone. Giving one of his longest pauses of the morning, Alexie answered slowly, his words gaining their sense of assuredness as he reached the answer’s end: “If you can survive these agonies, it gives you a sense of strength. And it makes you original.”

The talk soon ended, the standing ovation subsided and a horde of students surrounded the writer, who indulged them with countless selfies. Despite the invitation, I did not see anyone try to touch Alexie’s head. He had already given so much access, spoken so many sentences that felt as though they would be heard only by those of us in the room, it seemed as though we already had.

Creating Emotional Space with Words

Posted in Writer Posts with tags , , , on February 26, 2015 by writersintheschools

By Imani Sims, WITS Writer-in-Residence

It was day five and my eighth grade students were still writing about an inside joke that had something to do with pears and noodles. As you can imagine, after the fifteenth poem about pears, I sat down with my classroom teacher to brainstorm how we could adjust Monday’s lesson to inspire some emotional response from these eighth graders. After a bit of deliberation, we decided to give them a list of emotions, ask them to silently reflect on specific times when they felt that way and simply write them down. We turned the lights off. Asked the students to close their eyes and simply think. After five minutes, we asked them to list all the instances that came up for them, during reflection. Hands flew across pages. It seemed to be working. Students were jotting things down and dumping real responses onto the page. After a few minutes, the chatter began and I knew it was time to move into the next phase of writing. I asked students to choose one emotion or one instance they had written down and begin to list details:

“What room were you in?”

“Who was with you?”

“Did you hear anything?”

“Maybe the cars outside or yelling?”

“What were the smells around you?”

A hand flew into the air, “Ms. Imani, can sterile be a smell?”

“Absolutely!” I responded.

“Keep working. What colors were around you? Give me as many details as possible. Put me inside of the moment with you.”

As the students crafted their moments, my classroom teacher and I circled the room like shepherds, gently guiding sheep to pasture. Each question was inspired. The eighth graders were finally coming into their own as writers and the bell rang. The next day, we took their moments a step further. I asked them how they could begin to craft these details into a poem. We displayed an example from a creative writing course their classroom teacher took, years before. She used provocative images to describe the day her father left. Everything from Legos to doors slamming placed the students in the moment. We asked the eighth graders to pick the imagery they thought would transport the readers to whatever moment they chose.

Over the next 50 minutes, the Broadview-Thomson eight grade class crafted some of the most beautiful poetry I had read in a middle school setting. For the culmination, I asked all of the students to present their work to the class. As students read, the eighth graders bore witness to their classmates’ stories with grace. They responded in a way that was supportive and loving. They held space for every emotion that surfaced. A few students cried, as some told tales about struggles with self harm and others boiled up with passion as they described the injustices the black community, in America, faced. These are the moments that inspire me to continue my work as a WITS Writer. Here, my work as an educator and artist has purpose.

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