Posted in Uncategorized on April 15, 2015 by writersintheschools

By Margot Kahn Case, WITS Writer-in-Residence

For my 12-week course at Franklin High School, we’ve been working on profiles, or portraits, of other people. Each week we tackle one aspect of getting to know a person. How do they identify themselves? How do they present themselves to the world? Where have they come from? What’s important to them? Who and/or what do they love? What are their secrets, their dark sides? What do they want in life? To practice asking these questions of others outside of class, we ask them of ourselves in class first.

For our third session together, I brought in food. I’m no veteran teacher, but I’ve been doing this long enough to know that a little food goes a long way when it comes to paying attention. “I brought you snacks,” I said to kick off class. “So listen up!” Everyone cheered. So easy!

Together, we read two essays from an old 2010 issue of Saveur Magazine. “Lost in Translation” by Monique Truong is an excerpt from her book Bitter in the Mouth. It’s about how her South Vietnamese family first encountered Jell-O salad on the table of their North Carolina neighbors who were kind enough to have them over for dinner. “We were horrified,” she writes, “which was really saying something considering that this man, woman, and child had only months before escaped from a country at war.” In “Our Daily Bread”, Richard Rodriguez remembers the simplicity of his father’s refried beans and chorizo. It was a dish his father made daily, and one that Rodriguez didn’t fully appreciate until after his father had passed away.

We read these two essays and talked about how much we learn from the narrators—Where are they from? What are their families like? What is important to them? Family, respect, ritual, hard work. We talked about how these essays are about food, yes—but the food is really just a vehicle to talk about so much more.

In the penultimate paragraph of Rodriguez’s essay he talks about Proust’s Madeleine, so we talk a little about Proust’s work being an exploration of how memory works. We talk about the difference between voluntary and involuntary memory—voluntary memory being the memory we call upon (What’s her phone number? Where did I put my homework? What year did the Civil War begin?) and involuntary memory, those memories that comes to us unbidden (walking down the street we catch a whiff of blossoming roses and think of our grandmother who used to wear a rose-scented perfume). I gave everyone a madeleine cookie and instructed them not to eat it until I started reading:

“No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory—this new sensation having had on me the affect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. ….Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it? …And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of Madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before mass), when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom, my aunt Leonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane. The sight of the little Madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it. And all from my cup of tea.”

What is Proust talking about? He takes a sip of tea and all the hardships of his life—even the fact that one day he will die!—everything falls away and all that fills his head is the memory of being with his aunt on Sunday mornings before going to church, sitting in her bedroom and eating this cookie dipped in a cup of tea. Taste and smell have the power to flood us with memories, have the power to evoke experience and emotion. And they can be powerful writing tools, as well.

After the crumbs were brushed from our desks, we set to work. The assignment was (choose one):

Write about a food you love. Or a food you hate.

Write about a food that is important to you or your family.

Write about a memorable meal (because it was so delicious, or because something wonderful or terrible happened).

There were no blank pages on this one. Everyone wrote. About a week later we were lucky enough to have Molly Wizenberg visit, which was an inspiring experience for many. Here are a few excerpts of the results.


In Calmar, the family piled into the kitchen, mashing potatoes, rolling dough, flipping the thin disks onto the hot grill. To make an excellent lefse was a virtue we all yearned for. Political and religious differences were forgotten. Guilt over leaving Iowa melted right along with the butter.

I always hated visiting Calmar, but I always craved lefse. Grandma’s house was an unwanted destination, claustrophobic and full of expired food. I begged to stay with my Uncle Luther when we visited. But the lefse was never expired. Never overwhelming. It was always sweet and kind. Everyone made it; everyone ate it.

We had lefse at my uncle’s wedding. We had lefse at Grandma’s Christmases, too. The last time Grandma and Grandpa visited Seattle, they brought a lefse grill. Grandma convinced mom to buy the special pastry cloth and the flipping-stick. Grandpa sat in the green recliner we got him just for that trip while we filled the kitchen with flour, sugar and potatoes. At Grandpa’s funeral, we had lefse. I don’t think I ate any. Maybe I wasn’t ready for the memories that buttery-sweet Norwegian tortilla would bring.

In Calmar, we’ve been getting rid of garbage bags full of junk for the past week. My aunts and uncles have thrown out moldy puzzles, age-old medicine, clothes full of moth balls. Grandma rides back to her house and asks, “Where did everything go?” In her new kitchen in an assisted living building, she makes lefse. It tugs at my gut at first, and then somewhere deeper. Lefse is the Norwegian roots we’ve all but forgotten.

– Hannah B.

Seaweed Soup

My parents used to fight a lot. They fought over who did or didn’t lock the door at our family restaurant. They fought about whether the chairs had been arranged the right way. But when it came to dinner, all the fighting ceased. We often did not talk to each other when we ate dinner; the only noise came from the TV. Silently, my parents shared their love for one another by putting food in each other’s bowls of rice. When ‘I love you’ was hard to say, my mother would put a piece of beef in my father’s bowl. Sometimes, my father would put in my mother’s bowl a boiled enoki mushroom.

If my mom and I had been fighting, I’d gently twirl my chopstick to tangle the strands of seaweed together before placing it in my mother’s bowl to let her know I was sorry. My mother and I did not fight often until she whisked the family away into a new life in Seattle. The spacious home we lived in before was gone, and the differences between my mother and I were becoming more obvious. She grew up in China, and I was growing up in the United States. Neither of us felt we understood each other, and I never made the effort to understand that the sixteen hours my mother worked each day had all been for me. I would often yell at her for refusing to accept me for who I was while actively refusing to acknowledge the Chinese traditions that she lived by. I preached empathy and kindness towards others but could not be bothered to be empathetic to my mother’s viewpoint as a Chinese mother in a society speaking only English.

Some days, there would be a bowl of seaweed soup on the table as a side dish. It was my favorite, aside from pork bone soup. When there were leftovers after dinner, I’d drink bowls of it, feeling the soup warm all sides of my belly while washing away the dry feeling of rice I had just eaten. Sometimes I would wait until everyone was asleep just so I could have another bowl of seaweed soup. It had just the right balance of saltiness and warmth to comfort me on a cold day. Though seaweed soup takes less than an hour to make, it showed up on the table only sporadically. The soup is healthy and known to lower blood pressure, but my mom did not make it often because of my low blood pressure.

The soups that my mother strenuously labored over for hours, adding expensive ingredients like birds nest and sea cucumber, were her only way of showing how much she loved me when I refused to listen. The seaweed that I placed in her bowl was my only way of telling her I was sorry when I was too embarrassed to say it myself. Food was what brought the family together when we had no other way to show our love for one another.

– Judy W.


As a Filipino, it is almost customary that our shelves have cans upon cans of Filipino sardines, corned beef, Vienna sausages, and Spam. Also, as a lazy male, I am determined to make fasts form the cheapest ingredients. That is how I spent my afternoon.

While heating up a pan, I cut the Spam into thin slices and put those in a bowl. Then I diced the Vienna sausages and put them in another bowl. From my fridge, I took several eggs and cracked them in a bowl. After beating the eggs, I added some salt, pepper and some spices I found in the shelf. I don’t know if anyone else does this, but when my family makes Spam they sort of marinate the slices in egg. After putting oil on the pan, I cooked the Spam until they were dark. The layer of egg stuck to the slices. While cooking them, I would sprinkle some more pepper just because. Then came the corned beef. Nothing special was done there. I just put it in the pan and stirred it around. Once the corned beef was done, I put it in a bowl, but left some in a separate place. After that, I made an omelet of sorts. I poured the Vienna sausages in the egg and mixed it well. Then I poured the mixture onto the pan. While I was at it, I added some cheese. Before folding the eggs, I took the spare corned beef and spread it across the top. All that was left was the sardines. There’s a little meal my family makes with sardines. I don’t remember it anymore, but I remember that it was supposed to have onions and garlic, add water and oil, crack some eggs into it and then add at least two cans of sardines in tomato sauce.

As I looked at my work, I felt very proud. Until I realized that I had to wash the dishes.

– Joshua I.


Hot, moist air out in the field. Under the sun, a familiar figure bent down caring for her crops. Every piece of food we ate was full of her love and care. Her sweat planted every potato, every carrot. The grandmother she loved and missed, reminding herself of the memories with every bite of pickled radish. The crunch sound resembles the fresh smile on her aged face; salty sweet was her vibe. Yellow, golden slices of carrots and the time we bonded to make seasoned vegetables can only be remembered from old-time pictures and bits of salted carrots.

– Ling C.


My dad is so picky when it comes to food. “It has to be an awe in your mouth,” I translated as I interviewed him. As we continued on, he talked me back to when he was a kid—poor, with literally nothing but a pair of pants he wore every day to everything. Somehow, I realized the pain my dad went through as he told me that a potato was like a perfectly baked chicken to him. My father, a man full of anger and pride, teared up as he told me “with the potato I dug up, I shared with my family of 9, and that was our best meal I ever had, even to this day.” With that, I teared up realizing how much he has worked and sacrificed for me. And we ended our conversation there as I cleaned up and he went upstairs like usual.

– Thien N.


Food Memory

Ever since I was a little child, my mom, my sister and I make lots of Christmas cookies. My favourite ones are Vanillekipferl and the recipe is really easy. But the actual cookie is so delicious that nobody would think of it as an easy dessert. The butter gives it this creamy and tasteful note and the grounded hazelnuts that slightly crunchy texture. The flour adds the softness to the Kipferl. So when you try one, it will melt in your mouth as soon as it starts to break into little crumbs. The sweetness comes from the powder sugar, which has to be powdered to make the cookie so soft. The taste reminds me of a relaxing Christmas time, time with my family, eating the cookies in front of the homemade advent wreath, my dad lying on the couch, the book with the Christmas stories in his hand, reading in a calm voice. My sister and I would cuddle with our mom and drink Punsch, which my mom made. It also reminds me of Christmas Eve. Waiting for the bell to ring, to signal that everything is prepared and we can come in. My sister and I would run into the living room and stop in front of the tree, full of awe of its beauty. We would wait until my grandparents made their way to us from the room we had waited in, in a slower pace with a big grin on their lips. Then we would sing “Stille Nacht” together and wish everyone Happy Christmas. My sister and I would fall to the ground, grab as many presents as possible, and hand our family their presents as fast as possible, so we can start ripping open ours, with sparkling eyes and joy in our hearts. Meanwhile, my family would sit together, talking, eating Vanillekipferl, and smiling with love in their eyes at us, every time we run to them to show them our presents. After unpacking everything, we would join them eating the cookies, while we are waiting for our parents to prepare the raclet, open all the jars and put them on the table.

Another memory would be a baking day with my mom and my sister. My sister and I would get something to stand on, to see on the counter; my mom would measure the soft butter, the powdered sugar, the crunchy hazelnuts and the fluffy flour. Then she would put everything in a bowl and let us try to stir it. Now I am able to make my own dough, but when I was younger I wasn’t strong enough so my mom had to make it. Then the dough has to rest for a while and we would drink a cup of tea, talking and cuddling with my mom. When the dough had settled long enough my mom would separate it into two pieces, one for each of us, and then my sister and I would start forming the Kipferl and my mom would make them smaller and reform them every time we looked away so they would look good enough to serve to guests. My mom told me years later that I now make prettier Kipferl than her. “The student gets better than the teacher,” she once said with a smile on her face.

Because the dough doesn’t contain raw eggs I normally ate a lot of the dough, when my mom wasn’t watching. Then they had to bake for a short time in the oven. My sister and I would run nearly every minute to the oven to see if the cookies were already gone, or sit in front of the oven until our mom would drag us away to get some tea and relax in front of the advent wreath. My mom would pull the cookies out of the oven when they were still soft, because they will “bake” for a short time after they are out of the oven. I still only would eat our Kipferl and never buy them, because ours are soft and melt on the tongue, unlike the crunchy ones from everyone else. The smell and taste mean a calm family day at home, baking with my family, feeling safe at home, and this special Christmas feeling to me.


280g flour

210g butter

100g grounded hazelnuts

70g powdered sugar

Dr. Oetker Vanilllasugar


Put everything into a bowl and knead it to a dough. Form a big ball and let it rest for several minutes. Make 3 inch thick rolls out of it. Cut small pieces of it and form a Kipferl. Put it into an preheated oven at 355°F. Take it out when they are still soft because they will “bake” a little bit longer after they are out. The tips shouldn’t be brown. Mix powdered sugar with vanilla sugar in a small bowl. Turn the still hot cookies in the sugar mixture, so the sugar sticks to it. Be careful to don’t break them.

– Natalie C.

Natalie C.’s Vanillekipferl


Making Writing Their Own: 8th Graders and Zines

Posted in Writer Posts with tags , , , on April 9, 2015 by writersintheschools

By Corinne Manning, WITS Writer-in-Residence

Something I love about teaching for WITS is the encouragement to roll with the punches. At the beginning of a teaching residency, you might have a defined schedule, a plan with a classroom teacher, and a curriculum, built shiny, and ready to go. Anyone who has worked with youth, or who has even just worked as a teacher knows that all the careful planning can—will—change instantly. There some changes at the school I worked at this year, but the nature of the WITS program is to find innovative and creative ways to help students fall in love with writing, so I had everything I needed to embrace that change.

But sometimes, even writing super exciting and awesome stories, poems, and memoir gets old when you are at an age where you aren’t quite sure why you like something, when you haven’t had a chance to really define for yourself why you like doing it. In 8th grade, that pinnacle of adolescent muck, you are constantly getting told what to do and maybe you’ve heard all the reasons why you are told to do something a certain way, but… whatever—it just doesn’t make sense yet.

I’ve found power in defining writing for myself, and finding ways to continue to make it mine and useful. Growing up, I wrote stories and poems and put them into books that I would copy and give to other people. It wasn’t until I went to college that I learned I was making zines. During that time of making my own books I found two things that I loved: writing and bookmaking; and I got the chance to make each of them my own.

So, instead of doing Reader’s Theater with the 8th grade, I switched up my curriculum and decided to introduce them to zines.

photo 1

“How To Make a Hamburger” by Parker, 8th grade

Zines are self published magazines that are made using whatever you have on hand. They have a cut and paste look to them, as they are most often made using a photocopier. The print runs are small, so only a few are made at a time, and they’re made to express something, not for profit.

The energy of zines is empowering. This form has been used again and again through the ages, often with the edict: if they won’t publish us, we’ll publish ourselves. Zines have found form in publications for protests, Sci-Fi and dystopian narratives, comics, and most recently, through young women who defined for themselves what it means to be a girl or grrrl.

“I don’t have a computer at home,” some of the students would say, trying to get out of the project. And every time I told them that they didn’t need a computer, that everything they needed they had in school, they’d look at me like I was crazy. Many of them didn’t seem to know what a photocopier was, and I had to emphasize again and again in a crochety-aging-hipsters manner: Get the authentic experience and make this on a photocopier, not a scanner or printer.

A zine, of course, can be made on anything you want, and in the future, they can totally make their zines at home using their printer and scanner if they have one. But it sure looks cooler from a photocopier.

photo 2

Some zines by Catharine Blaine 8th graders

How can zines be applied to creative writing?

I had the chance to work with these particular students for two years and I knew their writing, they’d written in every genre of fiction, written poems, even came up with creative definitions of fiction, so I trusted that they knew what they were doing. But all this work I’ve done with them wasn’t going to amount to much unless I gave them the chance to see how to apply creative writing on their own terms. I wanted writing, the power of it, to feel immediately useful to them.

Before they got into their final project, the Per-Zine (stands for personal zine, which can be about anything that’s personal to you) they made zines about their favorite things and zines that explained how to do something: making hamburgers, waking up on a Monday, or even making a your younger sibling cry.

Photo 3

How to Survive the Pre-High School Years, by Luna, 8th grade

PHoto 4

How to Survive the Pre-High School Years, by Luna, 8th grade

Perzines tend to have an opinion even if its about something simple, like the things that make you happy, or the way you’ve found to survive the pre-high school years. It’s yours.

Photo 5

Students found clever ways to articulate their feelings about their thoughts, God, or their frustration with stereotypes.

photo 6

Gotta Problem? Blame Science. By Elizabeth, 8th grade


Gotta Problem? Blame Science. By Elizabeth, 8th grade

All writers know that the game changes when you introduce the idea of making something public. But it’s even more thrilling when the rules change: when you decide that something is ready to be published, when it’s your finger hovering over that green button on the photo copier, when you are the one that’s decided that what you have to say is valuable and needs to be heard. It’s true that they’ll grow up and many of their opinions will change, but the day they sat in class and created a zine to share, what went through their minds when they were bored are documents of who they were at a time, and are articulations of what many of us, even as adults, are still feeling. Through creating zines, students connected with one another, whether it was teaching each other how to photocopy, or finding something they related to in the work of another student. They have everything they need to make writing their own—not a bad skill to bring with you into high school, or maybe the rest of your life as a writer.

This website was a wonderful resource and includes a template for making a quarter page zine line the ones by Catharine Blaine students.

Story Problems: Learning Narrative through Pictures

Posted in Writer Posts with tags , , , , on April 7, 2015 by writersintheschools

By Greg Stump, WITS Writer-in-Residence


Comic by Maya, a 1st grade student at Broadview-Thomson K-8 School.

As a teaching artist who helps students of all ages learn to make comics, I’m often fascinated by how a single lesson or exercise can be just as useful for the very young as it is for teens and adults. Short comic strip stories, humble though they may be, seem to be especially effective in teaching story structure to anyone. This is because all parts of the story (introducing a character in a setting; throwing a conflict/problem or disruptive event into the scenario; heightening the drama/tension; and resolving the matter as the character is restored/transformed) are not just visible, but adjacent to each other as well. In a comic, we can see all at once how the story ends and begins, or we can read it piecemeal or in reverse order — unlike text narratives, which are inflexibly linear, or movies, which can only show us one part of the story at a time.


Anyone who spends time with young children knows that they can tell stories even before they’re able to write them down, and this is never more evident to me than when teaching them comics. As a WITS writer-in-residence this year, I was very happy to get to teach the first graders at Broadview-Thomson, in part because it’s so much fun to see what little kids (who are still learning how to write) will come up with when asked to draw out their stories. The comic you see here, drawn by a first grader named Maya in Jeanne Medalia’s class, is a great example of how a simple six-panel comic can demonstrate both a solid grasp of narrative structure, and a delightful imagination to boot.


As the story begins in the first panel, our butterfly protagonist leisurely flaps past a flower. Suddenly, disaster: the butterfly collides into a tree (the “disruptive event”) in the second scene. The “rising action” in panels three and four show our hero laid out on a stretcher and taken by ambulance to a hospital bed, where it lies miserable and injured. Fortunately, a nurse mends the butterfly’s damaged wing, and the comic ends much as it begins — with the butterfly in flight, only now with relief after having gone through a dramatic ordeal.


Again, this is a simple exercise, but the use of a vertical six-panel grid to tell a story in pictures can be quite powerful in getting kids — or anyone, really — to see, quite literally, that what makes a story engaging is how it introduces and resolves problems. And when assigned to students as young and creative as Maya, it leads to work that is as charming as it is instructive.


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

By Erin Langner, WITS Program Associate

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.


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.”


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.


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

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.
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
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


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 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 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

“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!

By Lily Williams
Sixth Grade, Washington Middle School

they feed off insecurities
they plant poison thoughts
in pure minds

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


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

but nothing’s truly
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


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


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

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.

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,
green forest
disappears around me
I am wild.
I am free.

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

No more working.
No more hardships,
I know
everything and
I am wild.
I am free.
I do not know
who I am or
where I am.
legs pumping,
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!”

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