As the days grow shorter I find myself reflecting on my summer work at UNH and for sure, the Writer’s Academy is always a highlight. It is that one time in the year where I have a group of students for more than just an hour or two. They are with me and my co-teacher and for an entire week and in that week we get to focus on just one subject, writing. As a teacher this is a form of nirvana. No grades, no homework, no behavior problems…just a bunch of shy, crazy, outgoing, creative, interesting, motivated, goofy, enthusiastic and yes sometimes even awkward writers coming together to write. Or as defined by one 6th grader when asked to sum up their week in 3 words wrote on his poster “totally not school.”
Writing is a passion for all of us, instructors included and our camaraderie is palpable as we talk about what we tried at lunch and laugh at the different events of the morning and we share these stories while the kids gather to eat and get to know each other and make friends.
The kids who show up are writers, they want to write, they want to improve their writing, they are giving up a week of summer and dedicating it to their craft and because of this a community of writers is quickly formed.
This year in thinking about these young writers, from 5th grade through High School, I wondered how they saw writing or would define writing in their own words. So I stole an idea from an amazing artist and friend, Laura Gaffke who created a similar public art installation that focused on the idea of beauty. (You can find her on Facebook as well as on her blog, http://lauratwotina.com/) I decided I would create our own version and ask students or anyone walking by to write to the idea of “writing is…”
My co-teacher, Karen Atherton provided the materials for my vision as she lugged in a 20 pound crock with sand in it to keep the tree up that she had her husband cut down from her back yard. She also showed up complete with lights for the tree and these were no ordinary lights, no, they were pink flamingoes and green palm tree lights. So we set it up in the hallway and asked that all of the different groups at one point add to the installation. Tags and markers were left by the tree for anyone to write to at their own convenience.
And while our installation was not quite as pretty as Laura’s, it was quite interesting in it’s own right. Reading through all of the tags after they were removed it seemed as though there were 3 distinct categories that these definitions fell within. There was the “one word” club where writing was summed up in one word including writing is…art, powerful, cathartic, individuality, fun, history, truth, freedom, understanding, translation, happy, love and supermegafoxyswesomehot! Writing is…Life!
Then there was the therapeutic genre where many students poured their hearts out about what writing was to them in terms of healing, expressing emotions, revealing secrets and discovering self- awareness. Some of these are hauntingly beautiful including,
“Writing is a therapeutic; a way to escape one’s own mind. It is creating your own little world where you get to be in control. Writing is awesome”
“Writing is a discovery of yourself.”
“Writing is putting your mind on paper.”
“Writing is how I stay alive. If my thoughts stayed in my mind they would overrun the senses and I would think too much and then I would be gone.”
“Writing is a way to…release the feeling I hold in that my friends wouldn’t understand about.”
“Writing is a way to create a deeper self.”
“Writing is the most intimate for of self-expression.”
“Writing is a way to cope with pain/problems for me. Everything leaves my mind, and stains the paper instead of me. And that’s why I’ve grown so close to writing.”
The third category was more about how it was an act of creative expression and use of imagination, imagery, poetry and voice. Here are some of these:
“Writing is indescribable. An experience. An image painted with words.”
“Writing is a struggle against silence.”
“Writing is the way the moonlight touches the silky ocean in the middle of twilight.”
“Writing is the spouse of music.”
“Writing is a way to entwine souls, so we can touch each other through distance and time and language.”
“Writing is your own adventure. Your own world. A place were you have freedom to do whatever you want and make anything happen.”
I end with this one intentionally because I believe on many levels this also defines the writer’s academy in general. We recently received a letter from a former student who wrote us to let us know what the writer’s academy was to her. Here are her words.
My name is Kimberley and I am writing to thank you for a particular summer of the Writers Academy. Nine years ago, in 2004, I met a classroom of middle schoolers like me, who would rather write stories and keep journals than play wiffle ball in the middle of July. In this class, I met fellow student Haley, and we instantly became friends. We continued attending Writers Academy every summer until we were too old, going to the Dairy Bar and people-watching in the MUB and inventing their ludicrous backstories.
Haley and I didn’t live in the same town, and attended rival high schools. The only interaction we would have ever had is from opposite sides of the football field. Without Writers Academy, we would have never crossed paths, but I’m extremely fortunate we did. We remain best friends to this day, and we just returned from a two week cross-country road trip, driving out to Los Angeles. Of course, because we didn’t meet at Writers Academy for nothing, we kept meticulous journals the entire way, and are currently working on a screenplay based on our adventures. When we make it big, we’ll credit Writers Academy for bringing us together.
Thank you again for the wonderful program!
At the risk of sounding boastful I agree, it is a wonderful program. One that continues to grow and thrive as more and more writers come to us, but at the same time there is a sadness that comes as well because everything I teach at the Writer’s Academy is grounded in how I teach and taught as a teacher in the public school system. THIS WAS SCHOOL!! Freedom, choice, adventure, passion, play and life were all part of our everyday curriculum and yet this is no longer the case. And while it keeps us in business I still long for classrooms to honor choice, time and genuine response where learning is “totally not school.”