Mississippi poet laureate (and Ole Miss creative writing professor) Beth Ann Fennelly visited ASFA today to read from her latest book, Heating & Cooling: 52 Micromemoirs. (What’s a micromemoir? It’s a hummingbird of words, of course. It’s also a liberating invitation to write small, light, and with all your heart.) After reading selections from the book — ranging from funny one-liners to longer reflections on how powerless a parent can feel in the face of a child’s mysterious suffering — Beth Ann invited us to write our own micromemoirs and graciously shared the mic with anyone brave enough to read what they’d written. Many thanks to Beth Ann for sharing her formidable talents as a writer, reader, and teacher with us!
Earlier this month, Ashley Jones’s Literature of the African Diaspora class welcomed Nettie Weddington (and a few production teams from local news programs) for a memorable class visit. As a teenager, Ms. Weddington participated in the 1963 Birmingham campaign of the Civil Rights movement, which was a powerful catalyst for ending legalized segregation in the South and which produced some of the most searing and lasting images of the struggle for racial equality in America. (For more about Birmingham’s storied Civil Rights “Foot Soldiers,” you might want to check out Weld editor Nick Patterson’s Birmingham Foot Soldiers: Voices from the Civil Rights Movement.) After an enlightening classroom discussion, Ms. Weddington and Ms. Jones led the students as they retraced the Foot Soldiers’ steps to Kelly Ingram Park and the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church — just a few short blocks away from the school — reminding the students (and all of us) that we’re never very far removed from the histories that have shaped us.
Our talented colleagues down at the Booker T. Washington Magnet High School in Montgomery (AL) have a new going concern:
Actually, it’s a revitalization of a publication that was undergoing a fallow period. The digital world has renewed it, and that’s a good thing. If you’re a writer and you’re in high school, you need to check it out and send them your work!
Check it out:
- That’s Eustace up there. Talking. About himself.
- And this is Elizabeth Gilbert. Talking. About Eustace (click “Listen” when you get there). And “talking” about lots of other things. Namely (but not exclusively): herself.
Yes. Check it out and then comment in the (of course) comments section. Write a nice, meaty paragraph or two in which you respond to some aspect of your whole experience of Eustace — maybe starting with the idea of what’s real and how a writer conveys a sense of reality in A) writing about another person and B) creating his/her own “persona” (in writing or in “real” life).
- [For instance: what’s all the historical background stuff doing in the chapter of The Last American Man you read? How does it help render Eustace more realistically? How does it help create Elizabeth Gilbert’s persona/voice as a writer?]
Or just. You know. Whatever you want to say about the whole Eustace phenomenon.
- There’s more than a little connection between Eustace’s talk and the whole question of multiple intelligences and teaching/learning in the 21st Century.
- Also: here’s how you get to Turtle Island. Sort of. But not “really.”
Again, everyone keep in mind what we’ve got coming up. As I conference individually with your classmates this week, you’re expected to make autonomous headway on the to-do list.
Also remember that when I conference with you, I’d like to talk about four different things:
- Your lit mag submissions process
- Your college search process
- Your publication project
- Your Norman Mailer submission
(M)…Princeton Poetry entries due. Click here for guidelines. Conference with Julia and Hannah.
(T)…Conference with Jasmine and Lily.
…Conference with Rolfe and Devin.
(Th)…9th Grade Reading. (I’ll conference with Sarah and Antoinette during 8th period sometime this week.)
When you’re reading someone else’s poem, seek to answer the following three sets of (related) larger questions:
- What is the poem trying to do? Where is it achieving that intention? Where could it do more to achieve it? Is there a latent intention that could be teased out of the poem?
- How is the poem working on the level of the syllable? word? phrase? line? Does the poem’s form fit its function?
- How does the poem communicate — is it logical/literal (makes sense) or intuitive/figurative (doesn’t make sense) or somewhere in between? Where do you need more of one or the other communication style (i.e., more logic or more leaping)? Here focus on metaphors, images, symbols, connotations, allusions…those sorts of things.
REMEMBER TONE. Your word choices matter. “Annoying” is a case in point — it tends to crop up here and there. I find it particularly annoying. Avoid it and any other word that conveys a similar adversarial tone.
It was Elvis’s motto, and if it’s good enough for The King, it’s good enough for me. It stands for “Taking Care of Business.” For our purposes, it’s “Class Participation” on steroids. The trouble with your everyday, garden-variety “Class Participation” is it sort of implies that if you just do your work and don’t make somebody cry, you’ll get full credit for it. Yes, I want you to do your work. No, I don’t want you to make anybody cry. But that’s an exceedingly low bar, is it not?
What I really want is for you to be a writer:
- Writers show up to do the work.
- Writers engage. Ideas. The human experience. The world.
- Writers have empathy for anyone brave enough to stake a claim to what she/he thinks.
- Writer’s know they don’t know everything. Not knowing is the fun part.
- Writers pay attention.
- Writers are curious.
- Writers read.
- Writers listen.
- Writers think.
- Writers write. A lot.
Okay, maybe not all writers do all those things. But if you’re doing all those things, then you, my friend, are definitely “TCOB” as far as I’m concerned.