Who I Am

Everyone loves a good villain, and our young writers are no exception.

This statement came into focus as our young writers tackled their third large group activity, which incorporated the idea of “collective storytelling.” Instructor Carmen Schober led the writers in three attempts to “tell one big story together.” The writers prefaced each round by establishing “The Hero’s Journey”: Who was our hero; what was his or her destination; and who or what is the “demon” during the journey? Each story also needed to contain structural elements found in all traditional stories, such as rising action, climax, and a resolution. These plot points were decided ahead of time, however; the writers would have to feed off each other’s ideas and find their own way.

And they only had twenty seconds each to do so.

The first story was a spin on the Harry Potter universe (we have quite a few Potter fans this year!), centering on George Weasley and his struggle to gain closure after the loss of his twin brother, Fred. George’s destination was Romania to visit an older brother, and his demon was another brother, Percy. Along the way, George gained and lost a Pegasus or two, and received the closure he desperately sought. Coming together to tell a story set in a universe most of them knew and loved, the writers were ready for Rounds Two and Three.

The other two stories got a little darker: One was a psychological thriller involving Greek gods and a cure for Ebola, while another featured a shape-shifting villain named Alex who became unlikely allies with Bilbo Baggins in his quest to destroy the hero Joe Nicholas. It was evident that our writers have a soft spot for villains, but the greatest aspect of this activity was how it allowed each writer to contribute, delivering twists in the narrative that showed a strong understanding of exciting storytelling.

The second large group activity was a continuation of the “found object” exercise the writers worked on earlier in the week. As they prepare for their public reading on Friday, the writers were asked to choose a random object (provided by our instructors) and incorporate it into the work they will be reading.  Today, in addition to their chosen object, they were given new ones to include in their story or poem.

Let these objects “add another dimension to your character.” – Instructor Brian McCarty.

Even if they were stumped at first, the writers didn’t let it show: they happily took their new objects and found innovative ways to include them in the work. One of our writers had begun a story about a dog in a sled race when she was assigned a bag of puzzle pieces. She decided to name one of the dogs Jigsaw!

BOOM. Once again, our writers are amazing.

Before any of us knew it, the afternoon hit and our third visiting writer arrived: Glenn North*, former Poet-in-Residence and Education Manager at the American Jazz Museum in Kansas City, Missouri, and current Poet-in-Residence at the Black Archives of Mid-America. Glenn shared his journey of becoming a spoken-word artist, a story peppered with powerful poems of his own: The first, “Prodigal Poem,” was inspired by his time working with inmates at a juvenile detention center, while “Revival” tied into the discussion of his work at the American Jazz Museum and Kansas City’s historic influence on jazz music.

 “This poem won’t make it past its 21st line.” – Glenn North, performing “Prodigal Poem.”

“Jazz, like matter, cannot be destroyed.” – Glenn North, performing “Revival.”

The writers were eager to uncover Glenn’s approach to writing, asking him about how he overcomes writer’s block and what he believes sets poetry apart from other forms of writing.

“Help the reader have an experience.” – Glenn North

“Confront the blank page…the more I do it, the more confident I become.” – Glenn North

“It’s okay to have butterflies in your stomach, as long as they fly in formation.” – Glenn North

From there, Glenn led the writers in creating their own “I Am” poems. After listing off and writing down various items under umbrella topics such as weather conditions and colors, the writers took from these newly created “word palettes” and wove each into poetic statements of self-identity.

Glenn North and one of our young writers discussing her work. 

Quite a few of our writers offered to read their poems, and of course, they were brilliant.

 “Inside I am full of stories no one will ever read.” 

“Although I am from the small town of Junction City, I am bigger than that.” 

“I will remain thoughtful and I will question everything, because I am Kay.” 

“I am a fire rumbling like a chorus of drums.” 

“I am caring like a soothing violin.”

Needless to say, it was a day of self-discovery for our young writers. Each uncovered new aspects of their growing talents and revealed them unflinchingly to their peers. So, who are they?

They are writers.

~ Dustin Vann, Program Assistant

*For more information on Glenn North and work with the Black Archives of Mid-America, click here: http://blackarchives.org/

To learn more about the American Jazz Museum: http://americanjazzmuseum.org/

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