Historically Speaking

Well, readers, we hope you’ve made the most of this break in the heat. Our young writers certainly did!

After answering the daily morning question, the young writers played a few games to refresh each other on their names.

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High-octane memorization: one-part hand-eye
coordination, one-part alliterations on names.

We then moved inside to begin thinking about history and how people interpret their own narratives. Specifically, our young writers spent much of the morning learning and thinking about the internment of Japanese and Japanese-Americans during World War II. At the moment, the Beach Museum of Art is displaying two collections about life in the internment camps. Today, the young writers took a tour of “Minidoka on My Mind,” an exhibit of paintings and prints by Roger Shimomura. Kathrine Schlageck, senior educator at the Museum, led the tour and had the writers interpret some of Shimomura’s works.

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What do you make of the
clouds in this piece?

After their tour, the writers returned to the UMB Theater, our headquarters for the week, and used their cell phones to find out a little more about the Japanese internment. One of our instructors, Kirsten, had them download a QR code reader, which they used to scan a code linked to oral testimonies from Japanese-Americans about their time in the camps.

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You, too, can listen to George Takei (known for his role as Sulu in the original Star Trek series) and Pat Morita (known for his role as Mr. Miyagi in the original Karate Kid series) discuss their experiences living in Japanese internment camps. Just scan the code above!

With this new-found historical background, the young writers began to consider how they could create works of fiction using this information as a springboard into another world. The writers returned to Shimomura’s work, “Memories of Childhood (Suite of Twelve).” At the bottom of each lithograph, Shimomura wrote a sentence-long caption. This caption then became the first sentence in the young writers’ story, which could include the internment camps or take place in another location entirely.

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“My first memory of life is celebrating my birthday in camp.” – Robert Shimomura

Then they got to writing.

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Just look at that determination. You just know they’re cooking up something incredible.

The writers then broke into their groups to read their pieces aloud and to receive feedback on the worlds and stories they were creating.

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Our young writers know that collaboration is essential to the writing process.

After lunch, the young writers were visited by oral historian Robin Ottoson, a Ph.D. candidate in History at Kansas State. Robin is currently at work interviewing Mennonite communities across Kansas to record their oral histories. In her talk, Robin answered the questions we poised to the young writers in the morning: Whom do you know that tells the best stories? Robin said that her grandmother told the best stories in her family and is the reason she began collecting oral histories.

But what makes an oral history? What do we remember from years ago? Robin noted that, for many of us, we remember sensory details the best. And so, she had our young writers venture out onto Kansas State’s campus with walking sticks in-hand to find some sights, sounds, smells, and tactile sensations.

They walked around the meadow just north of the Beach Museum…

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Writers in their natural habitat.

Stopped by Danforth Chapel and heard some piano playing…

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Art, music, and writing all
in one day? Talk about an artistic bunch.

And passed by the President’s House.

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I never even realized the
President’s house was over here!

With all of those specific details in mind, the young writers created imagined backstories for groups of fellow travelers united in a quest, using sensory details to give them backgrounds. The groups then collected oral histories from one another.

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Behold the Banana Lambs, who
went on a quest to a temple.

To round out the day, the young writers thought about a real life person they’d like to interview.

Whose personal history do you want to hear about? How would you tell their story?

And remember: keep checking back as the week progresses, and follow us on Twitter and Facebook!

-Hunter Gilson, Program Assistant

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