“Writing Yourself into History”: The Young Writers Explore Poetry and Postcards

Today was a wonderful first day for our young writers and staff! Our theme was “Writing Yourself into History,” and the young writers started off the morning by responding to the question of the day: “If you were to write a postcard to the future, how would you describe 2020?”

After many creative and thoughtful responses such as “Imagine 1969 but with TikTok,” we split our young writers into the three teams they will be working with for the rest of the week and came up with team names: Variety Squad led by Dustin, the Sloths led by Adri, and the Marches (named for Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women) led by Krista.

The first task for the groups was a scavenger hunt in which the young writers were challenged to use their creativity to locate fun items such as something scaly, something chartreuse, a pineapple, and a sloth.

The Marches meet for the first time
The Variety Squad took the lead in the scavenger hunt, but everyone had something unique and interesting to contribute from snakeskin to a chartreuse spatula.
Pyper finds a sloth

Next, the young writers used one of their scavenger-hunt items as inspiration in writing their own acrostic poems. The young writers did an incredible job with their acrostics, and each approached the exercise with their own style whether they focused on alliteration, sensory details, or used their acrostic to tell a story.

The young writers read their acrostics

After sharing their poems, the young writers returned to thinking about postcards with a dialogue-writing exercise in which the young writers invented characters who would send postcards to one another. The young writers presented their dialogue by creating their own videos or through performing a dramatic reading.

Dustin (and Adri) introduce the postcard dialogue writing activity

In the afternoon, we were joined by our first visiting writer, Winniebell Zong, who taught our young writers about poetry.

Winniebell shared a variety of forms in which poetry can take, but one thing that all of the young writers agreed with is that whatever the form, the purpose of poetry stems from expression.

Winniebell discusses poetry with the young writers

To strengthen that point, Winniebell shared an inspiring video performance of Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise” with the group. She also worked with the young writers on their close reading skills with a large group close reading of Chen Chen’s “Self-Portrait as So Much Potential” followed by a small group close reading of Jericho Brown’s “Crossing.”

Winniebell Zong meets with the Variety Squad

Our group was then joined by our second visiting writer, Jonny Teklit, who taught the young writers about performance poetry.

Jonny explored the poem “We Real Cool” by Gwendolyn Brooks. By reading the poem in three different ways, Jonny showed the young writers how different emotions and emphases can change the way we perceive a poem and what stands out most to us. The young writers joined in on the fun by volunteering to read the poem with their own emphasis.

Jonny Teklit performs “We Real Cool” by Gwendolyn Brooks
The group applauds Raisa, Allie, and Stevie’s readings of “We Real Cool”

Thank you, Winniebell and Jonny!

The young writers then moved back into their small groups and tried their hands at writing their own poems based off of the Chen Chen poem we had examined earlier.

For the final exercise, the young writers created an exquisite corpse poem, each contributing their own line to the poem.

The young writers celebrate

After a day of fantastic progress, the young writers ended their day by circling back to our theme with the closing question: “You have gotten a postcard from the future and it’s good news! What does positive change look like to you?” They shared their responses on the Zoom white board.

It was an excellent first day of getting to know the young writers, and we are so excited to continue our workshop tomorrow!

See you soon.

— Cecily Cecil, Program Assistant

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