AWP2016 Los Angeles style

Panel session report

Creative Writing and Resistance in the Classroom: Helping Students Write Social Justice.

An importatant discussion on  confronting  writing about  issues of social justice writing  in our classrooms.  I struggle finding open and effective ways to teach my students rhetoric based content that reflects important sociopolitical  issues. The panel gave examples of writing exercises and practical ideas to implement in writing workshops.


Creative writing students compelled to write about social justice may
be intimated by the challenges of shaping art, craft, and social forces in
their writing. How do teachers encourage students to explore political
inequality and injustice, while crafting narrative art? Panelists discuss
specific pedagogical approaches and techniques that both respect
students’ backgrounds and beliefs and encourage their exploration,
examination, and literary engagement with our complex world
Cast of Characters:  Hayan Charara,  Achy Obejas,     Nan Cuba , Ellen Meeropol,
If you have a moment check out Hayan Charara reading “Out, Out” by R. Frost
  • Creative writing that is grounded in good craft provokes conversations about social justice and diversity and gets recognized as literature.
  • To over come resistance of writing about social justice issues: Use rhetoric for argument, counter argument and debate. Use creative writing for empathy
  • From Achy: Take a story like Indian Camp, by Hemingway, where the Indians never speak.  Come up with a set of questions. Why suicide? Why is the doctor unprepared?  Why does George vanish? . Reconsider the story by recasting it.  Tell the story from a different character’s POV and ask the original questions. They seem different now.
  • Teaching social justice takes empathy and courage. In order for this to work you need to
    • assume responsibility
    • anticipate the resistance
    • question the canonical texts
    • understand that it is challenging to write outside demographics.
    • good to ponder what we know and what we don’t know
  • Challenge students notions about scene in dramatic story. Ignore facts, and extract drama from a minor character.
  • Change a major element of the narrative, either age or gender, change a dominant version as reality.
  • An exercise which can help students write and read about experience and then apply to their own realities: Choose 3 images which evoke a sense of social justice,  and have students write on the place, composition of the images and then work on the Fabula. Then choose 6 words or less for the titles.
  • Hayan- There’s a resistance in the classroom to so called “political poems.” Some think they are propagandist poems to sway the reader.  However, If one is an Arab is hard not to live politically. The personal is tied up in the political.  Check out the creatively charged space program in the University of Houston where Hayan teaches.

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