Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Teacher's Pet

You have a class of creative writing students, some of them loaded with natural talent turn in beautifully written work, another struggles with his basic grammar but clearly has something to say.

Who deserves the teachers help the most?

And who succeeds in the end?

Ayse Papatya Bucak assistant professor of English at Florida Atlantic University talks about the student he hardly knew, Ishmael Beah (left), whose heartbreaking memoir A Long Way Gone is in all the bookstores now and very well worth reading.

He writes more about teaching Beah on his blog:
But what the memoir made me think about was naturally the workshop in which I knew Ishmael. The writing he was doing then (fiction, drama and poetry) was all grounded in his real experiences (though not the worst of them) and fortunately I had a class that recognized that in workshopping this kind of autobiographical material it was important to be sensitive. At the time, his writing was still full of ESL mistakes and honestly a little rough. But while we talked some about those things, the focus was always on the material--what we thought he could do with the material. And I'm glad of that because we had no idea really the extent of the horror of Ishmael's past. There was no way for us to know that by the time he was fifteen he was a trained military killer and that by the time he was eighteen he was addressing the UN about child soldiers. This was a good reminder to me that while I think I know my students, I really know very little of what their lives are like outside of the classroom, and that I shouldn't assume that I do. I don't think anything would have stopped Ishmael from writing his story, but I'm glad to say that our class was a voice of encouragement, expressing that we wanted to hear more.
Many thanks Jen for forwarding the link.

12 comments:

Greenbottle said...

that reminds me of the poor guy cho seung-hui who shot all those people...if his creative writing teachers were less stupid...perhaps things would turn out differently

lil ms d said...

i am no longer buying books on child soldiers. or african crisis. i end up a wreck!

bibliobibuli said...

greenbottle - yes, i thought the same. it's all about making judgments and being sensitive to those in your class.

ms d - this one is so good ... i am finding it more gripping that iweala's fictional account. how is the dave eggar's book?

animah said...

I had a nightmare last night about attending Haresh Sharma's workshop this weekend. For some reason we all had to draft a poem along the lines of a poet who I'd never heard of before and based on the picture of an open wardrobe (Dina's dream wardrobe again?)
First I couldn't find the right paper to write on, then the mike didn't work (which was under the charge of my ever efficient friend Ping), then I couldn't find the poem. And I felt Jo and Haresh looking daggers at me.
Worse, my dad, daughter and my friend Diana were all avidly writing their own poem.
I heard the last bit of Diana's - she said "eee". Very profound I thought. Mine contained the words drip, muck and words that rhymme with muck. But I never read it.
Gosh, I haven't had an anxiety dream in ages.

bibliobibuli said...

i think you're just scared they will find out you're a potential serial killer

animah said...

Oh, that's all right then.

You were there too. Collecting 50sen from everyone for lunch.

bibliobibuli said...

*phew* i thought i'd been left out of your dream!

50sen for lunch ... now what was i going to buy for you all with that?

lil ms d said...

i am reading suite francaise. tragic, romantic but sure makes one want to be in a war in 1940s france/germany. whereas the african war stories... haiyo. i'll be on xanax if i keep on reading about them. havent read eggers yet, want to finish SF and then read japanese fairy tales.

animah said...

Ms D, Fairy tales. Hmmm, should be quite pleasant without any violence.

Anonymous said...

Content > "grammar rules" every time , especially if the unorthodox grammar helps the story. Shakespeare himself said that leaves curdled :D

bibliobibuli said...

the finished book though is beautifully written. just shows how all writers can get there in the end.

Jen said...

You're welcome :)