I read Accommodation and Resistence On (the Color) Line: Black Writer’s Meet White Artists on the Internet by Teresa Redd of Howard University. She shed light on the dynamics of race in America, but also some realities of write-reader relationship I had not thought about before. The latter part (writer-reader relationship) is the most relevant to our WAC class.
Redd collaborated with a graphics design professor at Montana State University with an interesting idea in mind. Have a class of predominately black students write about the “cause and effect of racism” to a class of predominately white students via e-mail. The white students would take the writers’ essays and turn them into graphic designs. Both writer and artist would give one another feed back about the work–the writer assesses the graphic representation of their essays, and the artists would assess the writer’s work. Based on the suggestions made, both would make revisions.
To make the project more intriguing, these were not just two different races talking to each other; these were students who came from different environments. The black students grew up in a black community while the students in Montana had little interaction with people of color. The professor from MSU, Newman-James, wrote:
A surprisingly large number of my students come from one-room schools or had high school graduating classes of less than 10 people. Montana is the fourth largest land-mass state, and the fourth smallest population-wise. This means that MSU students, 90% of whom are Montana residents are often more familiar with land, horses, and cattle than [with] people. According to the 1990 census, less than 0.3% of Montana's population is black. (On (the Color) Line 1995, 1)
Redd points out in her article that she observed how her students wrote about race without considering the implications of their views and any opposition they might meet. After all, only one person will read the essays: Redd. She grades their work. Would it be different if students wrote to a true audience?
I expected for Redd to explain how her students revised their paper with their audience’s thoughts in mind.
I was wrong.
Some students took the comments to heart, others not so much and defended their views, believing their readers did not have enough authority on academic writing. I’ve never question the authority of the reader. When I wrote blogs or short stories, I have the audience in mind. I want my work to be clear, concise, and respectful to the reader. If a reader disagreed with me, I wouldn’t downplay their authority. I accept their opinions, think about what they said, and objectively admit they are right or wrong, depending on what they say (and how they say it).
More importantly, some students did what Redd calls e-vision: Students would answer their readers’ comment in an e-mail, but that same answer would not appear in the actual essay. So you can have a student that tells their reader, “That’s a good point”. But they won’t say that in the essay.
Redd’s assumptions about how a true audience would help students improve their writing were challenge; my assumptions were challenged, too. I love to get my students together and reach each other’s work, taking to heart the comments they got. But it always doesn’t work the way I want them to. Addressing a true audience–not a professor with grades to hand out–doesn’t always come out the right way.
I doubt any other article in the WAC Clearinghouse has tips on writing an effective ransom note. Kerry Dirk in “Navigating Genre” does and I was thinking about ransom notes as I read through his article. Granted, the ransom note is an example; no, this article gives a broad discussion on the genre. Sorry if you’re in a financial bind and need advice on writing a ransom note after kidnapping someone’s son.
Genre is an amazing concept–it gives the writer a basic structure to work with; it lets the writer focus and concentrate on what they want to say, and others have written in whatever genre the writer chooses, so they have examples to follow. That’s how a genre gets started–someone sets a precedent for everyone else . Why do our presidents give a State of the Union Address? George Washington created that genre.
And that’s one thing I take from this article: genre can be anything. Being a creative writer, I think of genre in fiction. I love fantasy and science fiction; I’ve recently started a book in the rock fiction genre (without having read any examples; I know that it involves music, and that’s all I need to know right now). Horror, romance, historical fiction, mystery–this is genre to me. When I think of nonfiction, I think of newspapers, memoirs, biographies, research essays. But then I remember the list of genres we put on the board on the first day of class and I realize everything write is a genre: Blogs? Genre. Memos? Genre. A love letter? Genre. A Facebook status update? Genre. How about text messages? Sure, we throw conventional English out the window when we text, but it is a genre.
If anything can be a genre, academia has no room for arrogance. I mean, English majors and professors can dismiss forms of writing as “non-literary”. But I say a text message can be literary. Dr. King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”? That’s literary. And what is literary anyway. Who decides what is of literary merit and what is not? I’m an English educator and should know these answers, but I don’t, yet. I just hope my future students don’t ask me until I do find out.
The most hilarious part of this article is when Kerry suggests what it would be like if we switched genres: if a newscast is a rap song and a rap song is presented as a newscast. There’s a time and place for everything–every genre has a specific purpose and for some should not cross each other. But I’m all for genre-crossing. I think I might pay attention to the news if Bruno Mars or Justin Timberlake (heck, even Justin Bieber) song news reports to me.
Maybe I’ll experiment with a genre I’ve written before. But not the ransom note. I haven’t kidnapped anyone yet.
You should do something for your country instead of always asking for what your country can do for you.
Roman statesman and orator
Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.
John F. Kennedy
35th President of the United States
Originality requires influence. Originality is also the art of hiding your sources. That’s why I’m not going to say who came up with either of the first two sentences. But my issue with influence and plagiarism is just that: not revealing your sources.
It’s quite simple, really. For example, “The use of language begins with imitation. The infant imitates the sounds made by its parents; the child imitates first the spoken language, then the stuff of books. The imitative life continues long after the writer is secure in the language, for it is almost impossible to avoid imitating what one admires.” E.B. White wrote these brilliant sentences in The Elements of Style, a book which, ironically, E.B. White did not write, but \ extended in many editions. The original writer of this book was White’s English professor at Cornell University, William Strunk Jr.
I began writing for fun in the third grade. My first book was about covert espionage–secret agent Timothy “Ty” Stevens traveled the world to fight terrorism. The story later turned into a trilogy, and that would not have been possible if I had not played the video game Syphon Filter for the Sony PlayStation. In fact, the third book was a total ripoff of the second game of the series (I was lazy and in a rush to finish). As I got older, I ventured into writing other stories not necessarily based on my favorite books, movies, or television shows, but they did influence my stories: Star Trek, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and The Chronicles of Narnia all had a hand in my earlier works, and they still do today.
Humans can’t avoid influence; we are social creatures. We love to work in groups and speak with others in a fit of excitement or boredom, depending on the topic and who’s talking. It should be no surprise that great artists like T.S. Eliot and William Shakespeare “borrowed” the works of others.
Why do they deserve recognition in schools around the world? Probably because they worked in the spirit of copyright’s original purpose. It gives “authors the right to their original expression, but encourages others to build freely upon the ideas and information conveyed by a work.” Jonathan Lethem said that last sentence, by the way. Sure, Shakespeare lifted material from previous plays and history. We praise him for transforming these ideas into something fresh. We praise him for his masterful expression of universal human experience: laughter, sadness, hatred, love, doubt, loneliness, death, life. Somehow, we are able to better understand our world because of an artist’s work. He did something better than his predecessors.
However, artists lose respect and credibility if they do not openly admit where their work came from. There’s no need to hide the source–the modern world will eventually find out. With the Internet at our disposal, with the world shrinking into a small village, and with the collective knowledge of humanity, we will discover who you copied.
But we’ll still love your work.
This September marks the 10th anniversary of the day terrorists attacked the World Trade Center. While a significant event of my generation, I feel disconnected from it; the passage of time has numbed me–and Americans, I think–from September 11’s impact. We’ve gotten used to how things are, some times forgetting why. To shack off that numbness, read essays and articles from the months after September 11th. Regina M. Buccola’s ‘”When All the Riches of the World Stand Waste…”‘ describes WAC working hard in a time of tragedy.
The title of this essays comes from an Anglo-Saxon alliterative poem called “The Wanderer”. Buccola reads this poem to her class the day after September 11th. Too often I hear my friends ask me, “What’s the point of writing and literature when I want to be a musician, or “What’s the point of writing and literature when I’m going to be a mechanic?” In this moment of tragedy, Buccola can get the point of literature across to her students in her British literature survet class. Because of September 11th, they were open to how it works. Reading “The Wanderer” was a great idea because it conveyed a common human event: decay, destruction, changing times, yearning for the past.
“We write to record our thoughts,” explains Buccola, “and we think in order to understand our very existence. Writing—whether in alliterative verse or philosophical prose—is an inextricable part of the human condition. Never before had it been so easy to get students to understand the importance, the value of poetry.” I love that statement because she articulates what I’ve tried to tell my friends. I also love that texts like “The Wanderer” “was actually preserved because of its theological or historical value and not necessarily for its literary merits.”
With this in mind, Buccola combines creative writing, literature, and history: the students must write a historical narrative about September 11th using allerative verse. This idea is fantastic; students get to be creative but also participat in a writing technique that dates back thousands of years. Even more fantastic, Buccola writes she does this often. I wish my survey classes did this, because students need more stimulus than five question quizes, idenitification exams, and two papers. A work can be more rewarding if it requires some creativity–than the works becomes your own. Something positive came out of this tragic event.
I’m reading “Creativity and Collaboration in the Academy” and my initial thought was, “Wow, this is boring!” However, I had to read it as a WAC student and not as someone reading for leisure.
The section explaining the barriers between disciplines that prevent their collaborating grabbed my attention, especially the scepticism of interdisciplinary collaboration and different priorities. This kind of thinking spills over into education–every content area has a place but none of them can touch. On college campuses, every discipline has a building and within those buildings, each department have a set of offices. Discplines in education are individualized and compartmentalized. It’s unsurprising, then, scholars fail to see the value of collaborating.
The document desribed a great solution offered by participants: talk more, explore ideas, and discover where the disciplines meet. Not only does this expand research, generate innovations in technology and science, but it becomes a model for teaching in public schools: bring students’ classes together and see how history connects with science and math and language arts. What they learn in each content and seeing how each content relate to one another soldifies their knowledge and working memory. Anne Balsamo, USC School of Cinematic Arts and the Annenberg School professor, says it best in the document: “It engages multiple intelligences and creates ‘deep knowledge’ (to know something is to ‘know it’ from multiple perspectives).”
Not so boring after all!
Or so my thoughts go. I entered a short short story contest last month, hosted by American Short Fiction. I wrote “Stoop” in February, and spent weeks editing and revising, cutting the story down to the required 1,000 words or less, coming in at 906 words. I tried to let several of my friends read the story to get their thoughts–only two replied. But it was positive commentary. Entering the contest I didn’t expect to win.
And, of course, I didn’t win, and even though that was my expectation, it still hurt, because I put a lot of work into that story. As an award to the losers and to make them feel better, the magazine posted on their website, “Great job! Thanks to all who entered; it was a difficult choice!” I’m sure it was.
After I wiped away my tears, I did some thinking; writing has been my favorite activity since 5th grade, writing a trilogy inspired by a video game, and it was fun. Okay, the main character killed terrorists for a living, a little violent for an 11 year-old, but still, I get three books out of it. And after I finished each book, I designed my own cover art, stapled the pages, and then wrote a summary on the back. It was awesome. After that, I moved on to the next idea.
Then I thought about how many I’ve read on writing. On Writing Well, A Writer’s Companion, Sol Stein on Writing, On Becoming a Novelist, and The Art of Fiction. I haven’t read a single book on publishing. That means since the 5th grade I have cared more about the writing process, perfecting the art of writing, than getting published. William Zinsser, author of On Writing Well, was once asked to give a writer some advice on getting published. Zinsser said he didn’t know anything about getting published, and didn’t care about publishing. He always says, “Fear the final product.” Don’t feel your head with the results of having finished your work: fame, money, interviews, autographs, movie deals. Concentrate on the writing process.
In fact, none of the books on writing I’ve read ever say, “With these tools, you’re ready to get published.” No! Their mission is to help the reader improve their writing. John Gardner, author if The Art of Fiction and On Becoming a Novelist, spends a few pages writing about publication in On Becoming a Novelist, but at the end of the book, and after spending hundreds of pages talking about writing a novel.
I shouldn’t care too much about publication; just perfect the craft of writing. That’s the key. And if I want to publish something I can do it on the Internet.
And that brings me to the idea I have, but that’s for another post.