Tuesday, January 12, 2010

From Potential to Power: Reading and Writing the National Gallery

As teachers of writing, we are acutely aware of how important the presence of an authentic audience can be for students' motivation to write. Though my state’s standards call for students to “write for real or potentially real situations” [emphasis mine], it’s a challenge to find such opportunities on a regular basis.

When I first heard about the National Gallery of Writing, I was naturally excited about the idea of NCTE launching a large-scale project to highlight the centrality of audience and publication in the writing process. I find that the Gallery has achieved that goal, and I’ve enjoyed my time spent browsing galleries that interest me and searching for entries by friends, colleagues, and community members.

It wasn’t until mid-November, though, that the real power of the Gallery became clear to me. I was at my Writing Project’s reunion dinner when a Teacher Consultant described a local gallery he curates. Knowing his students’ interest in giving voice to their ideas with a real audience, he had them submit pieces of creative writing, opinion pieces, poetry, and multi-modal compositions (many of which were about the power of language and writing in their own lives) to the Gallery. His students are incarcerated men.

I respect this colleague’s work generally, and I’m very interested in the intense social justice approach his work is taking, so I rushed home from the meeting to have a look at the submissions in the gallery, Education Justice Project: Voices from Prison. What I found there confirmed my sense of the importance of a National Gallery of Writing, as the authors represented in that gallery are truly among the most voiceless in America. Yet their writing is as poignant, thoughtful, and articulate as anything else I’ve read in the Gallery.

Though I could point to any number of examples, I encourage you to read “On ‘Being pushed’ vs. ‘Being pushed around,’” a two-part piece that contains a foreword and a letter to the author’s son. Admittedly, being a father of a young son and a believer in the power of writing myself, I’m perhaps biased in my assessment. But I think you’ll agree that, with introductory material that describes the written journal he’s keeping for his son and that specifically identifies his ability to “pour [his] emotions onto the pages that [he] writes[s]”—to say nothing of the contents of the letter itself—this is writing that both profited from and richly deserves the potential to be read.

With this in mind, take some time in the weeks to come to help ensure that the audience for the writing in the National Gallery is real—not just potentially real. Search for pieces written by children the same age as your students by using the age range filter and share them with your classes. Have students look for writing on topics that interest them by using a title keyword search. Using other search tools, such as author’s state of residence, technology used, or media type, find a piece that is particularly inspiring to you and share it on Facebook, Twitter, or another social networking site.

However you go about it, capitalize on the rich potential of the National Gallery of Writing to help get the word out about the importance of writing in every aspect of our lives.


Jay said...

I am excited about the National Gallery and have been anxious to figure a way to incorporate it into my classroom. I think I will start by creating my own gallery for my Winter 2010 Creative Writing Class.

JD Meyer said...

I heard from reliable sources that it's a no-no to have composition topics about Texas--two publishers and one friend. I don't know if all regional essays are verboten. But I find it sickening if we are to achieve authenticity. Tell me if you've heard similar prohibitions.