Thursday, January 10, 2008

Back to Public School Week Four

Posted by Rebecca Wallace-Segall

I headed to a public school on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn yesterday to lead the fourth session of a 12-week memoir project. The school hired me to provide creative writing enrichment for their freshmen. After a tough first week, I began to feel like I was making a bit of headway here and there the second and third weeks.

Update: Group Two

This time, I hadn't seen the kids in two weeks (winter break and Regents prep) and was anxious to get the memoir project back on track. I had been especially worried about Group Two before break since they seemed to be falling way behind the other. So just before Christmas, I asked the classroom teacher to make photo copies of the students work so I could read them over vacation. And I was shocked: many weren't behind at all. In fact their memoirs (on an injury from broken furniture, a violent mother, an HIV-infected grandmother, a manipulative neighborhood drug dealer, a nurturing aunt, the value of close friendship, etc.) were incredibly powerful--filled with contextualizing details, dialogue, and in some cases, insightful reflection.

Upon Arrival
I arrived at school excited to discuss each piece with them--and was greeted by a lovely, "Welcome back," from the teacher. "The kids were upset that you weren't here last week," she said. I was so moved... and surprised... to hear that.

But as class began I started to figure out why they had warmed up to writing memoir.

I went over to work privately with each kid for a few minutes, and one by one they revealed even more personal information to me that we immediately incorporated into their pieces. I realized in those intimate moments that they loved a few things in particular about memoir: that they were being asked questions about moments in their lives that they deem important; that they were to put their thoughts and feelings to paper without criticism, judgment... or grading; that their paragraphs were being read and understood regularly; and that their reader was visually moved by it every time.

The kids were focused and productive yesterday. And best of all, relaxed and smiley.

I think these new, young writers are beginning to realize the power of writing. And liking it. While I am experiencing the pleasure and power of teaching on Flatbush Ave--and liking it.

Next week is the last week that I will be working with these particular kids. (I will be changing classrooms within the school.) So I will write about bother groups' last sessions then.
Read more!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

A Comedy Writer--No Longer on Strike

(The following post is the second piece contributed by Steve Young, a television writer for Late Night with David Letterman, and the father of star Writopia Lab writer, Rebecca Shubert. Young has been generous enough to share his thoughts on writing, writing professionally, and on the current Writers Guild of America strike.)

Hello again Writopia Lab people,

Steve Young, the striking comedy writer here again. Except now I'm not on strike anymore. As you may have heard, David Letterman's company, which owns both The Late Show and The Late Late show, made a side deal with the Writers Guild. Dave's company basically agreed to what the Guild was asking for. It only puts a 20 or so writers back to work, but it was the first step in the "divide and conquer" strategy that the Writers Guild decided to pursue. Just yesterday we learned that a movie studio, United Artists, has made a similar deal. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, these small deals aren't the end of the strike, or even the beginning of the end, but they may be the end of the beginning.

Within a day or so of being back at work, it felt like I'd never left. All the old
habits and procedures came back, even after two months off. But the strike is never
far from our minds. We know our friends and colleagues are still out picketing and
still wondering when they'll start earning money again, and we're trying to help in
various ways like doing material about the strike on the show and sending a portion
of our salaries to the Guild's Strike Fund.
Though I know the strike has been very tough on many people, I'll always
look back fondly at my time away from work. It taught me a couple of things: I'm
quite happy not spending my life at a job. I like wandering around the city, doing a
little of this and a little of that, and being home to have dinner with my family.

However, it also turns out that I also enjoy writing. I'd been doing it for so long
under such pressure that I thought there was a good chance that I'd be happy
quitting cold turkey. But after only a week of the strike, I was ready to start
writing little humor pieces for
. It wasn't really like work; it was whatever I wanted to do. Okay, I wasn't making a dime, but I was having fun thinking of ideas, working on them, tweaking them and improving them until they were just right, and putting them out there for the world to read. I'd returned to some essential core of what got me going on my career in the first place.

I hope you will all be able to hold onto that essential core of why you write, even
when it's a struggle. It's a wonderfully satisfying feeling to wrangle and wrestle
words until you've made them convey just what you want. Of course, it's also a wonderfully satisfying feeling to get paid for it. But I'm glad to have proven to
myself that I'm not just doing it for the money.

Feel free to ask me any questions about the strike or about comedy writing. Read more!