I arrived at BSA a little nervous. I was particularly concerned about the reception the students would give me. I was mistaken. The students were great. They were so eager to learn and completely engaged. They were not timid, as I had expected. In fact, I gave one of the students a nickname: Mr. Enthusiastic. And in true Mr. Enthusiastic form, he accepted the name with open arms.
We began with introductions. I introduced myself and told them a little bit about my writing style (they were especially interested in my writing and asked me to bring them some samples). I had each student tell me their name, their concentration at BSA, what they hoped to get out of the class, and their favorite book or the last book they read. The answers they gave in response to the latter questions - class and book - were very sophisticated. As far as what they hoped to get out of the class, answers ranged from more focused pieces to less flowery words that seem out of place. Mr. Enthusiastic gave the most intriguing answer. He hopes the class can help him figure out why he writes what he writes and why he writes in the way he writes. At first, I told him his goals were maybe too psychological and probably beyond the scope of the course. But after we went back and forth I realized that I may have spoken too soon. Because I ended up telling him that the class may be helpful after all. The more writing he does, the more I believe Mr. Enthusiastic will become better acquainted with himself as a writer and answer these lingering psychological questions. He's a very dynamic kid; when he asked, rhetorically, "...who really wants to read a story about people who get along..." I knew I was going to get some interesting pieces from him.
I was very impressed with the books they highlighted. They ranged from Dante's Inferno, Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns, some Virginia Woolf...the list goes on. I was waiting for the inevitable Harry Potter answer, it never came. These kids are pretty informed.
I asked them what they thought the elemets of good storytelling were. They touched on the appropriates elments: good narrative, setting, conflict, climax, POV, etc. They did not miss a beat on this question either. We then moved on to the short story I had for them: Toni Morrison's Recitatif. We read the first page together in class and discussed the racial ambiguity of the characters. In Recitatif, Morrison is intentionally ambiguous about the racial identities of the two main characters. The story refers to the characters as "salt and pepper;" the reader inevitably spends the entire time trying to figure out who's salt and who's pepper. I'm still not sure. I was very impressed with the ease with which they approached the issue. When Mr. Enthusiastic commented that Twyla, one of the characters, was pepper because "...what white person names their child Twyla?" the class responded with comfortable laughter. I asked my students to finish reading the story at home. As a fun exercise I asked them to continue to look for clues on the racial identities of the characters. I also asked them to highlight a line or phrase that they found interesting and would love to emulate in their own writing.
For this Friday, I have asked them to write a one-page story. I told them they could take the story in any direction they pleased. I am most interested in where they are as writers.
I am very excited to read their stories. My class is filled with mostly actors; I can't wait to see how that translates on paper.