Thursday, July 10, 2008

Writers Helping Writers

I'm very lucky to be a writer who teaches writing. I always tell my students that they help me learn to write, give me material for writing, too, and in return, I try to give them everything I've got. It's not a bargain; it's a statement of the value I get out of my job. But there's always so much more to do, so much more that could be done.

Last spring, I had a stack of essays in my introduction to fiction class that I wanted to publish together and distribute in some way. It was a fairly simple assignment--relate a story in our book to your life and talk about what insights it gives you into your experience and what insights your experience gives you into the story. Anyway, I was blown away by the variety and the power of that group of essays, and I unfortunately was turning them back in the very last period and all I could really do was write many encouraging notes telling them to get these things out to other people. It made me think of the many missed opportunities I have had over the years to do more with my students' work.

The following post by one of the writers who's most helped this writer suggests new directions and demands that people like myself (and yourself?) answer its call--

Have You Helped A Writer Today?

Everyday we are given the message. Directly or indirectly. Writing is for the few, the special anointed ones.


Millions of us are writing and writing well. Millions more will start writing if just offered encouragement and maybe a little guidance.

This is where Mike the Poet entered the picture.

For the past year Mike, one of LA's best-known poets and a co-founder of the Council of Venues, has been teaching poetry classes at View Park Prep Charter High School in the Crenshaw district of Los Angeles. His students have just published Views from View Park, a collection of the work of 25 student poets.

Views from View Park breathes fire and oozes sadness. The poets deal with everything from coming of age to war in the streets, everything from love and hate to war in the Middle East. They search for meaning as they define right and wrong. The poets write with the command and confidence which Mike has brought out of them. They all have something important to say.

What is the significance of what Mike the Poet has done? Is it to be a mentor, a facilitator, a comrade in rhyme? Yes, of course. But much more. America is changing. The vast majority now see through the 24-7 haze of lies and oppose the war in Iraq. 70 per cent say they want universal health care. Immigrants get support from across all lines of race and geography. Everyone except the cops wants peace in the streets.

Within this growing consensus for a new world is an army of writers picking up the pen. They must be heard or all is lost. The efforts of Mike the Poet and everyone else reading this email in making that happen are as important as anything on the planet.

What kind of world do we want? View Park student Alaina Scott describes it well in "Community Poem":

Rule the world through flavor...

If you have a venue where one or more of these students can read, contact Mike the Poet at Ditto if you would like to get a copy of Views from View Park.

Back in the day when I stumbled into my fifteen minutes of fame, I was in New York on a book tour and I called a well-known writer at New Yorker magazine to ask for advice on a few things. "Writers don't help other writers," he snapped before he hung up on me.

Is he right?


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