Saturday, March 08, 2008

In Which We Create A Sense of Place

I spent two days last week doing assemblies and workshops on writing place at Pike School in Andover, Massachusetts.

When I arrived, I was totally intimidated to learn I was the second author they'd invited to come, with the first being the hilarious Jack Gantos. The librarians were extremely hospitable, though, and the kids so kind that I managed to get over myself quickly.

Here are a few excerpts from the students' (fifth and seventh graders) excellent writing during the creating a sense of place workshops, with the first-person voice being my requirement:
...The door swings open and my brother is on the floor licking a bottle of coke, my twin sisters fighting over a doll, my scared brother hugging a bear in the corner, the bathroom door ajar with the dog drinking from the toilet, and the cat skipping across the piano playing her own tune. I drop my bag and grab a mop to clean up the puke on the rug ... The twins are scribbling on each other now, I take the markers and throw them away .. From the other room, I hear the t.v. moaning as it turns on, the computer loading up to check e-mails, and the phone ringing off the hook. "Lucy, what is 2 + 4?" "6," I scream ...

...As I look out across the dark blue river, I hear the whine of the oncoming water plane. I try to peek over the snow-covered bristly trees. As the plane comes into sight a flock of bright brown Canadian geese fly from where they are roosting. The calm water instantly erupts as the water plane lands ...

The murky damp air smelled of car exhaust. The street lights were dim, barely breaking through the pitch black sky. In the distance I could hear the siren of a police car. I checked each alleyway to make sure that nothing was there ...

The DJ was playing a pathetic mix of incomprehensible raps and scratching electronic beeps ... that shook the crowded room. Strangers around me were failing in their attempts to sway their bodies in matching rhythm. The glitter of sequin tank tops blurred my eyes. I could feel sweaty arms rubbing against the small of my back, and I recognized the too-strong scent of Macy's perfume swirling in the air ...

... Lawn mowers thwacked and roller skates glided and spun. Car engines roared and gasoline hung in the air. ... I plucked a juicy red cherry tomato form the garden, popped it into my mouth, and let the taste of summer wash over my tongue ...

...The court was quiet and still. I could hear my own thoughts. The leather ball felt like an extension of my hand. I shot it. "Swish." The sound was as smooth as silk ...

The cold gray wind sliced through my thin jacket as I stumbled back home. My hands were raw and red from washing dishes all night. As I flipped my collar up and rubbed my chapped hands, hoping to get a little warmth, the wind roared and whistled instead my ears leaving a hollow echo. An empty coffee cup bounced and clattered across the dirty road ... I kicked it, watching it bounce against the grimy walls of an abandoned factory. Shoving my hands in my pickets I trudged back to the place I was forced to call home...

I rushed through the heavy iron doors and right at that second I knew crispy golden brown chicken burgers were on the grill. Sweat dripped off my face as I struggled to pull the Fudds Signature hat and apron over my curly hair. "Ahem! I would like the fajita roll with a jumbo oreo milkshake." I had forgotten to ask the grey-haired, hefty man what he would like and his clenched fists told me he wasn't about to wait ...

...Cars were jammed in a row, all I could hear was honking, and none of the noisy cars were moving. People were chasing, bouncing, laughing on the bumpy sidewalk while I tried to find a way to get through ...
I've been receiving some lovely thank you notes, like this one:
Thank you for coming to our school. I have improved my writing already. All thanks to you. I know you are a busy person, so you don't have to e-mail me back. Thanks again.
Now that's courtesy, and don't worry, I wrote him back.

9 comments:

TadMack said...

WHOA.
They really, REALLY write well.

Anonymous said...

how do you present?

Mitali Perkins said...

Yes, they're fabulous, aren't they? This is without any revision or editing.

As for the workshop, I've created a powerpoint presentation during which give tips and examples.

This is followed by a one-page worksheet with step-by-step instructions and 15-20 minutes of writing time. I collect the papers and read as many as I can aloud, giving feedback and pointing out what I liked (participants LOVE this time).

I've done this workshop with groups of fifth graders all the way to adults, and it's one of my most successful presentations because it's not about me -- it's about them creating and writing and experiencing the power of the imagination. I love it.

Anonymous said...

wow, thats how they are so good!

Anonymous said...

do any of you have tips for aspiring writers?

Mitali Perkins said...

tips:

write
read
revise
get a thick skin
read some more
write some more
revise

that's about it, sorry -- it's work, but if you love it, do it

Anonymous said...

Thank you. i am always wondering what i can do to improve. what is your favorite part of writing?

Linda said...

Thank you, Mitali! Pike truly enjoyed your visit. I would be happy to recommend your workshops to any and all.

NM said...

While browsing through old times on the Pike website, I cam upon the part when you came to our school. Thank you for coming!

P.S. I have read Monsoon Summer over 15 times. I love it!!

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