In Creative Writing, we spend time together at the beginning of the school year before splitting into two groups. The freshmen and sophomores (CW I) work with Heather on poetry and fiction. The juniors and seniors (CW II) work with artists and residence on units such as poetry and nonfiction. It’s now February and CW I started our fiction unit a month ago in January.
Before we left for winter break in December, Heather told us to read six short stories from different authors and write a three to five page short story in the style of one of the writers. I used Shirley Jackson’s writing style in my short story. When we returned from break, Heather had us transfer our best paragraphs onto a shared google doc and we peet edited them. Everyone was anonymous. This exercise had its ups and downs. By keeping the authors anonymous we as writers were able to critique and look at the paragraphs as just paragraphs. There was no face behind them which made some of us feel more comfortable because we did not want to hurt anyone’s feelings. On the other hand, however, those paragraphs did have authors and their feelings should have been taken into account, which they were during a discussion later.
During the discussion, a few of us voiced that the way we went about critiquing the paragraphs was wrong, which in my opinion was. My paragraph was the first one critiqued, and while the edits were extremely helpful, I did feel vulnerable during the process. It is good to be vulnerable as a writer and open to receiving criticism, but during the critiquing session, things were not done in the most orderly fashion. There was chaos to say the least, people talking over others, shouting out although not loudly, and most importantly, I wanted to understand my mistakes through explanations but there were none. Needless to say, we came to an understanding to do things like that exercise in a more orderly fashion. Yes, we all can identify mistakes but there is a way to go about addressing them that we all needed a refresher on.
Another thing we do during the fiction unit in CW I is read short stories. February is Black History Month in case you were not aware, and because of that Heather chose short stories by African American authors. A recent one that we read was “Black Girl” by Ousmane Sembene. Sembene had the luxury of not only writing the story but directing the film based on it also. In “Black Girl” a young African woman from Senegal called Diouana works a a maid in France for a couple who treats her as a slave. Diouana is excited to move to France and thinks that she will get to explore the city and move up in class but soon finds that the color of her skin is standing in her way. I absolutely enjoyed both the film and the short story and highly recommend it.
We watched the movie in class and looked for differences in the film and short story. Afterwards we shared our observations and together had a discussion about them. There was a part in the film when Diouana is sleeping and the woman who she works for forcefully pulls her out of her slumber shouting “Get up! You’re not in Africa anymore!” I noted how that last line stuck with me because I was reminded of the stereotype the Blacks are lazy.
As a Black young woman, I felt immense compassion for Diouana. One can study slavery and discrimination and come to know every aspect of it but there is no excuse for someone to feel like they own an entire human being. Diouana kills herself at the end of the film and short story. Whole heartedly, if I was in the same situation as her, I think that I would do the same thing. I know that it is morbid and grotesque but I cannot stomach the idea of living the rest of my life as somebody’s slave. She was not free alive, she was free dead.
Colette Johnson, Class of 2021