Thank You, Lara by by Emily Kozhina

During my past two years in the Creative Writing department, I considered myself a fiction writer, and if not that, then a novice playwright, but I never once thought of myself as a poet. I went through two poetry units with a passionate disdain for stanzas, similes, and simply anything most would associate with “poetry.” That being said, the thought of moving into Creative Writing 2 (the poetry and non/fiction unit for upperclassmen) terrified me. Not only would I have to read and write poetry, but it would be in an older group setting, with more experienced students that probably have grown to love poetry. I couldn’t imagine why.

Our poetry artist in residence for Creative Writing 2 was Lara Coley, a San Francisco poet with a niche for knives. As nice enough as she seemed the first day, I wasn’t convinced that she, of all people, could change my opinion on poetry. The unit began exactly how I imagined, reading poetry to discuss in class, writing in-class prompts, and talking about writing poetry. Maybe if I just don’t work too hard, these few weeks will fly by, I thought. So I planned to simply wait it out, reading and writing the poetry I was assigned to, and pray I would survive.

But Lara caught me on a baited hook. By the third (maybe even the second) day, I found myself excited to come to class. I wanted to write poetry. This was a shock in itself. How could two years of despising poetry suddenly disappear? I still can’t answer the question, not fully. Part of it must have been Lara herself, her daily positivity and willingness to open up to us, laugh at our jokes, see us as more than teenagers in some artsy high school. We were writers to her, poets, even.

Another part surely had to do with the prompts Lara assigned. From using lines from a self-help book to answering questions that our writing supposedly answered, they were all prompts I wanted to write to. It felt like my poems were suddenly more than just stanzas and stanzas of wondering about the vague and impersonal. Each poem I wrote in that unit meant something to me, held a piece of my truth I wanted to share, which is everything I thought writing should be. I realized poetry didn’t need rhymes, and it didn’t need to be deep. With this seemingly minuscule discovery, my entire perspective on poetry shifted.

I now like to consider myself a poet. I find myself writing more poetry than fiction, without any anxieties over if what I’m writing is “poetic enough.” I like to read poetry, and learning about different poets, both local and dead. I’ve learned the beauty in “ugly poetry” and that’s all I ever want to write. Of course, my love for fiction and playwriting hasn’t disappeared, I know now there’s no need to replace one form of writing for another. I simply learned to love poetry, and it’s all because of Lara.

Thank you, Lara. Thank you for being kind and patient with us, for believing in us and our writing. Thank you for showing me all the possibilities of poetry, and how I can obtain them. You’ve taught me so much during our unit, and I’m sure everyone would say the same. As much as I try, though, I don’t think I could ever thank you enough.

Emily Kozhina, Class of 2020

Fiction and Valentine’s Day by Colette Johnson

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

Reflection and Advice by Solange Baker

As our nonfiction unit comes to a close, so does my time in Creative Writing II. In a week, we’ll be in our playwriting unit (this year taught by Sara Broady), which is taught to the whole of Creative Writing. I’ve had the same conversation with several of the other Creative Writing Seniors about our sudden realization that our four-year ride at the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts is rapidly coming to a close.

This coming week is my last in Creative Writing II, in a month or two I’ll know where I’m going to college, in two months I’ll have my last show (April 26, our playwriting show), the day after is prom, and a month later I graduate. It’s a bittersweet feeling. I’m excited to graduate, to start a new chapter in my life in a new place with new people. But on the other hand, I’m deeply saddened by the idea of leaving San Francisco, leaving my friends and my family, my pets, all that has been my world for the past nearly eighteen years. I’m trying to live in the moment and appreciate what’s happening now, it’s hard with the chaos of financial aid, scholarships, and general life. But as I approach the great old age of eighteen, I’ve taken some time to reflect on my time in Creative Writing.

Three pieces of advice I have for current/future members of the department on your time in Creative Writing:

  1. Learn to workshop: Workshopping is the core of Creative Writing. You improve by both having your piece edited and editing the work of your peers. At first it’s a daunting concept; other people (older than me, better writers than me) are going to read and critique my work? But learning to distance yourself from your work and understanding that the edits you get are not malicious but born from passion and a genuine interest in helping your work succeed is important. Learn when to take edits and when to leave them; when to know that yes, this Junior is right this paragraph is convoluted and has way to many adjectives, versus knowing to maintain your artistic integrity.
  2. Take opportunities: Heather and other teachers will present opportunities to you both within SOTA and outside of SOTA. If they interest you, take them. No matter if they seem intimidating or if you don’t think you’ll get into the program or whatever it may be, take the opportunity. You never know where it may lead you. My Freshman year I auditioned for an original play along with three other Creative Writers. I got paid to act in the production, which was wonderful, but it was also an enriching experience. I improved my performance abilities, made connections, and could say I felt proud of what I accomplished. My Sophomore year I performed at the Nourse Theater with Youth Speaks for their 20th Annual Bring the Noise event. I don’t get terribly bad stage fright, but that was one of the scariest things I’ve done. Looking out at a sea of 1600 people made me dizzy, but performing and hearing an audience respond to my work was euphoric and beyond well worth all the hours of rehearsal and anxiety.
  3. Focus on your own work/Don’t try to emulate others: It’s hard not to compare yourself to others: how many times people have been published, how many edits they get on their papers, grades they get on their assignments. In an environment like SOTA you’re surrounded by extraordinarily talented teenagers and it’s easy to forget that a) this is not a normal school and b) you’re one of those extraordinarily talented teenagers. Comparing yourself to others does absolutely nothing but make you feel bad about yourself. Art is subjective. Getting published doesn’t automatically make someone a better writer than you and getting published doesn’t make you a better writer than anyone else. And besides, sitting around complaining that you think everyone else is better than you isn’t how you improve your craft. A mistake I made in Creative Writing was that I got caught up in what other people were doing. Consequently, I stopped writing the way I wanted to and started writing what I thought other people wanted. The results were not my best work. Once I regained my voice, realized that trying to emulate others was boring and that I have my own skill set to offer, I started producing work that I was genuinely proud of for the first time in a long time.

Although it may not feel like it in the moment, high school goes by fast. My biggest piece of advice is this: make the most of it, whatever that may mean to you.

Solange Baker, class of 2019

The “Sophomore Slump” and Slowing Down by Xuan Ly

The second semester has just begun, and with it, the “Sophomore Slump.” I have passed through the excitement of freshman year, whose energy dragged me through the first semester, but now I have arrived at what feels like an endless loop of seemingly irrelevant classes. Although, to be clear, as a student, the subjects on my schedule is important, but as of right now there is no visible finish line. Sophomore year has slowly become a nightmare in which the hole I have fallen into is endless, which is cliche but I cannot find the brainpower to come up with anything new, and this endless hole describes my slump perfectly. Nothing is within reach, unlike the upperclassmen, who may have more difficult work, but are so close to the finish line. The juniors are almost seniors and the seniors are almost graduated. I, on the other hand, am just a sophomore.

College is on my mind. I find it looming over me without any clarity. Sure, as a sophomore maybe I shouldn’t be worrying about college, at least that is what I’m told. And yes, I don’t need to take the SATs or ACTs this year, but how can I stop myself from factoring in my entire future when deciding whether I should let myself relax on a Saturday or spend the whole day studying for chemistry test? I struggle to find the balance between producing quality work for my classes and enjoying the time I have before the real stress of the college application process. I feel like my mind is always calculating the best route for future success, which leaves the present me burnt out with no immediate gratification. Overtime, I’ve realized that the way students have been wired to learn is rarely for the joy of learning something new, but for the grades, which supposedly sets us up for a future that never seems to become the present.

When Heather heard about the sophomores’ predicament, she arranged what she called a “slunch,” or sophomore lunch. We gathered in her office and let go of our worries. Heather, Kaia, and Hannah baked delicious cookies to share, Emma brought popcorn, there was fruit, and chips that we all enjoyed. What I appreciated most about sitting together in Heather’s office, besides the realization of what our class had overcome in the past year, is that I don’t remember much of our conversations, and didn’t need to. To me, this indicates how effortless the conversations had been. In that small room, squished on Heather’s leather couch, I did not have to contemplate my next thought and what responses it would receive. I knew that everyone would just understand. I felt more engaged and relaxed at school than I had been for months.

In the past weeks, I found that when I admitted to myself that I am in said “slump,” my apathy for school grew exponentially, and I was no longer able to be lifted by a passing smile. But, I have learned how to slow down and focus on the present instead of the unknown. This includes recognizing and releasing the tension, caused by increasing negative energy, that I have fostered in my body. When I have trouble remembering what it is like to live solely in the present, I think back to our sophomore lunch. I think about the joy of being rooted in natural conversation that has nothing to do with school. In that small office decorated with pictures of alumni who have gone through what I am, I was able to see a light in the endless hole, or at least see other people falling with me. Now, looking at my classmates’ faces I think two things: 1) do I look that over it? 2) I totally understand you. I am able to laugh, which provides me with strength to continue on.

 

Xuan Ly, class of 2021

Sophomore Slumptch by Sequioa Hack

The relationship between high school and a student attending it is parallel to the relationship that an iron has with the shirt it’s ironing. Both are situations that one usually learns or experiences at a pivotal point in their lives – high school marking the last couple of years where dependence on parents for housing and food is necessary, while also being the first few years where independence is slowly gained. By knowing how to successfully iron, one gains a sense of professionalism that marks a newfound idea of maturity.

High school and ironing both offer a support center where problems can be solved – the teachers and the ironing board. However, if one of these support systems fails to carry out their purpose effectively, the impact on the person using the iron or attending high school can be varied and unpleasant. If an ironing board broke right before a job interview, one would have a wrinkled shirt that eventually may play a part in the hiring or lack of, specifically concerning the professionalism aspect of this prospective job. Now, if the teachers in a high school (or any school for that matter) fail to connect with the students they are in charge of for an hour each day, the student’s motivation to learn and show up for class is dissolved. This is a main factor in the existence of the “sophomore slump.”

The sophomore slump is a phenomenon that occurs in many teens during their second year of high school. It is a period of time when the sophomore realizes they aren’t close enough to the beginning of high school to be coddled but also aren’t at the point in their lives where exploring colleges is a necessity. Heather has noticed this boredom and feeling of uselessness that has erupted amongst the sophomores. As a result, during a lunch period this past week, Heather organized a lunch where all she and all the sophomores came together to talk and to combat the angst we were feeling. People brought lovely homemade cookies, fruit, popcorn, chips, and some nuts. We laughed, shared stories from weekends and past camping trips, and explored our favorite movies and TV shows. We were able to bond in a lovely, unstressed setting where nothing was expected of us other than to be kind to each other. The result of this lunch was a strengthened bond, shared between the ten girls of the CW class of 2021.

 

Sequoia Hack, class of 2021

 

 

Black Joy Parade and My 16th Birthday by Colette Johnson

 In the beginning of the school year, the entire department is together for a few weeks working with an Artist in Residence. Afterward, we split into our respective groups. CW II meets in our seminar room with different Artists and Residents, working on different crafts. CW I works with Heather in the main room. We have a poetry and fiction unit with her. We then all group together for our Playwriting unit.

When we were together we had a unit with Taylor D. Duckett, who is a poet, author, and orator. Her unit was about performance poetry and different ways to bring sound into a poetic work and the messages behind songs. On the first day, she gave us a packet consisting of the songs that we would be looking at. We learned how to clap out the rhythms and identified different poetic devices in them such as slant rhyme, internal rhyme, etc.

I felt that Taylor’s lesson was effective. I tend to forget that songs are forms of poems when I am listening to music. I liked that Taylor had us listen to the songs while reading the lyrics. Reading words on a page and hearing them sung or said are two different things. Heather, our department head, always talks about tone when writing fiction. Tone also applies to poetry. The speaker can perform the piece, indicating the tone of the piece in the way they talk. In this case the speaker would be the singer. Sometimes when reading something before hearing it performed, the tone isn’t always clear. The lyrics mean one thing, but the way the singer sings them means another.

Taylor and I kept contact after her unit finished and we text back and forth. She helps me with my writing if I send her something. Back in January on the seventeenth, Taylor asked me if I wanted to work at her booth during the Black Joy Parade in Oakland. She had her own publishing company, which would be at the parade, selling books and raffle tickets.

I was ecstatic when she asked me and immediately texted my mom to ask for permission. She and I woke up bright and early on February 24th and made our way across the bridge and into downtown Oakland. My call time was noon but I got there around one after extensively circling around to find parking.

It was my first time at the parade and I learned that the parade stretched along for a few blocks. Taylor’s booth was located toward the end of the parade, where most of the other vendors were. We were sandwiched between a company that sold makeup and sunglasses, and another company that sold African print clothes and essence sticks. I helped Taylor and her good friend Angel sell manuscripts, some were manuscripts of Taylor and other artists’ work.

I was there for a couple hours and was able to roam and meet new people. Taylor got hungry a short while after I arrived and so I walked around until I found the food trucks. There were a good many of them with people gathered around in large clumps leaving very little room for people to walk around. Aromas hit me almost instantly. There were corndogs, hotdogs, chicken and waffles, veggie burgers, fried chicken, hot links, desserts, and so much more! I was so overwhelmed with everything and had to call Taylor to ask what she wanted. She couldn’t decide either, so I walked to nearest CVS and picked us up some doughnuts and mini musketeer candies (her choice).

Before I left Taylor introduced me to her mentor Dr. Wright, who teaches classes at Taylor’s college. Both of them made offers for me to sit in on a few classes at San Francisco State University  during my spring break this year. I’ll most definitely be taking them up on their offers.

I was sad to leave the event around four. I really wanted to stay but my mom was freezing and ready to leave. She also did not want to get stuck in even more traffic than expected on the drive home across the Bay Bridge. I’d say that the highlight of that event for me was being able to be around people who looked like me and felt proud to showcase our culture. At school in San Francisco, I don’t see a huge representation of the Black community. SOTA has a small Black Student Union that I am the treasurer of, but other than that, SOTA is not the most diverse school in the district, and San Francisco isn’t the most diverse city either. It was nice to be around people who were just as passionate about our culture as I was and am. It was refreshing to see our community come together and celebrate. The picture below was taken by Taylor upon my arrival.

Aside from the Black Joy Parade, I hit another milestone in February. I turned sixteen on February 26th! My birthday festivities were spectacular. Since my big day fell on a Tuesday, I celebrate that Saturday on March 2nd. On the day of my actual birthday, my mom and grandma woke me up unknowingly bright and early. They were decorating my room with flowers and gifts. When I officially woke up at five in the morning my mom burst into my room, singing “Happy Birthday To You” with her arms spread wide and a smile on her face.

She gave me cards, money, and some clothes, and dropped me off at my bus stop so that I wouldn’t have to catch another bus. In Creative Writing, Heather assigns everyone Writing Buddies. Writing Buddies are usually an upper classmen paired with a lower classman. They are there to be one’s friend and help one with their writing. In the beginning of the year, the older buddy contacts the younger buddy’s parents and asks for permission to take them on a date. This is an afternoon spent getting to know each other outside of school during art block. Writing buddies are also responsible for bringing a treat to share with the department on their buddy’s birthday.

My buddy, Julieta (2019) texted me on Monday night asked what treat I would want for my birthday. My favorite sugary treat is called “Senorita Bread”. Senorita Bread, also known as Starbread or Spanish Bread in the Philippines, consists of small oblong rolls made of the softest dough decorated with butter and sugar. The dough is rolled, sprinkled with more sugared breadcrumbs, and baked. Caution: they are deliciously addicting!

I knew that this would be hard to get. I only find them in Daly City and this was out of the question. Instead Julieta brought in these scrumptious mini blueberry muffins. They were food allergy free and enjoyed by many.

On March 2nd, at five in the evening, my mom, grandma, and two friends from school, both sophomores, ventured downtown to Espetus Churrascaria. The restaurant was an all-you- can-eat Brazilian Steakhouse located on the corner of Market and Gough. Their food and service was absolutely divine. I highly recommend it. It was not my first time dining there; I made reservations for my mom, grandma, and I two years prior for my mom’s birthday. I fell in love with their tender sirloin steak.

We were seated next to a large window in the corner of the restaurant. My friends and I went to the salad bar to grab plates and see what food they had. I’m afraid to say that I was a little less adventurous with my food choices. I only took the fresh grilled salmon. The servers walk around with large sticks of meat and offer your table pieces. I tried the beef wrapped in bacon, the chicken wrapped in bacon, the filet mignon, the sirloin steak, and so many more things. I even tried the grilled pineapple. I hate pineapple so was surprised to find myself enjoying it.

We ordered dessert before we left and the waiters sang happy birthday to me as they brought our dishes out. We order Key Lime Pie and a sundae type dish. When we arrived home, my two friends stayed for two more hours and we did and impromptu birthday photoshoot outside. The video down below includes the pictures that we took. Overall, February was a good month for me.

Colette Johnson, class of 2021

An Art & Film Intern by Hannah Duane

It would be hard to encapsulate all that San Francisco Art & Film for Teenagers has given me, for it seems much of that will be revealed in the years to come. However, in the last year and a half that Art & Film, Isaiah Dufort and Ronald Chase have been in my life, I have learned so much about art, and also about being a good, engaged person.

My experiences with Art & Film began with Cine Club, as I had to go every six weeks for Creative Writing. The first Friday of freshman year, I journeyed across the city a bit confused to see Moonrise Kingdom, and absolutely loved it. The upperclassmen had warned me that Art & Film movies could be odd or impenetrable, but Moonrise Kingdom was an easy start. The plot was simple enough, and the sheer beauty of Wes Anderson’s filmic style made the entire evening a pastel and sweet memory. On that Saturday morning, I sat down to write an essay about the film (also for class) and marveled at how watching this film and hearing the discussion had engaged me but also lead me to deeper thoughts on the piece. I was commenting on color and camera angles, things I’d never considered when watching films before. Since then, I’ve missed as few films as possible, and only then begrudgingly. The Friday night movies became a ritual, something to motivate me through the school week.

Later in the year, I went to my first Free Ticket event, Harold Pinter’s The Birthday Party.  To this day, I can remember numerous scenes, and the joy of standing huddled outside afterwards with Ronald, as he explained to the little group of students how well it had been directed. Watching this play inspired me to read more plays, and then, in turn, try writing them myself. Two years ago, I never would have guessed I would enjoy writing a ten minute play, or even have any idea about how to go about that, but with the guidance of Art and Film, as well as SOTA Creative Writing, I have found myself more confident in attempting to make my own art and exploring my interests.

As a child, my grandmother took me to many art museums, and though I loved seeing the paintings and sculpture, I never analyzed what I saw. Art and Film has taught me to understand how a piece of art creates emotion and how to look for technical mastery while still allowing me to form personal opinions and discuss them with my peers. At the galleries, Ronald makes a habit of appearing behind students and asking for their opinion before explaining to them how that effect was created, be it with use of light, color or line. I distinctly remember my first trip to the Frankel Gallery, to see the work of Sol Lewitt. Ronald described how she created an alphabet of curves, and to this day I often remember the power of Lewitt’s alphabet, how Ronald’s pushing me to see the piece as something deeper than curves on a wall brought this piece life, made me want to decode the alphabet, or explore it myself.  

I have found myself among an incredible community of young people, unafraid of trying on opinions and engaging themselves absolutely without qualms. As I became more engaged in Art & Film, Isaiah invited me to intern, and one of the primary jobs is standing out front of Cine Club, greeting students. This has allowed me to learn the regular’s names, and feel that I belong in the community. Art & Film has allowed me to meet like minded people from schools across the city, as well as providing engaging events to attend with peers. After each film, my friends and I gather again outside of SFAI to discus the movie further. As I write this, the last film I saw was The Conformist, directed by Bernardo Bertolucci. In the December cold, we attempted to piece together Bertolucci’s non-linear narrative, discussing the use of color palettes that Ronald brought up in the group discussion further, and as always, the bus ride home was tinted with the ecstatic buzz of loving a piece of art.

Isaiah and Ronald too are such incredible people. Apart from being encouraging and inspiring mentors, they have become close friends and people I look up to. Frequently, I find myself seated near Ronald Chase, as he speaks about visual art, film or the symphony, and the wisdom and insight impossible to gain without the experience Ronald has is so valuable to the young artist. And Isaiah counters him beautifully with blunt opinions and determination for perfection. Please help us make Art & Film an opportunity for generations of young people to participate it, there is no grater program for the young mind.

Hannah Duane, class of 2021

Chapbooks by Puck Hartsough

Last unit, Creative Writing was working on poetry, CW 2 with artist-in-residence Lara Coley and CW 1 with both Heather and in mini units led by the sophomores. At the end of the unit, both classes made variations of chapbooks, short paper booklets of the poetry we’ve written this year. Creative Writing 1 made accordion fold books, with a poem in each fold, and Creative Writing 2 bound little books by sewing two large stitches in the middle of a folded packet. CW 2 spent several days on our chapbooks, working together at times and asking each other for help or to pass certain tools and the like over the table. We each made at least three copies of our chapbooks, and some people chose to make each cover different, with different stamps or designs, while others decided to make the covers as similar as possible.

When we had finished our chapbooks, we spent a day making each other bookmarks. We each made eleven, one for each student other than ourselves, as well as one for Lara. We wrote about things we’re grateful for about the others, about how their writing inspires and impresses us, and how we’re so glad to have met each other.

The last day of the unit, we read our poetry out loud to each other. Just before each person stood up to read, another student would read the bio written at the end of their chapbook.

The bios ranged from goofy (discussing how one student would love to be on the beach right now) to impressive (a list of literary journals and websites where a student has been published), but every one matched the author they described perfectly, and every one made each of us so proud of how far we’ve come.

This unit was productive and enjoyable, and I’m glad we were able to work with Lara and each other to make it so.

Puck Hartsough, class of 2019

Sophomore Poetry Lessons by Zai Deriu

During our poetry unit, Creative Writing One spent some time being taught by the sophomores, each of whom had planned and then taught a lesson on poetry surrounding their culture and background. As each of the ten sophomores taught their lessons, the class felt almost purely student directed for a time, as Heather sat watching the lessons progress.

Every person taught a distinctly different lesson, ranging from poetry from Berkeley, to Canadian songwriters such as Joni Mitchell, to British grime rap. Every day a new topic was introduced and some new bit of information about a person and a culture was learned. In some lessons, class discussions continued into break time without anyone noticing, all so interested and eager to contribute.

The lessons required us to write a poem a night as homework. It helped me to explore new literary devices and topics by responding to various poets or styles. Some nights it was more difficult than others, when writer’s block became a large issue, but being forced to push through that and still turning in all my assignments on time made it easier to process my thoughts into poems despite obstacles.

Not only did responding to poetry creatively help to expand my own writing, but simply hearing different poet’s work made me think of all the different ways one may present their art. I had never particularly considered what exactly makes something a poem, and I still wouldn’t attempt to define one, however in quite a few lessons, music was used in collaboration with poetry. Playing music and my writing have always been things which were separate to me, but hearing and reading the range of styles made me curious to incorporate my music into my writing.

Seeing each of the sophomores present their carefully prepared lessons to the class made me think about how in a year, I and the rest of the freshmen class will have to do the same. I began to consider what aspects of my culture I might want to study and teach. I could pull from the Italian side of my family, and research poets from the area where my father was born. Perhaps I would consider researching poetry by LGBTQ+ people, having grown up with gay parents in the Castro, where the streets literally have rainbows on them. It made me excited to share an aspect of my background with next year’s Creative Writing One.

Zai Deriu, class of 2022

Creative Nonfiction in Creative Writing II by Eva Whitney

 

My first semester in Creative Writing II has proved to expand and challenge my writing like never before. Every sentence, thought, or mere word I wrote down was shared with the entire group, something I always struggled with. In our poetry unit, my work progressively got more and more personal as my peers began to feel more like a family, and I came to the realization that writing is a never-ending process, and no one will judge me for presenting a poor first draft, or for writing my truth is the rawest way possible. The result of our poetry unit was a chapbook of eight or so poems. Though I read through it and noticed countless edits I’d like to make, I couldn’t help but pride myself in this small, neat package of Eva.

However, even though I was comfortable with writing about my own experiences, when it came time for our next unit, I dreaded it. Creative Nonfiction sounded like embellished essays, or a heightened version of an English class assignment. I pictured prompts like, “what is the greatest challenge you’ve overcome?” or “what achievement are you most proud of?” I’ve written my fair share of these empty essays for applications, or in the dungeon of my freshman year English class, and I feared that they were following me into the one class I actually had creative freedom in.

I soon learned that Creative Nonfiction does not include essays that are just beefy on imagery, or chock-full of thesaurus synonyms, they are fiction pieces—that are entirely factual. Ploi Pirapokin, our Creative Nonfiction Artist-in-Residence, dished out essays daily—from the acclaimed epic of “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold” by Gay Talese to “How Blac Chyna Beat the Kardashians at Their Own Game” from Buzzfeed News. I noticed that Creative Nonfiction was the most ubiquitous of all writing forms—once I began writing it, I saw it in Instagram captions of people wallowing in their insecurities, the newspaper that lives on my kitchen table, or letters from my grandmother describing her backyard.

But how do I make my own, boring life interesting to read? I had to teach myself how to shape my seemingly standard experiences into a narrative, creating characters, a climax, and a resolution, all while sticking to the truth. I began reevaluating memories I once overlooked or labeled as unworthy of sharing. Here is an excerpt from my very first in-class prompt in this unit, detailing the mundane tasks that my family adheres to without ever discussing them:

“What my parents and I don’t talk about is our household tasks. We’ve just sort of fallen into a routine. It is simply a fact that my father takes the trash out and weeds the front garden on Tuesday, my mother makes dinner, and that I do anything in between. Sometimes, after dinner, I find myself floating to the sink almost instinctively to wash the dishes. I’ll wake up abruptly in the middle of the night when the dishwasher completes a cycle, wishing that stacking plates wasn’t as loud as my uncle on NBA finals night. And I’ve been hearing my father open the laundry closet in the middle of the night—the creak of the door is very distinct. It is not often that we run into many issues with our tasks, but when we do, I become aware of the high level of order we are able to maintain without any discussion. When guests come over, my father retreats to the kitchen and my mother entertains. It is always so troubling to see my father emerging with a delicate tray of tea. For a moment, I think, “Gee, Mom looks different!” Or when there is a night that I simply cannot wash the dishes, I find myself unable to concentrate knowing some stranger is doing the rinsing. I’ve been known to burst through the door, prying the sponge out of my replacement dishwasher’s hands, admitting defeat…”

It is easy to take the more dramatic and humorous route in Creative Nonfiction, perhaps to shy away from revealing too much about yourself, or to show nonchalance about a situation. But my classmates have motivated me through their work to explore the memories that are more difficult to share. Slowly, I am approaching larger and larger truths about myself in my work.

Writing poetry in the beginning of the school year taught me how to explore personal topics covertly, but Creative Nonfiction has encouraged me to write about myself overtly, and it is one of the most liberating feelings ever.

Eva Whitney, class of 2020