Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Chang-Rae Lee Visits My Freshman English Class

This morning, Chang-Rae Lee visited my freshman English class; he's our scholar-in-residence this year at Punahou. I asked him to talk to my students about writing, specifically, writing about themselves, their home, their parents. The timing couldn't have been better since my students are in the final stages of a digital essay about the idea of home. The process of the digital essay was as follows:

1. Freewrite about places that are 'homes.'
2. Mini lesson on photography.
3. Take pictures of places, items, people that are 'home.'
4. Fine tune the piece of writing, work through 6 trait revision process.
5. Record audio essay using Garageband.
6. Use either Garageband enhanced podcast or iMovie to sync pictures with words.

Before his visit, Chang suggested we read his New Yorker essay "Coming Home Again," and the students should generate questions for discussion. So we read together in class, then spent two days in a Moodle forum fleshing out ideas and questions.

I rue that I didn't podcast or take video or even pictures of Chang's visit. But I can say that there have been 4 times in my life when I've been able to hear a celebrated author/poet read their work then have a question and answer session with them. And each time, I'm enthralled and inspired. I'm glad that this time my students could have that kind of an experience. I did have my little Moleskin, and I jotted down some of the ideas he left with us about writing:

*Stories are catalogs of pictures purposefully chosen to address a particular feeling. A piece of writing doesn't just come out and tell readers what they should feel.

*Be a reader of your own words.

*Anticipate when a reader's curiosity will be piqued.

*Keep coming back to what's dramatic.

*Have a clear sense of purpose or the feeling you want to write about, but allow the writing to go where it needs to go. He analogized planning a piece of writing to planning a road trip. You can map it all out, but you might get somewhere and realize you need to go somewhere different, and you might arrive at the same destination using a different route than first anticipated or planned.

*Endings aren't summaries; they might do that a little bit. They should leave you with a feeling. And a reader shouldn't feel that the story has ended. It should continue to live on.

*Don't try to come up with great words. We all have a great sense of storytelling. Use it. Write it like you would tell it.

*Don't tell a reader what to think, instead, offer purposefully chosen observations. "Just look around in the museum of your life."

As an aside, I'd like to add that Clay Burell (Chang's former student in Oregon) and I used an excerpt from Chang's novel Native Speaker last year as an example for students working on the 1001 Flat World Tales Project.

Mahalo Chang

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