Posts Tagged ‘creative writing outreach’

The Muse of Fire kids get a standing ovation.

As I’ve been saying this week, May is a beautiful month in the world of education. Oh, it’s stressful, but usually the stress comes because all the stuff you’ve been working for all year is finally completed, presented, and evaluated – the students hand in the big research paper, AP tests are taken, concerts are performed, end of the year picnics and receptions are attended, and so on.

Along with other end-of-the-year duties, I was busy getting the school literary journal off to the printer. Going back through the  poems, stories, essays, and comics the students have written over the past year reminded me of the real power of creativity to speak to universal truths and connect us to each other.

Then, as if I wasn’t riding high enough, I encountered two projects out in the city which are using creative writing to change kids’ lives in fundamental ways.

In mid-May, I attended the Muse of Fire First Class Plays performance at the Hamilton County Public Library.  Named for the lines in Shakespeare’s Henry V (Oh for a muse of fire that would ascend/The brightest heaven of invention/A kingdom for a stage, princes to act/And monarchs to behold the swelling scene.), the Muse of Fire Project takes kids from local elementary schools through a 10-week play writing workshop. By the end, each child has a 10-minute play, which is then performed by professional actors (“real grown-ups!” as it says in the promotional literature.)  The project was started by Kate Forbes Dallimore and Stevie Ray Dallimore, both accomplished actors who relocated to Chattanooga from New York City last July as part of the phenomenal ArtsMove program. Good gracious, I love this city.

Kate invited me to come, so I went to the Saturday night performance, unsure exactly what to expect.  It was brilliant. The plays had titles like “Pac Man’s Life Game,” and they were about as imaginative as anything I’ve encountered at any level.  The one I remember best starred a trail marker who was friends with a mushroom and confided in said mushroom quite often. The trail marker was pretty sad because she was in love with the pine tree she was attached to, but he had an extremely wooden personality (ha!) and never noticed her.  Isn’t that brilliant? All the plays were like that. And, while watching the actors was fun, it was even more fun to watch the young playwrights react to the performances of their work (they were sitting off to the side of the stage) Like most writers, they started out timid and ended up thrilled.  These kids are from all types of public schools and all walks of life, and they have now shared the experience of drafting and worrying over work, seeing it interpreted and performed, and receiving all the applause and accolades it deserved.  Even if they never write another word (which I doubt will happen), there’s no way they’ll forget the triumph that comes from working hard, fussing over details, and letting their imaginations lead the way. Bravo! Fellow ‘Noogans, I implore you to check out the next round of performances, whenever those may be.  Or volunteer. Their facebook page can keep you connected.

Just a couple days after those performances, I read about Black & Bright!  – a literary journal run by 5th graders at Calvin Donaldson School.   The article I’ve linked to speaks to the power of that project.  Basically, two years ago, no child in that school, a school which is frequenly maligned as being dangerous and sub-par, would ever have identified themselves as a writer. Test scores were abysmal. Thanks largely to the efforts of volunteers and writing coach Kim Honeycutt, writing is now ingrained in the culture of the school. Test scores are up by 30 percentile points, and, more importantly, these children feel like they have a voice. That’s remarkable.

The arts are being sacrificed in schools across the country in the name of test scores and budgets, but Black & Bright!  proves that such moves are folly. Creative writing, creativity in general, teaches students in a way that nothing else can.

There are projects like these going on all around the country. In Montana, I did a little work with the Missoula Writing Collaborative. New York City abounds with creativity outreach projects – from the 52nd Street Project  to Girls Write Now.

I am so glad that I encountered about these efforts to reach out to students in Chattanooga. Next year, I plan to help. With any luck, I’ll get my own students in on the fun as well. May is a time when things wrap up, but new ideas start to form.


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