BLTN NextGen at ¡Confluencia!

May 28th, 2021 | By | Category: BLTN NextGen, Spring 2021

On Saturday, November 21, Lena Ashooh (NextGen – VT), Leah Sneed (NextGen – Louisville), and Faith Omosefe (NextGen – Lawrence) opened for Joy Harjo’s session at NCTE’s Annual Convention, ¡Confluencia! Lena, Leah, and Faith worked for months with Bread Loaf School of English faculty and acting ensemble member, Jonathan Fried, in a process paralleling Jonathan’s Solo Performance course at Bread Loaf. 

With some words of context by Bread Loaf Teacher Network’s Beverly Moss and Tom McKenna, followed by an introduction from Jonathan, we invite you to enjoy these extraordinary performances. Below the video, read each performer’s reflections on the process.

A video recording of Lena Ashooh, Leah Sneed, and Faith Omosefe reading dramatic monologues they created for the opening of Joy Harjo’s session at !Confluencia!, the 2020 NCTE Annual Convention chaired by Alfredo Celodón Luján.

Lena

It was at the Hazhó’ó Hólne’ Writing Conference three years ago that I first truly experienced the transformative power of storytelling. Throughout my subsequent years as a member of the BLTN NextGeneration Leadership Network, I became utterly enthralled by the reciprocal act of writing and telling stories. I absorbed each pronounced word, every voice raised in passion, and every teary eye as my NextGen family revealed the personal stories that make them who they are. But it wasn’t until I had the opportunity to write a monologue with Jonathan Fried for the NCTE Annual Convention that I examined and expressed a story of my own. Jonathan had incredible insight into the process of reflecting on the stories that are most meaningful to oneself and being able to accurately convey their significance in a creative way. Jonathan’s approach to storytelling has shaped how I view my identity in relation to my family’s history and my current role within my community. 

In my monologue, I imagined the stick that my great-grandfather, an immigrant from Belarus, used to sort through trash in his new home in Freehold, New Jersey. I worked to render through the metaphor of the stick some of the qualities I admired in my great-grandfather and my mother, and the impact my mother’s upbringing had on her life. It was a chance for me to immerse myself in a time of my family’s history that I’ve heard through oral stories since childhood and to interact with my ancestry. The experience brought me clarity about my values and beliefs and unleashed an even greater love for all the power storytelling has to offer. 

While I will always have a deep love for being able to listen to the stories of BLTN NextGen and my community, this experience has offered me the tools for introspection that have defined how I engage with the world around me. 


Leah

Working on this project with Professor Fried was an amazing experience. He was very supportive about the narrative I was trying to write and gave me many fantastic suggestions that not only made my piece more effective but it also changed the way I perceived and developed my writing process.

The most important thing that I learned from Jonathan was an empty page was my biggest enemy. You can’t pick apart and bring together an empty page. My biggest struggle was always getting started. It doesn’t matter how much you map out a story, eventually you have to bring it all together into something cohesive and manageable. Writing and narrating for such a huge audience was extremely daunting because not only was my piece being performed for people all around the US, but it was also a reflection of myself that made me feel vulnerable. Once I began to get more comfortable with the idea of narration by practicing, my confidence was much higher. I wouldn’t have been successful without Professor Fried and his unwavering support.

Professor Fried was a reassuring and helping hand keeping me motivated and inspired to write my piece and tell such an important story. The pride that I took in my writing was immeasurable because I have never done something so important and impactful before.

I would like my viewers to be aware that while this story is fiction if covers themes that are so close to home for the LGBTQ community. Feelings of rejection and fear with coming to terms with one’s identity is something so real for so many people around the world. I wanted this story to end with a happy ending because this is something I wanted for myself. I wanted to see this resolution to such a complex and scary issue. It’s what I feel like so many LGBTQ people deserve to see and it’s what I needed when writing this piece. I hope that others found as much salvation and love in my writing as I did.

I want to thank Professor Jonathan Fried for his support and expertise in writing narratives. Not only did it help me become a stronger writer, but it also helped me understand how stories reflect on the world around us and how impactful they can be


Faith

Working with Jonathan Fried was nothing short of incredible. It was really low stress and all he did was encourage me the whole way through. I learned a lot about my capability as a writer but where Jonathan helped me the most was my delivery. I took the lessons he gave to me and applied it to more than just spoken word. They have improved my skills as a speaker, spoken word poet, and actress. He taught me how to enunciate properly to make sure none of my piece was missing and how to pace myself to let the really important moments in writing stand out. (After this experience I have experimented a lot more with alliteration especially using the letter “b”. For reference you should look for the “burying the bullet” line in the piece to show where I really began to fall in love with alliteration.) Overall it was a great experience and I hope I get to work with Jonathan again.

I have never had trouble speaking in front of crowds so this wasn’t very nerve wracking but it was different because this time it was an original piece I was reciting. It was gratifying seeing all the comments in real time and knowing that the message I’ve fought so hard to convey was finally being received by a large group of people. I felt truly blessed in that moment, and even more blessed hearing Joy Harjo quote one of my lines. It put into perspective just how far this message has gone. I felt as though I was no longer screaming into a void, I felt heard.

As you view the clip try to really empathize with both sides of the argument. I tried to include places in the piece where both sides made valid points. To get the most out of this piece you should definitely focus on the relationship between the two sides and how this trauma has affected black teens in real life—teens who have had to defend their right to live while enduring the trauma that came from the protests and police brutality. Knowing that this is something that real teens go through every day should add depth to the points being made.

Leave a Comment

Sites DOT MiddleburyThe Middlebury site network.