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Our CCCC Presentation:
Healing and Transgression: Exploding Identity Genres

Session: B.25 on Mar 22, 2007 from 12:15 PM to 1:30 PM Cluster: 109) Creative Writing
Type: Concurrent Session (3 or more presenters) Interest Emphasis: race/ethnicity
Level Emphasis: 4-year

“Writing to Heal,” “Voices Along the Way,” “ The Art of the Personal,” and “Writing Across Differences”—these writing courses at x College challenge students to explore issues of identity by confronting loss, nationality, sexuality, class, gender, spirituality and ethnicity. In this presentation, three faculty members from Middlebury College discuss hybrid writing assignments from courses that combine creative and critical writing with the use of digital media. Discussing and writing about complex issues of identity and loss have transformed the lives of students taking these courses. Teaching these issues has involved personal and professional changes in the lives of the faculty members as well.

Hybrid genres that combine critical with creative writing provide students with theoretical knowledge and background from which to better explore their lives and identities in a thoughtful, informed manner. Digital media projects from weblogs to digital stories that combine words, music, photography and video encourage students to explore issues of their own identity through media often more in tune with 21st century students than conventional linear forms of writing. The music and visual images students choose in these projects often evoke deeper, tighter writing than students have produced before. A combination of formal and informal writing in public and private writing spaces allows students the opportunity to write for self, for others, or for a private few.

The different kinds of disclosure and identity writing in these courses explode the typical boundaries of assignments and genres when memoirs transform into short stories and research papers and projects use theoretical, creative and personal sources as evidence. In the process that unfolds in these classes, students and faculty learn to control and define their own narratives and explore who they have been, who they are becoming, and who they might yet be. Writing and media assignments that encourage students to understand their own identities better can lead students to understand and imagine better the identity of others. These assignments and courses have transformed personal pain into healing and forgiveness and have transformed self-disclosure into both self-acceptance and political mobilization.

Presenter 1 will discuss “Writing and Healing: the Self and Others” based on her teaching “Writing to Heal”—a course that developed from a school-wide tragedy and personal loss. This writing-intensive course examines writing as a catalyst for healing after loss or grief. This writing workshop class focuses on student writing, but also analyzes fiction, drama, poetry and creative nonfiction. Reading James Pennebaker’s Opening Up and Rico’s Pain and Possibility creates a theoretical underpinning for class discussions. Coursework includes formal analytical essays, creative work, hybrid assignments, electronic journals, oral presentations, and the opportunity to do digital media projects.

Presenter 2 will discuss “Developing Writers for Social Change” based upon “ Writing Across Differences”–a course that explores the many choices we face as speakers and writers when communicating across human differences such as race, gender, sexuality, religion and class. Organized by literary genres, and drawing on writers such as Julia Alvarez, bell hooks, Dorothy Allison, Martin Luther King, Beverly Tatum, W.E.B. DuBois, Jamaica Kincaid, Leslie Marmon Silko and others, the class analyzes and produces a range of works that employ diverse methods of argument and inquiry, including personal narrative, online discussion, literary analysis, and research presented in papers, weblogs or digital stories. The course creates personal and public domains for written and digital work. Students respond to one another’s work, creating a writing community that is both supportive and challenging.

Presenter 3 will discuss “Hybrid Language, Hybrid Genres” based on work in two courses. The first, “Voices Along the Way,” an interactive first-year seminar designed for ESL students, introduces contemporary American culture via literature and film and explores the American landscape and mindscape through a sense of place, family relationships, and the American educational scene. Students conclude the course by “creating an identity,” within which they explore their own potential contributions to a global community. In doing so, they write essays, create web pages, and design and deliver multi-media presentations. The second course, “The Art of the Personal: James Baldwin’s Non-Fiction,” looks closely at how one writer, James Baldwin, articulated so eloquently the national, racial, sexual, and religious antagonisms of his lifetime, the class explores the personal essay as a vehicle for, as Baldwin put it, “recreating out of the disorder of life that order which is art.” The class reads Baldwin’s major essays (from Notes of a Native Son, Nobody Knows My Name, and The Fire Next Time), writes about them, and writes personal essays.

The course work of Presenters 2 and 3 motivated them to establish a cluster of seven Social Justice Course classes at Middlebury College, which collectively brought in speakers to address topics, such as, white privilege political expression through the arts, as well as, collectively organized deliberative dialogue sessions on gender. The Cluster motivated Presenter 2 to change her course name to “Writing for Social Change.”

By discovering, disclosing, representing, and transforming identities though unconventional creative writing assignments and digital media projects, Presenters 1, 2, and 3, have affected positive transformations in their students, their colleagues, themselves, and their Academy.

Mary Ellen Bertolini
(Speaker 1) Middlebury College Writing and Healing: the Self and Others
Catharine Wright
(Speaker 2) Middlebury College Developing Writers for Social Change
Kathy Skubikowski
(Speaker 3) Middlebury College Hybrid Language, Hybrid Genres

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