Thankful for an inspirational writer & writing center guru—and a great start to the year

by Maggie Shea, Writing Center Co-Coordinator

826Valencia

826 Valencia Writing Center, San Francisco, founded by Dave Eggers

Writers are often asked, “When did you know you wanted to be a writer?” For author Dave Eggers, the answer is high school. As an awkward teen, he showed up in English class disengaged. He proposed an outlandish topic for the first assignment of the year, a persuasive speech: convince the audience to ride to the inner mantle of the earth on a bicycle. His teacher approved this whimsical topic, and the next Eggers suggested–the coming sheep apocalypse. This affirmation sparked a transformation; Dave began to work harder, connected with other creative teens, and eventually found his home in writing both in and out of class. He says, “This teacher took a boy’s rebellion and redirected it into something like art. Suddenly, the teen had a tribe and the tribe had elders. He found his people, he found his voice, he found a purpose.”

Eggers shared this story as the keynote speaker at the National Council for Teachers of English convention, held in Minneapolis last week. At the end of the story, he announced that his high school English teacher was in the audience, and he presented him with a wrapped gift: the manuscript of his next book. The audience of English teachers rose to their feet to honor Dave Eggers, his teacher, and the transformation that happened in a high school English class.

This successful author is also a writing center legend, and he played a role in our origins. When we opened in 2007, we were looking for models. We learned of a fantastic public writing center in San Francisco—826 Valencia, founded by Dave Eggers. When 826 launched in 2002, the space was zoned for retail, so Eggers opened a pirate supply store and tucked the writing center behind the retail shop. The store sells actual supplies for pirates — glass eyes, planks for pirates and parrots, an assortment of eye patches. The real action, though, is in the writing center: each year, thousands of kids come for free tutoring and whimsical writing workshops. The center enlists over 1,000 volunteers and publishes books written by kids. His model and zest for supporting young writers inspired us to design an inviting space and offer creative programming.

Lucky for the Twin Cities, there is a new 826 Center in our town: the Mid-Continent Oceanographic Institute and writing center, on University Avenue in St. Paul. So if you are looking for deep sea supplies, or if you want to engage in the purposeful work of writing with kids and teens, consider volunteering. Find out more here: http://www.moi-msp.org/about/.

Thankful for a great start to 2015-16

Like Eggers, we at the Writing Center are honored to work with student writers and fantastic volunteers.

We welcomed back 14 experienced writing coaches, along with 16 new coaches and a new Writing Center co-coordinator, Krista Hitchcock. The student coaches hit the ground running with many writing conferences, outreach to Minnetonka Middle School and Clear Springs Elementary, and writing coach training. Krista and I visited Vantage twice to present research writing workshops, and we enjoyed working 1:1 with over a hundred seniors on college essays.

In December, writing fun will extend beyond the school day. On Friday December 4th, the writing coaches are sponsoring Writer’s Studio, a night for students to step up to the mic and read words that move them, either their own or someone else’s. Wednesday, December 16th, we continue a favorite tradition: a Romeo and Juliet writing party! Yes, writing party. Ninth grade students writing their Romeo and Juliet essays can join our coaches after school for feedback and snacks. Finally, on Monday, December 21st, all students are invited to an after-school winter themed writing workshop (bonus: free hot chocolate and cookies).

We are enjoying our updated bright, flexible space, thanks to a generous grant from the Minnetonka Public Schools Foundation, the same folks who initially endowed the Writing Center. Our new chairs and tables are on wheels, allowing for quick shifts to accommodate group work, conferencing, and collaboration. The office has been repurposed as a conferencing space, with an extra table and a whiteboard wall.

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Happy Thanksgiving. Perhaps you can take some time to thank those who inspire you. And as always, you are all welcome to stop by the Minnetonka High School Writing Center to talk writing, check out our new look, or just say hello.

The Pen is Mightier than the Sword

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by Alanna Anglum, senior writing coach

I would be doing the readers of this blog a disservice if I failed to discuss the current onslaught of violence around the world. I don’t claim to be an expert on terrorism or violence in general – and frankly I think it’s a blessing to say I’m more than an arm’s length away. But I will say that I have an empathy and special sensitivity which brings me to this discussion today.

So why talk about this on a high school writing center blog?

Well blatantly, as my title would suggest, I trust that the pen will triumph over the sword. I am not so naïve as to suggest that all conflicts can be solved with a strongly worded letter (although my mother seems to think so). I do believe, however, communication can combat hatred. Devastation of this nature – whether it be the plane in Senai, the casualties in Paris, or the bombing of 9/11 – is designed to instill terror. The exact reasons for violence may be clouded but overall they tend to be fueled from the same inhumane hatred.

Hatred we can combat. When an action causes us to fear for ourselves, our neighbors, our future, and our neighbors’ futures, a few things happen. One outcome may be a personal reaction of equal hatred, or more commonly, confusion, and a desire to act. By means of the “pen” – or as a more modern medium, Twitter – I watched some of my peers post aggressive and ghastly expletives. I take no serious political stance but only advocate for the purposeful, careful, and constructive use of your “pen,” whatever medium it may be.

Conflict on this scale, I leave to our political leaders in Washington and let my voting ballot speak for me and my opinion. In times of divide, your words are the only way to reach a resolve. Wars end in signed documents of surrender or carefully worded treaties. How will you use your carefully crafted speech to connect and empathize? Rather than being the one who responds with words of disgust or angry confusion at senseless violence, be the one to post insightful words of gratitude and support for the free world. Be the one who connects with people in the disaster zones. Write letters, articles, Facebook posts, poems, or blog posts like this one to fuel the avalanche of support for a growing world of acceptance and peace. Be the reason we lose no more souls to the appeal of fighting the free world.

Wait for the sword to defeat itself because inevitably such anger is self-destructive. As citizens our job differs from those who are military or government officials. Our job is not to reciprocate the violent actions with violent words. We don’t need to be voicing such disapproval because guess what? ISIS already knows. That’s why they do what they do.

We have the chance to breed a new generation free from the notion of blind acts of violence. Start now. Don’t perpetuate hate even in its smallest forms. Terrorism wins when we are terrified. Let’s show the world our strength with our voices. Every day connect with a person right in front of you, and every day read something about another part of the world. Let’s craft the world we want to live in, not dwell on the one we fear.

This is why I wholeheartedly believe all the pens in the world will defeat the few swords.

 

Do Stop to Smell the Roses

Blog image Kenna's post

from pinterest.com

by Kenna McRae, junior writing coach

The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience. — Eleanor Roosevelt

When I was younger, I would run around breathlessly, playing games with friends and going on grand adventures. Once, my friend and I were headed up to our favorite ice cream shop, and she impatiently gave out some advice: “Don’t stop to smell the roses!” Driven by the thought of cold, sweet ice cream, we both walked as fast as we could.

Now, I’m still running around, just like the majority of people. We fill our time with activities and work, rarely stopping… because time is of the essence, right? In the midst of bursting schedules, there’s also anticipation in the air around this time of the year; fall has turned the corner, and we’re headed towards months of snow and holidays. Our thoughts are full of the past and the future.

However, it’s good for us to pause and appreciate the present, because these experiences are the richest. Think of it this way: though the thought of ice cream is enticing, the actual taste and experience of eating it is even better. Being “in the moment” can mean any number of things, from being aware of what’s going on around you, to being aware of yourself, to simply embracing life as it comes. Right now, it’s November, a month of transitions– but doesn’t it merit some appreciation while it’s here? Take some time to enjoy the ever changing November weather, for example: cotton candy sunrises and brisk air, gusts of wind scattering leaves about, icy rain (or hail!) falling over everything. Notice what’s around you, what you see, hear, smell… feel the moment. Have fun, laugh, cry. It’s hard to slow down in this fast-paced world, but it’s worth the risk. Being fully in the present leads to the best, richest experiences because we’re invested in understanding and taking part in them.

Likewise, when we write with a present mind, our writing improves. Whether it’s a creative story or an essay, being present with our thoughts matters in several ways. Instead of worrying about an impending due date, try to think about the writing itself; centering our thoughts around writing in the present moment is much more productive! Giving yourself a writing environment that lets you focus on the writing itself is important, too; distractions like phones draw us away from the moment and we constantly have to refocus our concentration, which can be discouraging and confusing. The writing experience is so much more interesting when we actively think about why we’re writing and engage ourselves in the ideas. By writing “in the moment” our writing becomes richer and we’re better able to develop the deeper meanings, while at the same time writing becomes less stressful and more enjoyable.

Enjoy these November weeks in between holidays, leaves, and snow, and know that every moment is filled to the brim with unique thoughts, feelings, and experiences. In the summer, relax and breathe in the sweet smell of roses (the ice cream will still be delicious if you eat it a minute later). And as for writing: center yourself, focus on the writing, and enjoy.

Vocalize Kind

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By Gigi Anderson, senior writing coach

Sometimes when we are bombarded with the stresses of school and family and looking ahead to the future, our words turn negative. We use our language to offend rather than uplift. And, thus, we hurt those around us. Those we love, and those we don’t even know. I wrote this spoken word poem with the hope of challenging us to use our words in a more positive manner. We all face hardship and frustration, sometimes without even showing it to those around us. But maybe if we use our words to encourage one another, we can aid each other even in our hidden battles. Enjoy!

Click here to view spoken word poem: