JWP #Onthehustle

The first of my workshop series for 2018 has wrapped and I’m getting ready for the second in early March. If you’re interested in being put on the mailing list or registering, or need more information, contact me.

March 2018 workshop
One of my favourite moments in my final of four sessions in the first series earlier this month was just watching a woman who had to fight her instincts to make the first draft perfect. During a writing assignment, she said, “I swear what I’m writing doesn’t make sense” and I replied, “It doesn’t have to make sense, just write forward”. This is the first draft, I reminded her; there is more drafting and editing to come; let go of the need for the first draft to be perfect; give over.

She put pen to paper again and I noted when she stopped over thinking it, when the pen was flowing because she was not trying to control and constrain it anymore. I felt happy and in my purpose in that moment – after our weeks of looking at the writing of others and how they explore and reveal setting (the focus of that first series); weeks of me testing her grasp of what I was trying to teach,  coaxing her writing out, nudging it forward.

When I called time on this last in-session writing exercise, in the groove, she didn’t stop right away. When she did stop so that we could share and discuss, it was clear she still had a lot of writing left in her. Considering that pushing past writers’ block was the main reason she gave in week 1 for taking the course, I’d call that progress.

I was keen to see her evaluation of the workshop series to see if she felt progress had been made.  She wrote that her favourite activity was “reading the assignments and the discussions which assisted with writing my own settings”. She wrote that she learned what she’d hoped to, how to create settings (the focus of the first series), why they matter, how to write them, how to evaluate their effectiveness as she tried to move her story along.  As for if she would recommend the Jhohadli Writing Project Creative Writing Workshop series; yes, she would: “Yes, I would recommend this workshop. This course is designed specifically for anyone with an interest in creative writing.”

The next series begins on March 10th 2018 like I said. You can participate from anywhere (that’s right, you don’t have to be in Antigua and Barbuda to participate). Contact me to find out how. Moving forward.

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Stimulating New Writing

Since completing the University of Iowa Massive Online Open Course in November 2016 I’ve been going over the course material, bird by bird so to speak: the transcripts and the readings (including the non-mandatory extra readings). I know, nerd. But just as the course itself, while it was live, was one of my favourite parts of the day, pouring over the course material is helping to keep me stimulated. No, I’m not writing as I was during the course, under the pressure of weekly assignments, but I’m still engaged – so I’m still counting this toward writing time. I’m still learning, still loving it. Hopefully, becoming a better writer in the process. Plus, I plan to do more work on the stories that came out of the course assignments too, maybe turn them in to something submittable.

Final Workshop RI 2012

No pictures of the online workshop, obviously, but …This is from another workshop, a physical one this time, the Callaloo Writers Workshop at Brown University in 2012. Another stimulating workshop experience.

So, was this course good for me? As with most things of this nature, you get out what you put in. And getting the opportunity to learn from the likes of Margot Livesy (she was the staple) and a rotating line up of esteemed writer/instructors through the renowned Iowa writing programme, being pushed to write every week, steeling myself to receive feedback on that writing every week, interacting with writers around the world on things writing related had me putting in energy that was about more than chasing those points needed to collect the course completion certificate I didn’t even send for.

Writing courses and workshops (I offer some of those, too) are learning opportunities obviously but they are also ways of pushing yourself to write instead of just thinking about writing. And they provide an environment where you and others in the workshop/courses can engage critically with what you produce (I’ve told the story before of how I slipped an early draft of With Grace, which is now my latest picture book, in among the works being reviewed by participants in my 2013 Jhohadli Summer Youth Writing Project for some honest feedback and how the work was better for it).

 

How are you feeding your writing?

#TheWritingLife

Teaching the Teachers

 The one time I wish I had a cell phone…

And not a regular old cell phone either. One with video function. That’s any old cell phone, you say. Okay, then; I guess any old cell phone will do.

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And all I’ve got is this stupid web cam.

What was I itching to capture? A group of teachers doing the cha cha electric slide during one of my sessions at the Ministry of Education’s Summer Institute, acting out part of a chapter from my book Musical Youth. And, as one teacher pointed out, no two group presentations were alike or drawn from the same bit of prose in spite of having the same part of a chapter to interpret. One of the groups had one teacher, playing a girl (Nicola?) in the rehearsal, demonstrating the shoulder shrug-neck snap-chest pump–hip sway-hop to a teacher acting as a rhythm-less Zahara stand-in. It was one of those rare moments where as a writer you get to see something you envisioned come to life and where as a workshop facilitator you get to see participants shake off their inhibitions and embrace an activity. True confessions: I would be an absolute fail at attempting the dance I wrote about in Musical Youth but the Nicola-teacher she made each moment sway in to the other like the child of Africa that she is and by the time she was done with the other teacher she kind of had it too. It was a beautiful thing to witness, and one of many moments of unlocking imagination and making literature come alive during my three days facilitating this workshop for a sometimes revolving door of teachers. I had 25 registered, I believe, but ran out of my 25 handouts more than once. Which is a good problem to have.

Over the three days, we studied the anatomy of story. They wrote and shared their own creations guided by prompts.

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Group story presentation. Photos by (teacher) Tiffany Azille-Henry.

They created pieces in response to their favourite works of art – after insisting that they had no favourite work of art – discovering, in the process, that art (and inspiration) is all around us. Without leaving the room, we moved from Malawi to Jamaica to New York and spent quite a bit of time in Antigua, we visited with Anansi and snake and turtle, we explored how story can be used to open up conversations with young people about the social and cultural issues of our times, about the realities of their lives; about the opportunity to interpret, and the freedom to re-write and to provide alternate endings. We looked for stories in other places – like songs, and we sang. One of my favourite segments came when after listening to, watching videos of, singing along with, dancing to, and discussing songs in which artistes interpreted their world, after they groaned when I asked them to group up and do the same (it was the end of a long day and we were all tired), they came up with some of the BEST writing they’d done so far. That was at the end of day two – they wrote about growing up in Antigua, they had us chorusing their plight in calypso, they gave us humour and nostalgia, they wrote about being teachers (the kind of testimonial that, though quiet in tone, made the church say Amen). We had fun that afternoon, and I’ll never forget that one teacher who, as she finished up the journaling they had to do at the end of each day (and at least twice a day), asked me if I’d ever been a teacher and told me I had very good teaching strategies. This in spite of their jokes about my handwriting (it’s bad), in spite of the fact that sometimes when they got going discussing the topics I laid out, it was all I could do to get a word in edgewise (you’d think teachers would grasp the concept of raise your hand and one person at a time, right?). For so many reasons none of which have any thing to do with the Summer Institute and none of which I will get in to here, little as she knows, this teacher’s acknowledgment and affirmation (and those that would come at the end of my final day with the group, what they said outright and what they wrote in their evaluations) was a validating, heart-filling, joyful moment for me.

It wasn’t all fun and games (though we did play games and we did have fun) – setting up the sessions was a mini-lecture on the necessity of creativity (and the value of creative writing) in the classroom – and the exercises were all meant to spur discussion or model approaches to encouraging creativity in the classroom, stressing the importance of being innovative and looking for opportunities. We watched and discussed a TED Talk which spoke to kids being educated out of their creativity, the way the system is set up – a talk the teachers related to as our post-viewing discussion revealed. They expressed an openness to the idea of finding creative ways to respond to (interpret, express, respond to) the literature they and their children interact with and creative approaches to educating, period. Which is the goal really.

Art used in this workshop included but was not limited to excerpts from my own Musical Youth (as mentioned) and The Boy from Willow Bend, Anansi including but again not limited to Barbara Arrindell’s How Snake Stories were Renamed Anansi Stories as published in Womanspeak: a Journal of Writing and Art by Caribbean Women (with, note to Barbara, one of the teachers asking me about its availability online), a story from the Commonwealth River of Stories, Jamaica Kincaid’s Girl, Ashley Bryan’s Beautiful Blackbird, Wadadli Pen past winning stories – one by a teacher Margaret Irish’s The Skipping Rope, one by a secondary school student Liscia Lawrence’s The Day I saw Evil (I like how impressed they were with the level of the writing, considering the author’s age at the time), and college student (at the time) Gemma George’s Stray Dog Prepares for the Storm (which both amused and spurred spirited discussion which was good because with each of these stories we looked at how story could drive discussion on social issues and give students an opportunity to explore how they feel about them). We also engaged with several songs and short vids which I tried to keep all regional if not local; all culturally relevant and possessing storytelling features and elements that we could use.

I also distributed copies of some of the books I had on hand (as a prize to the winning team after one of our word/story games – they called themselves appropriately and perhaps as a self-fulfilling prophecy, Champions). These included the last of my author comp copies of Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, Musical Youth, The Boy from Willow Bend, and other books like Mary Robinette Kowal’s Of Noble Family, Marlon James’ Book of Night Women, and Colleen Smith-Dennis’ Inner City Girl. There was also a memoir by the actress who plays or played Drucilla on Young  and the Restless. Those all went.

It was heartening that they were particularly keen to have books by local authors – and, when I shared the book lists/bibliographies on the Wadadli Pen website, surprised by the sheer number of local books which they could potentially use in the classroom of which they had not been aware.I gave them a resources list at the end and encouraged them, with all of the hardware and internet access we’re supposed to have now, to utilize online resources as well.

I think you can tell that this was fun, productive and effective. Or so they said in their blind evaluations (excerpted below):

“I gained a wealth of knowledge about different books and ways I go about teaching my class how to write a story.”

“I wanted to learn new tips in assisting my students. I did.”

“I enjoyed writing poems and working actively in groups. Awesome experience.”

“My favourite part was interacting in my group. I have learned a lot.”

“Usually I am a shy person. Through teachers’ interaction I was able to read what I would have written.”

“A wonderfully informative and interactive presentation.”

“It was a learning experience and it was well done.”

“Great delivery overall. Inspired.”

“I recommend that all teachers at the infant level be involved in these activities.”

“Good how she managed to cater to all our needs – the primary school and secondary school.”

“There is a lot to be gained.”

Most important to me was what they gained and how they see themselves applying it in the classroom. The gains, as listed by them, included “Various ways to encourage children to write…A deeper appreciation for literacy…To encourage creativity in our students and examples of the different ways… Many different fun ways to include and foster literacy…Storytelling using music and movies…How to engage my students in creative writing successfully…Different activities that can be used in the classroom… A variety of strategies that can be used to encourage reading and writing… I think most of all it would be the prompts used. I can do this with my Grade 4…To help students to develop creative minds. Don’t shut them down.”

I also asked them to share their favourite bits because what they enjoyed doing can tip me as to what works but can also prompt them as to what might work in their classroom. Their responses: “engaging in activities verbally, role play, interpreting written words…Singing and dancing; full participation….writing poems and working actively in groups…All the practical exercises … Playing games; writing stories, poems….Writing my story/poem and sharing with the group…The excitement generated by the activities; the high level of student participation… Song/life stories etc. Participation/games, reading etc.” And my favourite:  “All activities done were both interesting and exciting. Hard to choose just one.”

Real talk, I was nervous going in to this because while I’ve been doing workshops for a while, I hadn’t had to build a course quite like this, with this purpose, and I’d certainly never tried to teach teachers. There wasn’t a lot of prep time by the time I was approved as a presenter. Plus I’ve learned between my time in the classroom and my time creating and running workshops that I work better in interactive small group settings – 25 plus teachers in a classroom setting was a tad intimidating but I stepped into that classroom and made it in to the space I needed it to be to create that interactive workshop vibe, and was lucky to have a group of teachers who (though they were skeptical of some of what I asked them to do) did it (mostly), and that give and take made for an organic and fulfilling experience for us both. I was tired but smiling at the end of my first day but looking forward to each other day. Making it, hands down, one of my favourite professional experiences to date. One I look forward to doing again with similar groups in Antigua and Barbuda and elsewhere.

I love to write, but I keep re-discovering that I also love to find creative ways to get others if not writing then thinking creatively as well. And when you’re doing what you love, it’s not work.

by Joanne C. Hillhouse, author of several books, including The Boy from Willow Bend which is on the schools’ reading list in Antigua and Barbuda, and Anguilla; and Musical Youth now on a schools’ reading list in Trinidad and Tobago, who will continue to explore opportunities to share her creative energy and love of literary expression through workshops and engagement with groups, like teachers, who can bring that energy to the classroom.

What’s happening here?

GuyanaGlad you asked.

This image is from earlier this year in Guyana. Nine writer-editors from the Caribbean were selected for a week-long intensive editing workshop geared at our professional development, sure, but also shoring up the availability of this skill-set (editing) in the Caribbean. Organized by CaribLit and sponsored by Commonwealth Writers, its larger purpose was continuing to build the literary culture and publishing infrastructure in the Caribbean. As I prepare to provide an estimate for what could potential be my latest book editing assignment, I appreciate the experience even more.

In this picture, we’d been grouped into teams, our mission to review three manuscripts and determine which one we would acquire for publication if such a decision were in our hands. To do so we had to consider the strength of the writing and readiness of the manuscript, yes, but also factors like marketability using certain markers. And then defend or justify our choice before the larger group. I enjoyed my group: Richard Georges of the BVI and Kim Dismont Robinson of Bermuda. It was a stimulating challenge, but a challenge nonetheless and an ironic one for any of us writers who’ve ever wondered how could they pass on that book. There are so many things to consider and even then no certainty. It was a good learning exercise one that will serve both me and my clients well.

JSYWP Participant Evaluation

Spent some time planning today how to engage with children, most of whom will be younger than 12, not all of whom will be interested in writing nor possess the same levels of literacy. That session the JSYWP 2.0 (sponsored by Brenda Lee Browne and Aisha Ralph) will be held this Wednesday 19th August 2015 at the Public Library.

I offered to do this after the Public Library had hosted me and the young man (a 17 year old teen) who (sponsored by Barbara Arrindell) participated in my August 10th to 12th JSYWP 2015 edition.

After each of my workshops, I ask participants to evaluate me.

Got his evaluation today. Here it is:
QUESTION: WHAT, IF ANYTHING, DID YOU GAIN DURING THESE THREE DAYS?First question

QUESTION: WHAT WERE YOUR FAVOURITE PARTS OF THESE THREE DAYS AND WHY?Second question

QUESTION: WOULD YOU RECOMMEND PARTICIPATION TO OTHERS? IF SO, WHY? IF NOT, WHY NOT?Third question

I should note that normally participants evaluate my workshops  on the spot and anonymously but as there was only one participant this summer that wasn’t really an option. I did allow him to email in his evaluation only if he felt he wished to…and he did, so I’ll take him at his word. I have to say that I really enjoyed working with him and hope the mid-week session with the younger children proves as stimulating for me and the participants. Beyond Wednesday, if you would like to find out about future adult, teen, and children workshops being offered under the Jhohadli Writing Project (it’s not just a summer thing) be sure to contact me so that I can email you as plans take shape. Thank you for your support in whatever way it comes and here’re my blogs on day 1, 2, and 3 of the Jhohadli Summer Youth Writing Project 2015.

Registration Closing

The extended registration window for the Jhohadli Summer Youth Writing Project will close on Friday of this week (July 24th 2015). I need to cut it off if I have a shot at planning a meaningful experience for participants. If all I have is one interested young writer, and I currently have only a little better than that, I will proceed and give them my undivided attention on their quest to explore their creativity and potentially improve their writing.

Here’s the back story if you’re hearing of this for the first time. It’s also where you can find the registration form.

If you’re on the fence, maybe this recent post I did on linkedin about the 2013 experience will nudge you in the right direction.

And, yes, donor/patron interest is still welcomed.

p.s. if you’ve called me and not received a call back, I’m not ignoring you…I haven’t been able to reach you. I’ve tried to answer every possible question here on the site to get around that kind of thing but… to address some of the more recent questions. The fee is $100 per day per person. Donor funds will help to offset some of these fees so that what the individual person will have to pay will be less depending on the number of registrants and the number of days (currently the public library is booked from August 10th to 12th…subject to expansion). I can’t confirm how much less until I close off registration which I will be doing at the end of this week.

What else? Oh, where to send the form. Forms are to be emailed. Each posting on the Jhohadli Summer Youth Writing Project has had a Contact me option (click on that). And please note that the last update said:

Participants: Registration is now in progress. Please download, complete and email this form: Registration Form

The Jhohadli Summer Youth Writing Project 2015: an Update

“I love to play on electronics; I don’t like frogs. When I grow up, I would like to be captain, who sails cruise ships … I would like to join this workshop because it will help me to develop my writing skills. Also, after I had entered the Wadadli Pen competition, I like writing a little now.”

Above is an excerpt from one of the post-Wadadli Pen (season 2015) letters that made me seriously consider doing some kind of workshop activity for young writers this summer. I liked the quirkiness and earnestness of it, and wanted to do something to feed the potential revealed in not only this letter and the writer behind it but each cycle of the now 11 year old annual Challenge.

Now, you will have noticed that Wadadli Pen is not the Jhohadli Summer Youth Writing Project but, as I could not afford to do this workshop as a non-profit activity, a la Wadadli Pen, I decided on the JSYWP model in which I get paid for my time but participants’ are sponsored (because interest in participating in a writing workshop does not translate to financial ability to do so; in fact, it’s been my experience as a freelancer offering writing and writing related services, that (certainly in our environment) paying for writing and writing workshop services are low priority even when the interest is there). I decided to put out the call so that those who wished to make this kind of investment in young people in Antigua and Barbuda and the arts could take the initiative to do so. Of course if you are willing and able to pay your child’s way, all the better, that removes a possible hurdle, but they still need to apply using the registration form (just indicate when applying whether or not you’ll be paying your own way if accepted).

Here’s the situation as it stands re the Jhohadli Summer Youth Writing Project 2015 edition as of June 16th 19th 2015 – two weeks, give or take, after I’d hoped to be able to make a final decision and proceed with the work of putting this together.

I have confirmed pledges (just pledges, not cash yet) enough, with some …finessing, to cover two three participants for two days, with another donor sponsoring a specific participant (pending that participant’s acceptance) for roughly the same time. There are one or two or three other things that might yet change those numbers, but if you’re keeping count, so far, that’s two three donors, three four participants, two days. It’s not nothing and as there’s something, that’s something to build on.

So, I will proceed.

Dates (subject to change): August 10th – 12th 2015

Time: (given that the numbers do not justify having two half day sessions breaking up into teens and adults, it will be one mixed group and the sessions will be in the afternoon) 1 to 4 p.m.

Venue: looks like it’s going to be the new Public Library building. It will be so cool to do something in that community space.

Participants: Registration is now in progress. Please download, complete and email this form: Registration Form

Yes, you still need to complete the form even if you’ve emailed me your interest before. This is the formal registration.

Sponsorship/payment: Confirmed pledgers include Aisha Ralph, writer and Best of Books bookstore manager Barbara Arrindell, writer and founder of the Just Write writers retreat, Brenda Lee Browne. Just double checking with other pledgers before listing their name here. Also if you are a business or a person who still wishes to contribute you can! This is happening – for how many days and for the benefit of how many participants is up to you. Just Contact me re pledging BEFORE I confirm the venue. You can sponsor a participant for one day for as little as $100. Parents, if you wish to send your young writer, that’s how much you’ll be required to commit (commit only, payment details will come later if  your child is accepted) as well ($100 per participant per day) but your child/teen will still need to complete the expression of interest (Registration Form – be sure to include your contact information) as participation will not be confirmed otherwise. I have had instances of people participating because their parents sent them and it really wasn’t for them; what I’m looking for is people who have genuine interest and aptitude for a programme like this – if they don’t, they won’t.

As Tigger used to say TTFN

Seriously, though, that’s it…it’s happening…abridged but happening…there’re still ways you can get involved. So, keep checking back for updates as people and businesses and young writers respond to the call and plans continue to develop.