2013 Fall Writing Festival for High School Students

On Friday November 8, Western Illinois hosted the 2013 Writing Festival at the WIU Multicultural Center.  Around sixty students from four area high schools came and were given lessons from professors in the WIU English department.  Nine different areas of writing were covered in 50-minute classes.  With three classes happening simultaneously, the students were able to choose what topic appealed to them most.  I was able to observe three of these seminars, and not only learned about some forms of writing, but I also had a fun time.

Dr. Morrow led of the day with a lesson on Shakespeare.  He presented two sonnets and worked through their meaning before tasking the students to try to come up with their own version.  Most students worked in groups and wrote a rebuttal sonnet to one that was presented, Sonnet 130.  In it, Shakespeare says some unflattering things about the woman he loves.  Most of the groups came up with humorous ways of telling old Will that he was full of it.  There was a lot of laughter to be had from these rebuttals.

Next, Dr. Banash taught students a lesson on colorful writing utilizing Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons.  Dr. Banash placed a coffee cup on the table, and asked the students to describe it.  He then gave everyone a copy of some of Stein’s writing to show how when used creatively, even the simplest words become powerful tools in a writer’s repertoire.  The students then redrafted their works using these techniques.  It is hard to believe that the writing they produced came from high schoolers.  Banash explained, “There is such power in Gertrude Stein’s writing. Instead of writing that there is just a cup of coffee on the table, suddenly students are using words to name sensations. There is a vibrating, black hole, or a cracked white universe in front of them. They realize that they can find a power in language by giving themselves a constraint. When they realize this, it is is deeply exciting!” When I talked with some of the students, many of them said that this was their favorite of the day.  They did not know that they could use words in that way.
Before the lunch break, an awards ceremony was held.  In the weeks before the writing festival, students were given the opportunity to submit works in four different categories.

Dr. Shazia Rahman’s  led a writer- activism seminar.  One of the students wrote a small play about bullying, and her teacher came up with a plan to perform it as a flash play in the hall of their school in between classes.

Overall, the Writing Festival could be considered a success.  Many of the students who attended said that they hoped that Western would do this again next year so they could come back.  Many thanks go out to all the WIU faculty, and event organizer Dr. Rebekah Buchanan.