Friday, January 29, 2010

WITS reading

Yesterday, at 5:30 PM my alarm woke me up from a deep, dream-filled sleep. This is usually the time I wake up in the morning so I was disoriented. I thought I had a second chance to make my day go better and that I hadn't really bombed my Arabic quiz. It was just a dream! Then I remembered why I had set my alarm. The WITS reading at Powell's! Every year Writers in the Schools releases an anthology of students' stories, poetry and artwork. I participated in the reading last night along with other former interns like myself, writers, teachers, and students.

I stood behind the podium and read the poem "Girl," by Jaleana Williams. That poem, along with all the work in this anthology, is inspiring.  I wish all the students the best of luck with their literary aspirations, and I hope this publication gives them encouragement to keep writing.

Writers in the Schools is a great program which sends professional writers into high school classrooms to get kids excited about writing.

I wrote and drew a lot in high school. One teacher, Mr. Hardin, encouraged me, and each time I'd read one of my stories aloud, he would do a one-fisted Tarzan drum roll on his chest, or yell out, "Solid!!!!" If it weren't for him, I would have been even more depressed and hopeless and full of self-loathing, and that is a scary thought.

On Wednesday some memories came back to me, memories I had shoved in my brain's junk pile. I had reserved Wednesday for sleeping all day, my reward for giving a long presentation in one of my classes. When I finally woke up, I knew I needed to study Arabic, but I really wanted to read Langston Hughes instead. I resisted the temptation, and tried to focus on Arabic. In bed, hunched over my textbook, my mind wandered back to high school and how I was so fascinated with the Harlem Renaissance. I loved Richard Wright, I loved the word "renaissance." I wanted to start my own renaissance. I wanted to show people who never noticed me before that I could create beautiful and meaningful works of art and literature.

To commemorate these artists and writers from the Harlem Renaissance, I drew their portraits and handed them in to my 10th-grade history teacher. I included a short paper, telling a little about each of their lives. Well, I never got that assignment back and I don't know what grade I received, but 5 years later when I was 20, I was on a coffee date with a potential suitor. He and I had gone to the same high school and he brought up how much he loved that history teacher. Trying to persuade me that our old history teacher was really good,  my date told me about a time he was in this teacher's room at lunch and how the teacher ridiculed some student's assignment. "It was so funny!" he said. "This student just handed in a bunch of drawings of black artists, and Mr. Blah Blah was like, 'These drawings are the only good thing this student's handed in to me.'"

The horror. I wanted to get up and leave. But looking back, I'm glad I drew pictures of Harlem Renaissance writers, even though I wasn't following the assignment.

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