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October 23rd

Writing Class Begins January 2010

Fri, 10/23/2009 - 10:46am


Blog Entry Contents:  
*Douglass Reads 6/Tuesday November 3rd at Adobe Books on 16th 6:30pm
*"Start Your New Year Write" Douglass Street Lab's Greatest Hits starts 1/19/10 and is 
open for registration now.

Happy Autumn everyone. It feels like years have gone by between the September and October updates. 
I began writing this entry after listening to the students in my Craft of Fiction class at SFSU give feedback on each other's creative work. We're in week 9, and each week they've written a response to a challenging creative writing prompt (think of a more academic version of Project Runway, for writers). Each week, the prompt focuses on one aspect of the craft of fiction. Every few weeks they break into small groups and discuss each others' progress. I find it endlessly moving when folks try and help each other get closer to achieving the impossible: making a reader feel something by arranging twenty-six little symbols around a page. 

I also just finished my third week of teaching at Paul Revere School in Bernal Heights through 

Performing Arts Workshop. There, my job is usually to work with the teaching artists, not the students. I first went to Paul Revere as an on-site mentor for a new artist, and was delighted to find one of my former students in charge of their after-school arts programming. She asked me I could teach Creative Writing to their 7th and 8th graders. At the time I couldn't, because of my schedule at State....and then came the cutbacks...

So now I'm not only teaching those two after-school classes to middle-schoolers, but I'm also teaching two 4th grade classes and a 5th grade class. Five classes in a row in Creative Writing! 

They've all expertly grasped the difference between fiction and autobiography, realistic fiction from fantasy, and they're preparing to write entirely fictionalized but realistic stories that borrow from their autobiographies. I read them a story I wrote in graduate school, one that explores the inner-life of one of two little sisters. They're coping in the aftermath of the death of their mother. (Don't worry: I okayed it with the school counselor. Seriously. I did!). It's set in deer-hunting country and one of the girls is obsessed with a dead deer in the back of her uncle's truck. Then I answered questions about what I imagined (some said they couldn't believe that I'm not, and never have been, a hunter or a father or a girl); and what I borrowed from my autobiography.

After I was done, they each folded a piece of paper in half lengthwise. On the top of the left side they wrote "I am..." and on the right they wrote "I am not..." They worked in groups to gather ideas for each side. I challenged them to imagine characteristics that they care  deeply about for both sides, and to fill the "I am not" side with qualities they've imagined possessing, even if "impossible." 
They began stories mixing their lists. The results were often surprising. I'm so used to working with adults, it's amazing to see the possibilities of writing before people learn to be so utterly self-conscious!

The most recent session of The Lab has also been a joy. I feel lucky to see how creative writing can open things up for people in so many different settings/age groups/contexts. The experiments this time were inspired by Philip Glassand Roland Barthes and Lucy Grealy and Aristotle and Zadie Smith and a cartoonist and an architect (just to name a few). The Labbers' findings have often been  thrilling, inspiring me to keep my eyes open to how every single thing might deepen or expand the worlds of my fiction. 

A student from the Fourteen Hills MA/MFA class at SFSU just interviewed me for a new blog. You can check it out here. 



Speaking of The Lab,

The most recent session of "Douglass Street Lab," an intimate writing workshop, INVITES YOU to a public reading:

6:30-8:00 pm

3166 16th St, between Valencia and Guerrero 
San Francisco, CA 94103-3363
(415) 864-3936

ADMISSION: FREE (but you're welcome to make a purchase at Adobe Books and keep an independent bookstore alive!) 

"The Lab," which focuses on the prose experiment, is named after the street where the group meets. "Douglass Reads 6" will feature short shots from the works-in-progress of:

Chris Brecheen 
Erica Eller 
Dax Garcia
Diane Glaub  
Zach Grear 
Laura Haber
Roseli Ilano
Lorena Landeros  
Miya Reekers
Derek Rock
Mark Rubnitz  
Claire Sherba
Anne Trickey 

The vibe will be more sunny than somber. We are people who take our work—but not ourselves—seriously.


Starting January 19th, we'll be tweaking and re-staging the 8 most provocative experiments (of the 48 we've done so far).
Registration is open, and is limited to 12 people. If you're interested, it might be wise to sign up now.