Relaunched Creative Writing class to function as writers’ workshop

September 9, 2019 — by Kaitlyn Tsai and Brandon Wang

Students scribbled furiously at their composition books during sixth period on a recent day, prose flowing from their pencils and pens, working on a simple prompt: Write about your name. 

After a 15-minute writing period, the students turned to each other, discussing challenges and sharing ideas. Then, led by English teacher Amy Keys, they read similar passages from writers Sandra Cisernos and Ocean Vuong, discovering how the professional writers wove stories into the description of a name.

After two years of hiatus, Creative Writing returned this year by popular demand. Filled with students from freshmen to seniors, the class, which only runs for one period, had an extensive wait list. “I have all these people of different ages and different backgrounds in the same room,” Keys said. “They’re really lively and very collaborative already in developing community guidelines for the course.”

These norms, according to Keys, are important for promoting a creative environment in which students have a space to write. Some students said they appreciate the attention to the classroom environment as well as the comfortable community it creates.

“I really like the atmosphere because it seems everyone gets along despite the 4-year age gap, a gap that not many classes have,” senior Justin Wu said.

Aside from establishing class norms, Keys said the students have also been practicing concrete writing, focusing on specificity and evocative details. After this introductory unit, Keys plans to transition to three main genres: memoir and personal narrative, fiction and poetry. Near the end of the semester, students will prepare their final projects — likely a portfolio and a performance — and begin working on pieces for the school’s literary magazine, Soundings.

In the second semester, Keys said she will continue to delve into fiction and poetry, the latter in preparation for the Poetry Out Loud contest in February, and introduce her students to satire, scriptwriting and drama. Wanting to “bring some of what we write to life,” Keys said she hopes to collaborate with the drama and Media Arts departments as well.

Freshman Sunny Huang, who chose to take Creative Writing in order to better convey emotions through art, said that she appreciates the style and creative freedom of the class. She added that she looks forward to working on the various projects and assignments that “aren’t just essays and essays.”

To ensure that her students can achieve maximum productivity with such projects, Keys said she aims to create a workshop-style class. She said her first year of teaching the class will be one of experimenting, learning and trying to create the perfect atmosphere for creativity.

“Stephen King talks about ‘shutting the door,’” Keys said. “Virginia Woolf talks about ‘a room of one’s own.’ You need to have your own space, but we’re going to try to do a lot of the writing in class, so how do you really focus in a room with 32 people?”

Despite this potential challenge, her students still look forward to simply having the opportunity to collaborate and grow with fellow writers. Huang said that she hopes to develop into a better writer alongside her friends in the class; Wu, for his part, looks forward to sharing his work with others. 

“I believe that part of the creative writing process is sharing your ideas and works with others,” Wu said. “One half is done by the author, and the other is done by the audience. Creative writing should be original and entertain and share experiences, and being able to communicate with others is a very important skill.”

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Comments

as expected, the age gap between freshmen and seniors is also a gap in writing ability, since 3 years of high school really do vastly improve your writing skills. while maturity is definitely not an issue in this class, having your work (as an upperclassman) peer reviewed by an underclassman is simply not as beneficial. that's not to say the underclassmen don't have anything to contribute to your work, just that maybe splitting the course into a freshman/sophomore class and a junior/senior class would maybe benefit everyone involved? I understand this is not feasible this year, since the class has only been reinstated, but just something to consider in the future.

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