Teaching Creative Writing to Middle Schoolers

Early in my career I spent several years teaching Creative Writing at the middle school level, and I loved it.

Don’t get me wrong: I love teaching Creative Writing at all levels from elementary school to published adults — and yes, I have and do teach it to all those age categories — because teaching Creative Writing is my jam almost as much as writing books is. (And some days, more so.)

Look, middle school is a rough time of life for pretty much everyone, even the kids who don’t show it. (Sometimes, especially them.) At that stage of development, a lot of us feel things really deeply. We absorb things readily, sometimes indiscriminately. We process the world around us through an intensified lens and at varying, different speeds. Life can be lived in the polar extremes.

This makes us, at that stage of life, primed for creative expression. Our minds and personalities have not yet grown out of the world of emotional metaphor, even if cognitively we struggle with abstractions.

Honestly, what better time to begin Creative Writing classes?

I’m thrilled to report there are still a few spots open in Writespace’s Up and Coming Writers of the World series, which begins on Sunday, February 5th and goes through April. This low-stress, ungraded, three-month series is geared toward middle school students and will be conducted on Zoom, so as long as you have an internet connection, you can take it from anywhere!

Here’s the format: on a Sunday afternoon at the start of each month, an author and teacher will guide students through an introductory class on a given genre (listed below), and then over the next four weeks, the students will work one-on-one with a mentor from the Creative Writing program at Houston’s High School for the Performing and Visual Arts on their writing. There will be a reading at the end of the series.

Behold the schedule:
* February 5th — Introduction to Fiction, taught by Angélique Jamail (That’s me!!)
* March 5th — Introduction to Playwriting, taught by Kathryn Peterson (She’s great!!)
* April 2nd — Introduction to Poetry, taught by Angélique Jamail (Yay for National Poetry Month!!)

If you know any middle school-aged kids who have an interest in writing, consider signing them up for this program. It makes a great gift, and it’s also a way to tell those kids, in this very difficult landscape we call the world, I see you. You and your art and your ideas have value. Writespace’s classes are among the most affordable of any high-level instruction you can get, and they offer scholarships.

Click this link to register, but do it soon! We’ll see you there.

Working With An Intern

I have been very lucky this month to have an intern working with me through our school’s career development program. His name is Bruce, and he’s learning to be an author — not just the writing part, which he already knows, but also all the other parts of the job. Writing, critique group, editing. Sending work out on submission. Professional development about the publishing industry. Research on marketing and also for a novel set in a historical setting. Networking with other authors and industry professionals. Writing on spec. And next week, we’ll be adding zine production, accounting, and the behind-the-scenes of how bookstores work. It’s a lot to pack into three weeks, and he’s doing great! It’s going well. And tomorrow, we have an author event!

Sci-fi author Adam Holt and I will be out at the Sawyer Yards Arts Market tomorrow, as we sometimes are, and of course Han and their art will be with us. Bruce is going to be out there, too, learning how to do an author event, so come by our booth and talk to him about his recent publications.

And just to show off some of the work he’s been doing lately, here’s one of the promotional graphics he made for the event.

created by Bruce Hurley

Adam and I will both be signing books, Han will be selling their art, and we’ll also have our available, including coveted back issues. You’ll also see my handmade poetry art cards and journals and perhaps some jewelry there, too, for as long as I can keep it in stock. (Those cards and journals always go fast!)

The Art Market at Sawyer Yards happens from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The address is 1502 Sawyer St. in Houston 77007. Here’s the link for more information. We hope to see you there!

 

Fond Regards, Marcus Sedgwick

I was astounded and saddened yesterday to learn of the death of Marcus Sedgwick.

For those of you who didn’t know of him, he was a celebrated author with a list of accolades as long as a swan’s stretched neck. I did not know him well — and in fact spent only one afternoon with him several years ago — but he made a distinct impression on me, enough that learning of his unexpected passing gobsmacked my day.

Many of you are aware I teach Creative Writing at a prestigious high school. One benefit of my program is that we bring in a lot of excellent authors to work with our students, and I met Marcus when he was touring in the US to promote his novel Saint Death and visited my school. We had a lunch and book signing, and then he came in to work specifically with just my high school students. The lunch and signing were pleasant and lovely, and he was pleasant and lovely, but the real impression he made on me happened afterward, in the brief open time between the lunch and my class arriving.

Our librarian and the local bookseller who was sponsoring his visit and one of the parent volunteers escorted him to my classroom, where I was alone and preparing for the next session. He was a youngish man, I thought — in fact only a few years older than I am — but he was walking slowly, with a cane. Our librarian had alluded to some “health concerns,” but I didn’t know what they were. But Marcus was cheerful with a charming British cadence in his voice, gentle and kind in the way that everyone who has mentioned him over the last two days has said. As he sat in a desk at the front of the room, the ladies escorting him said, “It was nice to meet you today. Angélique, he’s all yours!” Then they disappeared from my doorway, and I realized we had almost twenty minutes to fill before my students came in. The small talk lasted about two minutes.

Then I asked if he would like a cup of tea. His face brightened. “You have tea? I would love one, thank you.” I brought over the box of teas I keep in my classroom (several varieties, all high quality brands, because I love tea and don’t see how anyone makes it through a work day without it) so he could select the kind he wanted. (He chose a mint/tarragon blend with no cream or sugar.) Then I left briefly to make the tea while he pulled his presentation up on his computer.

Even after making sure all the technology worked and everything was in order, we still had some time left before my students arrived. That’s when he turned to me and said, “I understand you’re an author, too. What do you write?”

Reader, I was stunned.

It would be a logical assumption to believe that at a school like mine, the person teaching Creative Writing would be an author. In fact, quite a few of our English teachers are also authors. In fact, quite a few of our faculty in other departments are also authors. And by most metrics outside of the school where I teach, I am considered a successful author.

But among all of the dozens upon dozens of authors I’ve had visit my students over the years, he is almost the only one ever to ask me if and what I write. I felt seen in a way I didn’t realize I hadn’t been before. There are countless ways in which I am sometimes invisible to the people around me, but on that day, I was not, and the comfort of that feeling, like a sliver of light, has never left me.

So seeing the news yesterday was kind of tough. I wish the warmest feelings of comfort to his family and friends, whose loss is no doubt immense. May their memories of Marcus bring them peace.

 

 

A Quick Reminder About Two Fiction Workshops Coming Up (Just A Few Seats Still Open)

Hello! I hope you’re enjoying this very busy week. (Well, it’s busy for me, but maybe you’re just having a nice week? I hope so.)

This is a very quick note about, as the title of this post suggests, two fiction workshops I’m teaching over the next couple of weekends. Both are three-hour jaunts on a Saturday, conducted via Zoom, and both are classes I’ve taught before and which were super fun so we brought them back! These are generative workshops which include a balanced mix of instruction, writing time, sharing (which is optional), and feedback. We pack all of that into three hours (with a little break in the middle), and the workshops are appropriate for anyone interested in writing fiction. As of yesterday, there were seats available in both classes.

BUILDING A STORY WITH CHARACTER (Writespace)
Saturday, September 24th, 9:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

WRITING FICTION: GOTHIC STORY ELEMENTS (Writespace)
Saturday, October 1st, 1:00-4:00 p.m.

Click this link to be taken to my new CLASSES page here on the blog to learn more about these workshops and to register.

Thanks!

Monday Earworm: Thin Lizzy

School starts this week.

Well, classes start this week. We on the faculty and staff have been back since August 1st. In another post I’ll tell you about the non-sickness-related stuff I did over the summer, but for now I’m just going to share with you an earworm.

The boys are back. So are the girls and the non-binary kids. It’s going to be so good to see them all. And even though this song is about the start of the summer and I’m looking at the end of mine, I think it still works.

Enjoy this little dance break! I’m headed off to go work some more on my Canvas pages…

 

Poetry in September

Why do we write poetry, anyway? It’s not like it’s a lucrative literary market (at least not here in the U.S.). It’s not like the general reading public is clamoring for midnight poetry book release parties. How many contemporary poets can the average person name? How many books of poetry does the average reader have on the shelf?

It’s not about any of that, of course, though all kinds of people read poetry. All kinds of people write poetry, too — not just Fancy Published Authors or “academic types.” And there are so many different kinds of poetry out there, with an extraordinarily wide range of accessibility from light verse to down-to-earth, relatable narrative to completely esoteric, and everything in between.

Poetry allows us to make sense of whatever is swirling inside our minds and our hearts. (Just ask any young person with a diary and a penchant for rhyme.) It’s a gift of language and creativity. Edward Hirsch once said to me that poetry was the intersection of experience and vocabulary, and I thought, among all the different ways people can choose to define poetry, that one idea resonated as a baseline.

Many types of writers can benefit from experimenting with poetry.  Even though I’m primarily a fiction writer now (professionally), my Creative Writing degree is actually in Poetry. I began my university work as a Fiction student but switched my junior year, and after writing nothing but poetry for a few years, when I came back to writing fiction I realized that everything I’d learned about language and syntax from writing poems had made my prose exponentially better.

And now, I still write poetry because it feels like a more comfortable form of meditation in the midst of my uncomfortably busy life. It helps me process my experiences and my reactions to them in a slightly less frenetic way. And — not gonna lie — most poems take a lot less time to write and revise and polish than the average short story or novel, and there’s something akin to instant gratification from being able to do that. It doesn’t entirely feed my obsession with productivity, but it does feel pretty good.

From time to time, I teach Creative Writing classes outside of my day job. (A significant portion of which job, to be clear, is to teach Creative Writing.) These classes, which are geared toward a wider audience than my school-year courses, are often taught on Zoom outside of typical business hours, so working adults can take them no matter where they’re located. I’ve had attendees from other cities, other states, and even other countries come together in these workshops. It’s wonderful! (I should also note that there isn’t a specific age requirement to attend.)

So here is one of the upcoming classes I’ll be teaching this fall, for Grackle & Grackle, and I hope to see you in it! Click on the link to learn more and/or to register. (I recommend registering early to secure a spot. We keep these groups kind of small-ish so everyone gets personal attention and workshop time.)

Poetry: Grounded in Place But Not Confined
4 weeks — Tuesday evenings in September

grackle painting by Kerry James Marshall

Michelle Brittan Rosado wrote that poetry of place “can be a way to dissolve the self into an anonymous landscape” as well as “a map to find ourselves, a space in which to reassemble the annihilated and recover the displaced.” How often has your childhood home been the setting for your dreams?

How often have you returned, in your writing or art or imagination, to the site of a notable first experience? What are the landscapes, real or metaphorical, we have inhabited? What liminal spaces inspire, motivate, or even unsettle us? The places which have mattered most to us live in our subconscious mind long after they stop being physically part of our lives. In this four-week class, we will look at poetry grounded in places both real and imagined. We will dissect both what makes a poem resonate with a reader and what makes particular locations so important to us.

In this generative workshop, we’ll use a variety of prompts to experiment with form and style. You can expect to write new poetry each week and have at least two of your poems workshopped in a collaborative and respectful setting.

***

So, a few typical questions:

Q:  What if I can’t be there every week?
A:  This workshop is four sessions, but if you’re unable to make all of them, you can still participate, and I’ll catch you up on the course materials you miss.

Q:  Is this class for beginners or more advanced poets?
A:  Both emerging writers and published poets will find this course productive and useful. Because my workshops are generative (i.e. we will generate new writing in each session), I use open-ended prompts that will be useful at multiple skill levels. And as a teacher, I strive to meet each student where they are.

Q:  What format will each session follow?
A:  I try to keep things flexible, but generally you can expect some discussion of already published work to explore technique and substance, at least one writing prompt and time to work on it, and a discussion of attendees’ own work in a respectful and supportive atmosphere. Content topics will vary from week to week, centered around a particular theme.

Q:  Okay, but why should I be trying to take a poetry class in these bonkers times?
A:  What better way to reflect on your experiences and reactions to them than through a guided, focused lens that allows you to compartmentalize and process them in a specific, finite block of time?

Here again is the link to learn more about and to sign up for this course. I hope you will join us!

Two Poetry Workshops Happening This Month (A FEW SPOTS STILL OPEN)

There are still some spots open in the two poetry workshops I’m teaching this month, in case you were interested in signing up for them but haven’t yet. Both will be taught on Zoom, so covid surges and geographical distances are not a problem here.  😉

Daily Dose of Poetry is a one-night-only experience through Write About Now as part of their Monday night poetry class series. You can do just mine — happening TOMORROW, June 13th — or get a bundle of weeks at a discount. In this generative workshop, we’ll try our hand at several different poetry prompts designed to kickstart your writing or refresh your writing practice if you’ve been away from it for a while. Each exercise is also translatable, to duplicate or adapt on your own after the workshop ends. You will also get a chance to share and/or workshop what you write during class. Click here for more details and to get the link to register: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/wan-academy-daily-dose-of-poetry-w-angelique-jamail-tickets-254249686657?aff=ang

 

grackle painting by Kerry James Marshall

Poetry: Grounded in Place But Not Confined is a four-week workshop through Grackle & Grackle. We’ll be meeting on Tuesday evenings starting this week, June 14th. In this generative and feedback-oriented workshop, we will look at ways poetry inhabits landscapes both literal and figurative and create poems along that theme. You can expect to write new poetry each week and to have at least two of your poems workshopped in a respectful and supportive environment over the course of the four weeks. (And if you’re able to attend most but not all of the sessions, don’t let that stop you from signing up, as I’m happy to share materials with you if you’re absent.) G&G is also great about offering discounts on their classes, too, so if you need one, try these: 15% sun; 25% squawk; 35% sweat. Click here for more information and to register:  https://grackleandgrackle.com/product/ajsu22poetry/

I hope to see you in either or both of these workshops! Feel free to share with others who might also be interested.

Monday Earworm: Lana Del Rey

It is most emphatically summertime here in my fair city. School is out, at least for many of us. Temps in the mid-90s with a real-feel of over 100, and hurricane season is underway, even if the Texas Gulf Coast won’t likely see a ton of action for a while yet.

So here’s a sultry little swing for early June, courtesy of Lana Del Rey.

And in case you’re looking for some fun workshops to indulge in this month, I’m still teaching a few. My zine workshop (in-person) through Writespace starts Thursday. My one-night-only Daily Dose of Poetry kickstart is online Monday evening next week via Write About Now. And I’m doing a four-week poetry workshop online through Grackle & Grackle starting next Tuesday evening. (Let me know if you want some great discounts on the registration for that one.) All workshops will be generative in nature and will include feedback on your work. Click on those links to register for any and all!

Where, What, and When I’ll Be Teaching in June

So it’s a known fact that I no longer teach summer school. I haven’t for many, many years, because I need that time to focus more on my writing. However, I will be teaching some brief Creative Writing workshops this summer for three marvelous CW organizations, and YOU can take them! Yes, that’s right! And since I’ve had a fair number of questions about them, I’m just going to distill all the information into this post now for you. I will list them in order of when they begin. Enjoy.

CLASS #1: Creating a Zine (a.k.a. “Zines: The Ultimate Adventure in Creative Control”)
WHEN: 4 Thursday evenings, June 9-30, 6:30-8:30 p.m.
WHERE: Writespace — IN PERSON — in Houston

DESCRIPTION: Have you been looking for a way to share your short writings, including ones you’ve created in other Writespace workshops? The subversive, underground art form of the “zine” (short for fanzine) has been the literary world’s best-kept secret for nearly a century. From its roots in science-fiction and fantasy to its established presence in the modern world as a place for art, poetry, and politics, these informal magazines are the ultimate adventure in self-publishing. And best of all, zines are for everyone, every interest, every ability level, and every subject! You need not be a great or experienced artist. Come explore the wide and diverse world of zines through creative writing, art, and craft with award-winning published author Angélique Jamail, the creator of the popular zine Sonic Chihuahua. In this course, you will create your own zine filled with whatever your imagination will allow! This class is appropriate for all skill levels. Attendees will also have an opportunity to participate in Zine Fest Houston, a welcoming mainstay of the zine community, in November.

(Apologies to all those who really want to take this class but who live outside of Houston. If there’s enough interest in my offering a Zoom version in the future, let me know, and I’ll see about making that work. You can leave a note in the comments section of this post or contact me about it directly.)

REGISTER FOR “CREATING A ZINE” BY CLICKING HERE. (The deadline for early bird pricing is Friday, June 3rd.)

CLASS #2:  Daily Dose of Poetry
WHEN:  (one night only!) Monday, June 13th, 6:00-7:30 p.m. (central time)
WHERE:  ON ZOOM through Write About Now as part of their weekly poetry workshop series

DESCRIPTION:  In this class participants will use short poems and exercises as models for writing poetry and poetic fragments, and will practice techniques to increase observation and lyrical thinking. We’ll look at mentor texts and have a discussion on language and form. We’ll also have exercises in metaphor and imagery. Attendees will get a chance to write short form poems and use the techniques covered in class to enhance their daily writing practice.

REGISTER FOR “DAILY DOSE OF POETRY” BY CLICKING HERE.

CLASS #3:  Poetry: Grounded in Place But Not Confined
WHEN:  4 Tuesday evenings, June 14 – July 5, 6:00-9:00 p.m. (central time)
WHERE:  ON ZOOM through Grackle & Grackle

grackle painting by Kerry James Marshall

DESCRIPTION:  Michelle Brittan Rosado wrote that poetry of place “can be a way to dissolve the self into an anonymous landscape” as well as “a map to find ourselves, a space in which to reassemble the annihilated and recover the displaced.” How often has your childhood home been the setting for your dreams? How often have you returned, in your writing or art or imagination, to the site of a notable first experience? What are the landscapes, real or metaphorical, we have inhabited? What liminal spaces inspire, motivate, or even unsettle us? The places which have mattered most to us live in our subconscious mind long after they stop being physically part of our lives. In this four-week class, we will look at poetry grounded in places both real and imagined. We will dissect both what makes a poem resonate with a reader and what makes particular locations so important to us. In this generative workshop, we’ll use a variety of prompts to experiment with form and style. You can expect to write new poetry each week and have at least two of your poems workshopped in a collaborative and respectful setting.

Grackle & Grackle also offers discounts to those who need them. (The following discounts are followed by their promo code words.)
15% sun
25% squawk
35% sweat

REGISTER FOR “POETRY: GROUNDED IN PLACE BUT NOT CONFINED” BY CLICKING HERE.

SO! I hope to see you at any and/or all of these fun workshops. And please do spread the word about them to anyone you know who might be interested. Thanks!

Monday Earworm: Icona Pop

My school year ends on Friday this week. There’s still a lot of administrative stuff to do before then, lots of meetings, and a little bit of grading left…but still. After three weeks of nearly nonstop grading, I’m entering a liminal phase, transitioning from the school year to the summer (in which my full-time gig switches over to writing, and teaching takes a little bit of a backseat), and times like this always give me a boost of sleep-deprived delirious energy. This is how it sounds tonight. Enjoy.